Retracing St Columba’s journey

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Centuries after St. Columba and his followers travelled around the west coast of Scotland, a group of French pilgrims has been tracing his steps by boat.

The Association of Sea Pilgrims (or Pèlerins de la mer) is a group that organises pilgrimages by boat to various destinations and around 200 French pilgrims sign up for such spiritual journeys every year.

This year is a first for the group – never before have they been in Scotland. They set off from Craobh Haven in Argyll and travelling up the Sound of Mull, they visited Canna and Skye before crossing to Lochmaddy on Monday, July 18th.

Arriving at Lochmaddy, they had arranged to meet with Fr. Ross Crichton, the Parish Priest of Benbecula and North Uist. Fr. Ross had spent the last years of his priestly formation in Paris and his first appointment was to a large city Parish in Paris, before being appointed to Benbecula in 2006. He always enjoys opportunities to renew the “auld alliance” between the two countries and the visit of the French pilgrims was one such occasion.

A group of 23 pilgrims in three yachts, met to celebrate Mass in Lochmaddy Hall where they were joined by some local parishioners.

The Mass had a cosmopolitan flavour – celebrated in French by Fr. Ross and Fr. Jean-Marthe, there were readings and hymns in French and English, and a communion hymn in Gaelic, the Laoidh Chaluim Chille. The French pilgrims learned the chorus especially for the occasion.

After Mass, the pilgrims were treated to island hospitality, the local parishioners having prepared tea, coffee and cakes for them.

Before heading off to Coll and Iona, the pilgrims expressed their great delight at having received such a welcome from their Christian brothers and sisters on the Celtic Fringe.

The idea of sea-pilgrimage is firmly rooted in the Celtic mindset. St. Columba set sail from his homeland in order to search for Christ among new people in new places. Monday’s meeting between the Catholics of France and Scotland provided an opportunity to encounter Christ in a new and refreshing setting.