Dehydration, blisters and sore muscles did nothing to slow the zeal of hundreds of intrepid Catholics who undertook this year’s Christus Rex pilgrimage from Ballarat to Bendigo.
Christus Rex Society president Paul Brazier said the 90-kilometre, three-day event is now 28 years old and has grown steadily in the past few years, with more than half of the pilgrims this time aged under 25.
A total of 400 pilgrims registered for the walk from across the country and overseas, and Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Cathedral was packed to the rafters for the closing Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Richard Umbers.
The journey commenced on the Friday immediately preceding the Feast of Christ the King, as celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy, with morning Mass and a blessing by Bishop Emeritus Peter Connors at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat.
On Saturday, the pilgrims took part in a traditional outdoor Votive Mass of Our Lady Help of Christians at midday in the town of Campbelltown, and were welcomed by the congregation at Bendigo the next day.
“There’s something about a pilgrimage that has universal appeal and this one is unique in Australia as far as I know,” said Mr Brazier.
“It’s very appealing to Australians and New Zealanders who otherwise would have to go to Europe to make a pilgrimage like this.”
In the Catholic tradition, a pilgrimage is meant to include some hardship, and while one pilgrim suffered dehydration Mr Brazier said the way to Bendigo was “remarkably injury-free” and often felt more like a celebration.
“There is an infectious spirit of generosity and joy among our pilgrims and the team of volunteers who support us,” he said.
The annual pilgrimage is a “very public witness of Christ’s kingship”, he added.
“I think it’s an opportunity more people are willing to take up and show that they are not afraid to be Catholic.”
In his homily Bishop Umbers spoke of the pride Catholics should have in their tradition and sacraments, especially the sacrament of Holy Orders, by which the service of authentic kingship is provided to the people of God through priests and bishops.
“We are proud to celebrate all our sacraments, that includes our service to God and the People of God with Holy Orders,” he said.
“The Liturgy reflects the hierarchical nature of the Church which Christ founded,” which should also be celebrated, he added.