“As we walk through the streets carrying the cross, thousands of people see us as we walk by. It serves as a reminder as to what Easter and Lent are really about,” Student Cross coordinator Angela Joyce told CNA March 22.
The pilgrims are divided into 11 groups, with six of them walking up to 130 miles during Holy Week from March 23-29. They will stay overnight in church and village halls. Another two groups will walk for fewer days and the remaining, family-centered groups, will walk only a short distances.
Groups will begin in Colchester, Epping, Oxford, Kettering, Leicester, and Keyworth Notts.
They will end at the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in the east county of Norfolk, a major pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages.
Regarded as the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to a devout English woman in 1061, it was one of the largest pilgrimage destinations within the Church until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. A local resurgence of interest in pilgrimages in the 19th century revived the shrine's popularity.
Joyce called the modern pilgrimage this year an opportunity to “focus on what’s important in life.”
“Life isn’t easy, it isn’t meant to be easy. We all have our crosses to carry, our burdens to bear. The cross reminds us that we do not have to carry it alone. Christ carried the cross so that we could live.”
Joyce said she sees the pilgrimage as a “golden” way “to get my head out of the busyness of work and the day to day of life and to reflect on my life and spirituality.”
“With no responsibility other than to make sure that you put one foot in front of the other and keep going, it means you can take a step back and spend time with your fellow pilgrims and more importantly God,” she noted.
“There is a lot of time for reflection and prayer.”
Joyce said pilgrims have become her “family” throughout the year with many reunions and shared experiences that have strengthened their relationship.
In a March 20 announcement for the event, Student Cross referenced Pope Francis' recent call to Christians to be disciples of the Lord by acknowledging and professing the death and resurrection of Christ.
“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord,” the Pope told cardinals during his first Mass as pontiff March 14.
Known as Britain's oldest annual pilgrimage, Student Cross began in 1948. Participants are not limited to students and Christians of all denominations, as well as non-Christians, take part in the event.
About 250 pilgrims of all ages and backgrounds will spend Holy Week helping to carry a life-sized wooden cross to the historic English Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.
Holy Week, Church in the U.K.