Scottish Cross

Fr Tom Kearns' Diary

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One of the founding members of the Scottish Cross is Fr Tom Kearns OP, a Dominician Priest. At the time, he was the Roman Catholic Honorary Chaplain at the University of Edinburgh, but now has his own Parish on Orkney. Fr Tom Kearns came on the first two Scottish Cross pilgrimages, and in the second year, he wrote an account of the trip, which was published in the 1st May 1998 edition of the Church Times. Here is a transcript of the article. (Note that the route has changed since this article was written.).

Saturday 4th April is gathering-day for Scottish Cross, at the Catholic Chaplaincy for the University of Edinburgh, One by one, the 21 pilgrims walking from stage one (they are to be joined by another 13 along the route) arrive, and introduce themselves. They come from seven different countries, and from both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. At an inaugural supper, kindly and expertly prepared by Jane Simmonds, the mellow, candle-lit table fellowship brings barriers down. We find ourselves being drawn into a recognisable, if embryonic, community,

Day 1, Drymen to Rowardennan

Palm Sunday dawns grey and wet. We gather in the Chaplaincy common room (where some have slept overnight): bags, boxes, boots and sleeping-bags everywhere. Before we leave for Drymen, we hold our first service together there: Mass and blessing of palms. The pain of Christian division is keenly felt. Together on the pilgrimage we will carry the cross, symbol of our common faith, and Christ's own prayer rings in our ears - "that they may be one". Yet a gulf exists which we are powerless to bridge. The pain is greatest, perhaps, for Patricia, an Anglican priest, who is doubly excluded from concelebrating the eucharist, as well.

Mid-morning finds us speeding north-west in our minibus, rain still pouring. However, once past the ancient capital of Stirling, the skies begin to clear, and rays of sunshine are seen on distant snowy mountains.Pilgrims and cross unload at Loch Lomond and we pause for the first Station before the walkers set off in silence, carrying the cross along the West Highland Way towards Rowardennan.

Little more than an hour later, we put down the cross for a picnic lunch. As we do so, we pray: "We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world", a prayer which will be repeated whenever we put down the cross at a Station - a brief pause to let one of us share a thought, a poem, a passage from the Bible - at rest or meal breaks, or at the end of a day. After each Station, we continue walking in silence for half an hour, to allow time to reflect and pray. Our programme also includes daily morning and evening prayer, as well as the Holy Week liturgies.

Day 2. Rowardennan to Beinglas

Morning prayer on the loch shore before setting off for Inversnaid, where we are to have lunch in the hotel. Tough hill walking, with the heavy cross, over rough ground: the harsh reality of the way to Calvary begins to become clearer. When we get to Inversnaid, at least three of the group have had enough walking for the day, and opt to go on by minibus. A delicious lunch (the dining-room opened specially for us), and afterwards we relax with coffee (or something stronger) in front of a blazing fire.

After another Station, the walkers go on to Beinglas at the loch's head, arriving in more rain, cold, tired and hungry, But the Stagger Inn at Ardlui is a delightful surprise: a superb bill of fare, all cooked from fresh local ingredients, and very reasonably priced. I shall never pass through Ardlui again without calling in there. From the sublime to the ridiculous: from the Stagger Inn to Beinglas campsite, and its wooden "wigwams". No words that I can use in this paper describe it.

Day 3. Beinglas to Tyndrum

Tuesday morning brings the promise of a fine day. We follow the West Highland Way as it climbs along the old military road to Crianlarich, where we pause for lunch and a quick visit to a local pub. Then on, northwards, towards Tymlrum, where bunkhouse and caravan accommodation has been reserved. This is probably the easiest day's walking. Our group is bonding well, helped by the Station reflections, the prayer sessions, the many helping hands given and received along the way, and the occasional wee dram.

Day 4. Tyndrum to Dalmally

Heavy rain in the morning, and mud everywhere. Loading the minibus is a thoroughly unpleasant task. The walk, a beautiful one, takes us to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, where we have an excellent, though rather expensive, lunch. On last year's pilgrimage, our cross was stolen here by pranksters - happily there is no repeat of the episode this year.

