.- After a 20 year absence, the first official Catholic procession returned to the English city of Manchester on Oct. 2.
“I had tears in my eyes when they lifted Our Lady and it all began,” 75-year-old Mary Patricia Fehily said. “I was walking in the love of Jesus and Mary.”
Fehily, from the city of Hale, is one of the many who were reminded of processions from her childhood years.
"It brings back so many memories of my youth because in Ireland we used to process three times a year. Hopefully this will make people think of our Creator."
The crowd of Catholics was estimated at 1,000 people, who took to the streets of Manchester’s predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Rusholme. Security was provided by Catholic police personnel who volunteered their services.
The statue of Our Lady of Reconciliation and its platform, which weigh 440 pounds, were carried along the main road, known as the Curry Mile, and circled Platt Fields Park before finally entering it.
Local school children, head teachers, parishioners of different ethnicities, and eight priests came together to pray the Rosary and sing songs during what might have been one of the hottest October days ever recorded in the U.K.
Joseph Martin McDonagh, one of the volunteers who helped carry the platform, decided to go barefoot.
"Today has been the most fulfilling day of my life," said Joseph. "I regret the way I used to live, and I'm so happy I was allowed to do this.
"I wish I was still carrying her now," said the 37-year-old. "I've always had a soft spot for Mary. My mother had problems when she was pregnant with me and promised Our Lady to entrust me to her if I was born safe."
Headteacher Dominic Mulcahy of St. John's Catholic Primary School said it reminded him of the “whit walks,” the traditional processions of witness celebrated in northwest England.
"It stopped for 20 years but this has come back now," he said. "It's bringing people together to pray in public. Whether it's a Muslim or Jewish area, it's God's area, and we should be free to express our faith and love Him the way we want to."
The Marian Community of Reconciliation and the Christian Life Movement, organizers of the event, said they had expected half the turnout.
Inspector Damian O' Reilly of Greater Manchester Police said: "It's been fantastic. I remember the old days and it's nice to get something going again and show that we're proud of our faith.
"This is just going to get bigger and bigger. This year we've had 1,000 participants, but next year we'll have 5,000," he said.
"We've been also so blessed with this weather. Our Lady wasn't going to let it rain, now was she?"
The procession was accompanied by bagpipes as it made its way down Curry Mile. Upon arriving at Platt Fields Park, 12 drummers from India performed a dance in traditional Kerala dress.
"In India we have many more processions and Hindus and Christians celebrate them in a similar style. Our processions last many hours and we play our drums during a very long time," said Binson Konickal Baby.
"There are approximately 2,000 Catholic families from Kerala in Greater Manchester. This is one way of integrating in the European community and we feel very welcomed."
"This will also help everyone get more religious background in this country," said the 34-year-old. "It's especially important for young people because they'll pass it on to other generations."
The procession ended with a speech by Fr. Thomas Connolly, the dean of St. Kentigern and St. Edwards churches, and the coronation of Our Lady by the vicar general of the Salford diocese, Fr. Anthony Kay.
The superior of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, Andrea Velarde, said the procession surpassed all their expectations and that she was really impressed by people's devotion to Our Lady.
"We realized that the best way to evangelize in this country is through Mary. So that's what has happened," she said. "It was very moving to see people's piety. The volunteers didn't even want to stop carrying her, to switch turns as they were supposed to."
More information about the Marian Community of Reconciliation can be found at: http://www.clmuk.org/fraternasuk/