Back in the very early 1980’s, at the age of 8 or 9, my parents decided – they always told me at my request – to move me from Thringstone Primary, where I had started my formal schooling a few years earlier to the Roman Catholic Holy Cross School at the top of Parsonwood Hill in Whitwick.
The move was a massive culture change for me. Having never really having been to church it was, for my very young self, completely alien having to say class prayers at the start and end of the day, at break and at lunch.
My first teacher at Holy Cross was the absolutely fearsome but, as I found out in later life, hugely fun and kind hearted Mrs Wilkins.
Tess is a devout woman who, my class mates told me very early on, would give 10 merits to each of us if she saw us going into church at the end of the school day and who could organise a school mass on Holy Days with the same type of regimen that you would normally attribute to a Sergeant Major. We very quickly learnt what we could and could not get away with with Mrs Wilkins.
If any of the boys, never the girls, were seen as having the right sort of stuff for the priesthood – it seemed to be the aspiration of everyone to have after so many years another priest raised in the parish – then Mrs Wilkins would soon send you off to Father to be enrolled as an altar server.
That point, to an extent, is where today's column starts.
One thing that anyone familiar with religion will tell you is that we Catholics love ritual, the outward signs of faith. Almost universally we love the carols and incense at midnight mass at Christmas time, we adore the seemingly never ending readings and symbolic fires at Easter. And most of us, certainly in my youth, loved the processions which take place, sometimes around the school playing field sometimes through the streets of Whitwick, every May and June.
The ‘Catholic’s marching’ became well known throughout the village. Altar servers and devoted gentlemen in their Sunday best would be seen twice a year carrying banners and a statue of the Virgin Mary through the Market Place. Behind them, in my memory at least, hundreds of the faithful would follow on reciting prayers and singing hymns. It became for me a highlight of the church year.
Of course, probably due to difficulties in obtaining the proper licences and police permissions, eventually these highly public marches stopped. These ‘Marian’ processions don’t have anywhere near the same high profile any more.
I’m delighted to say though that the tradition of processions hasn’t died out altogether though.
For the better part of thirty years annually every Good Friday morning Christians from our villages have taken part in a ‘Walk of Witness’ from the Monastery of Mount St Bernards to St Andrew’s Parish Church in Thringstone.
The walk, which seeks to remember the journey Jesus suffered before his crucifixion has always stopped for a moment of reflection at five further churches along the route.
The Churches Together ‘Walk of Witness’ is one small part that makes our community what it is. Year after year it has taken place whether there has been glorious early spring sunshine or even, one year, in heavy snow.
2017 will be no different. This year’s procession takes place on Good Friday, 14th April, and starts at the Monastery at 9:45am. What better way can there be to start Easter?
And if you’re an Old Catholic like me it will bring all those childhood memories flooding back.
Whatever you choose to do have a wonderful Easter.