It may have been a fraction of the distance, but the faith, dedication and enthusiasm of the annual Epiphany Pilgrimage pilgrims was still present.
This year’s Epiphany Pilgrimage, named for its focus on and celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, was unfortunately cancelled in early January due to the recent devastating bushfires in and around the Blue Mountains.
However, organisers Jesse and Briony Mowbray from St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook, decided to celebrate the feast day with a smaller day pilgrimage and a just-as-enthusiastic pilgrimage group.
“Discerning whether or not to cancel the pilgrimage was tough because we knew it would be disappointing for many people,” Jesse told Catholic Outlook.
“It was also difficult to know whether to plan the day pilgrimage. After mulling it over and a process of discernment, we just had to take a step of faith with it.”
The traditional pilgrimage is a seven-day, 110 kilometre journey from Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains, through the bush trails of the mountains, visiting the various parishes of the Blue Mountains, and concluding at the Chapel of the Magi in Bell.
This year, the pilgrimage wound its way from Emu Plains to St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook on 5 January.
Briony explained, “in the lead up, we were slightly apprehensive as the previous day was the hottest day of the year, with lots of smoke coming from the fire grounds because of a southerly change.
“But our worries were ultimately unnecessary and the weather was great for walking: a comfortable temperature, no smoke haze in the morning and only a little coming in as we neared the end of the walk in Glenbrook, and a wonderfully enthusiastic group of pilgrims.
“It was still a very joyous celebration of the Christmas season and the revelation of Christ to all humanity.”
The day pilgrimage started with the pilgrims being welcomed by the parish community at Emu Plains for Mass.
During Mass, Fr Paul Roberts, parish priest at Emu Plains, reflected on the contrasts of the joy of the Christmas season with the sorrows of the bushfires and drought conditions, which was echoed during the walk by pilgrimage chaplain Fr Dom Murphy OP from the parishes of St James, Forest Lodge, and St Bede, Pyrmont.
The 40 pilgrims from across the Diocese of Parramatta and from the wider Sydney metropolitan region then set off on their journey towards Glenbrook.
Briony said, “the spirit of the day was wonderful.
“There was a real sensitivity to and awareness of the devastating weeks of fires that we have had, and prayers for those affected were at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“As we prayed for the prayer intentions submitted [to us], we found that many of these were written for those impacted by the fires.
“But in the midst of such a difficult time, there was a real sense of joy in the opportunity to be together and to celebrate the revelation of God to the world on the beautiful Feast of the Epiphany.”
Jesse added, “walking in the bush is always a great joy – that experience of God in creation distinctive to the Australian context – and this walk was no different.
“The time of praise and prayer was very special and the dignity afforded to the prayer intentions by all those who participated was incredibly moving and a source of great joy.”
Once reaching St Finbar’s, the pilgrims participated in praise and worship and adoration before celebrating a festive meal together.
“The festival meal is always a great celebration and lots of fun. The Epiphany tradition of cutting the Galette des Rois cake and finding the small ‘fève’ figurine to declare the King or Queen is always terrific,” Jesse said.
In the spirit of ‘Christmas in July’ prevalent throughout the Blue Mountains, pilgrimage organisers have decided to celebrate ‘The Epiphany in July’.
Briony explained, “we are hoping to use this opportunity to bring Christ to this time of year in a different way.
“We’ve tentatively set the dates for the Epiphany in July pilgrimage, and we’ve actually been quite overwhelmed by the enthusiasm about the change of dates – the cooler weather certainly seems attractive for many people.”
Although there is a lot of walking elements to the pilgrimage, Jesse and Briony want to encourage everybody to participate in the pilgrimage – walkers or not.
“It is possible to participate in the Epiphany Pilgrimage in many ways,” Jesse said.
“For those who enjoy walking and are competent bushwalkers, it is a wonderful experience to be able to journey on foot through the Blue Mountains and celebrate with each of the great parishes that we have up here.
“Every day of the pilgrimage, there are opportunities to shorten the walk – either by taking an alternative route or by jumping on a train. Some pilgrims might feel that they are comfortable walking 10km each day, and that is completely fine and absolutely possible.
Briony added, “we also want non-walkers to feel very welcome. The time we spend at each parish – beginning each day with Mass and ending each day with a time of prayer, praise, worship and adoration, and then enjoying a festive meal together – is really at the heart of the pilgrimage and everyone is welcome to participate in these aspects.”
“The Epiphany Pilgrimage has always been about bringing ourselves to Christ and giving ourselves to Him once more. It is about praying for others and bringing their needs before God for His love, healing and mercy.
“Of course, we do also hope that the pilgrims get something out of the experience, that it is an opportunity for personal faith encounter and a great celebration of the joy of Christ’s coming into the world,” she said.
The Epiphany Pilgrimage is planning a pilgrimage in July. For more information and to register your interest, please visit http://www.epiphanypilgrimage.org/