Here, we leave the West Highland Way. All along it, we have passed and been passed by other walkers, many of whose faces are now quite familiar to us. We have chatted to them about our pilgrimage, and some have joined us for Station stops. But now - as happens on life's journey as well - we and they have parted company. The walk down Glen Orchy to Dalmally is a magical experience. Hugh, an Anglican priest from Dorset, who is on the last leg of a sabbatical, is particularly struck by its wild, wet beauty, and reads a moving poem at the Station.

We sleep at Craig Lodge House of Prayer, an old shooting-lodge, now a retreat house run by a community of Roman Catholic laypeople. Nothing could exceed the warmth and true Christian hospitality with which we are greeted and there are hot baths and comfortable beds - sheer luxury! Our cross rests overnight in the chapel, where after supper we celebrate separate Anglican and Roman Catholic eucharists. Again the pain of Christian division is intensely felt by us all.

Day 5. Dalmally to Taynuilt

Maundy Thursday is fine and clear, and we make for the shores of Loch Awe. A planned boat trip across the loch falls through, so instead we walk along back roads into Taynuilt - a stunningly beautiful route that we would have missed if the boat had been available. At Taynuilt, an early supper was promised for 6pm. Relying on such promises is often foolhardy, and that proved to be the case here. So most of us are dreadfully late for the Maundy Thursday service in the little RC parish church. We swamp the half-dozen parishioners there, of course, just as the influx of Irish road- and rail-builders for whom the church was built must have swamped the village in the 19th century. But it is a very moving service, where the venerable priest's washing of the weary walkers' feet - feet tired, blistered and in need of washing - is more than just a ritual. Early to bed on the floor of the village hall.

Day 6. Taynuilt to Oban

Good Friday. We rise at six, so as to reach Oban by lunchtime. After morning prayer and early breakfast, we collect our cross from the parish church and set out along the lovely Glen Lonan road. It is fine, but bitterly cold: a great day for walking. The road is virtually deserted, apart from long-haired Highland cattle, and we can meditate, on this most solemn of days. At Oban, heads turn to gaze as we carry our cross through the busy shopping streets and along the Esplanade to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's imposing RC cathedral.

After lunch at the cathedral house, our pilgrims, with the cross at their head, are formally received at the cathedral door when the Good Friday service begins. For many of us, the service itself is the most moving and impressive part of the whole week. Seeing hundreds of people reverently kissing the cross that we have carried all across Scotland is an extraordinary experience.

Later, in the quiet of the evening, we return to the deserted cathedral for our own evening prayer. Sitting close together informally on the sanctuary steps, with evening sunlight pouring in, we are enveloped in something like a mystical experience. When the prayers end, we sit on in happy, silent meditation. No one wants to break the magic, the feeling of intense closeness to God and to each other. After supper, almost at midnight, some of the younger pilgrims creep back into the dark cathedral for impromptu night prayers and Taize chants. And so to bed.

Day 7. Oban to Iona

Holy Saturday dawns with blue skies, sunshine, and bitter winds. Most of the pilgrims take the cross on the first ferry from Oban to Craigmere to start the long walk across the Isle of Mull. The rest load up the minibus and follow on the next ferry across the choppy sea. The walk across Mull is the longest we have to face. No one could do its full 37 miles in the day so the minibus does a shuttle service to and fro across the centre of Mull. We all reach Fionnphort in time for the last ferry to Iona. Exhaustion is setting in, but a final spurt carries us up the hill, the last half-mile, to the little chapel in the Catholic House of Prayer at Cnoc a' Chalmain (the Hillock of the Dove), where we lay our cross at the foot of the altar. We have arrived. We have made it to the holy island.

After a short service of thanksgiving, we scatter to seek our resting-places, and then most make their way to the Benedictine Abbey Church for the Easter Vigil service with the Iona Community.

Day 8. Easter on Iona

Easter Day - sunshine, newborn lambs, birdsong - is one of rest and rejoicing. Sadly, some of us have to leave on the first ferry; the rest attend the Easter morning service at the Abbey. Later we explore the island by foot, before gathering for a last evening prayer together round the cross: in the chapel at Cnoc a' Chalmain. It is a time to reflect on our pilgrimage, and all we have gained from it, and from each other: the sharing of faith, the meeting of minds and hearts.

Deo gratias - thanks be to God.

Fr Tom Kearns OP

Scottish Cross