I wouldn’t miss Stella Maris’ annual Day of Pilgrimage & Prayer in Holy Island, Lindisfarne for anything,” says Brenda Bland, a volunteer ship visitor with Catholic maritime charity Stella Maris (formerly known as Apostleship of the Sea).

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the pilgrimage, and Hartlepool-based Brenda has been organising coaches to ferry Stella Maris supporters from County Durham to the pilgrimage for the last 15 years.

She always looks forward to attending the annual pilgrimage as it is a chance to get away from the business of daily life, to spend a day in a peaceful and quiet place.

It’s called HOLY island for a reason, it’s a chance to walk in the footsteps of some of the great Northern Saints. The whole place speaks of the presence of God; St Cuthbert’s Island, The Priory, being cut off from the mainland, a time to reflect on life. Plus, time with friends to pray together, to sing together and to share a few laughs together. Here’s to another 20 years!” says Brenda.

This year’s pilgrimage will be held on Saturday 29 June, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. It will be led by Bishop Paul Mason, Bishop of the Forces, and Stella Maris Bishop Promoter for England & Wales.

Outreach ministry

It was back in 2004 that the idea of holding an annual Stella Maris pilgrimage in each region in the UK was mooted by the charity’s then National Director Commodore Chris York.

In the Northeast of England, the mantle was picked up by Monsignor Ronnie Brown together with Tony McAvoy, former Stella Maris port chaplain, followed then by Paul Atkinson, who recently retired as a port chaplain with Stella Maris after many years of service.

We came up with the original idea of holding Celtic Prayers on the beach followed by Mass later in the day, giving pilgrims time to walk and enjoy this special and holy place,” says Paul, who has been involved with organising the event from the very first one.

The pilgrimage was seen as a way of raising awareness of the charity. This was at a time when Stella Maris was expanding with new lay chaplains being appointed, and was moving away from being a seafarers’ centre-based ministry to one of outreach: visiting seafarers and fishers onboard in their place of work.

Fast forward 20 years and the pilgrimage remains as, if not more popular, than when it first started. Bus-loads of pilgrims join in, from different parts of the UK, some travelling from Glasgow, and as far away as Southampton. There is great support from the volunteer ship visitors in the Northeast of England who work all day to make the pilgrimage a huge success.

Praying for seafarers

Deacon Peter Barrigan, Stella Maris’ regional port chaplain for Tees and Hartlepool, has been involved with the pilgrimage since 2006, and enjoys organising and attending it each year, even those years when the weather has been disappointing.

I like that we set aside a day to come together to pray for seafarers and to give thanks to God and Our Lady Star of the Sea for our ministry. Having the Celtic Prayers on the Green early in the day creates the right atmosphere for the day, it’s a prayerful pilgrimage.

Even the visitors to the island stop to see what we are doing and then ask about our work with seafarers. It’s a chance to catch up with our supporters and thank them for their continual support over the year.

For anyone reading this who hasn’t been to the island ever or for a few years, please come along on the 29 June to help us celebrate 20 years of this special pilgrimage. I’m sure you will enjoy the day with Mass. Plus we have a wonderful piper to lead a procession to the church,” says Peter.

Everyone is cordially invited to join Stella Maris’ Day of Prayer and Pilgrimage in Holy Island, Lindisfarne on Saturday 29 June. A light lunch will be provided. For more information, or to register, please email Deacon Peter Barrigan at: peter.barrigan@stellamarismail.org or phone: 07713 924504.

Please note safe crossing times: Saturday 29 June 12.00 noon until 8.00pm.