Iona, Lindisfarne and the Lampedusa Cross

Martin Desforges, a CAFOD volunteer from the Hallam Diocese reflects on his recent experience of Pilgrimage and his encounter with the Lampedusa Cross.

Irish monks founded a monastery on Iona in A.D. 563, and it was from there that St Aidan set out in A.D.635 to establish a monastery on Lindisfarne to spread Irish Christianity to Northumbria and from there to other parts of northern England. It is surprising that a long distance walking or cycling route has not been established based on the journey Aidan and his fellow monks made from Iona to Lindisfarne.  Reading about the spread of Christianity from Ireland to Iona, and then to Northumbria, the seeds of a pilgrim journey were sown. My preference for long distance journeys is by bicycle rather than walking, and like the early monks, I felt that the journey would be made more interesting if ferries were used.

Martin and Libby setting off from Iona

Martin and his sister Libby setting off for Iona

The route and timing of the pilgrimage were planned before I heard of the Lampedusa cross, and the link with the 2016 Year of Mercy pilgrimage on the refugee crisis. Pope Francis invited all Christians to make a pilgrimage to mark the year of Mercy. A Sicilian carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, had been making rough crosses from the wreckage of a boat carrying refugees that sank off the island of Lampedusa. Some of these refugees were rescued but many drowned. Francesco offered his crosses to survivors as a symbol of their rescue and a sign of hope for a new life in their new countries. He has also given one to Pope Francis, and there is one in the British museum. They may well become a widely recognised symbol of the 2015-16 European Refugee Crisis.

Find out more about the Lampedusa Cross

CAFOD, as part of their campaigns activities for the year of mercy, encourage people to take part in a pilgrimage focussing on the refugee crisis, and have produced a variety of material for those wanting to organise a pilgrimage. CAFOD supplied me with two Lampedusa Crosses, one to be left in the house of prayer on Iona, and one to travel with me to be left at St Aidan’s church on Lindisfarne on arrival at the end of the pilgrim journey. Sr. Jean Lawson of Cnoc a Chalmain (House of Prayer) on Iona and Sr. Tessa of St Aidan’s church on Iona were contacted, and both were happy to accept the Lampedusa crosses. The one left in St Aidan’s would be the focus of the Hexham and Newcastle diocesan pilgrimage to Lindisfarne later in the year.

The link between pilgrimage and the long, arduous journeys of the refugees fleeing from war, persecution and poverty is clear, but the physical and psychological discomforts are of a very different scale. Although the pilgrimage is self-chosen rather than a necessity for survival, of a much shorter duration, and carried out in far less arduous conditions, it may lead to empathy with the physical hardships endured by refugees, and better understanding of the pain and uncertainties faced on the journey. The pilgrimage journey offers time for reflection, prayer, and careful consideration of what is an appropriate Christian response to the plight of refugees coming to Europe. As Pope Francis wrote:

We ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that migrants and refugees are brothers and sisters to be welcomed respected and loved.

Martin and Libby hand the Lampedusa Cross to Iona

Presenting the Lampedusa Cross

The pilgrimage started on Iona where we were welcomed to Sunday mass at the House of Prayer. At the end of mass we were asked to say a few words about the Lampedusa Cross and our intended pilgrim journey from Iona to Lindisfarne, before formally handing over the first cross for display in the church. Information cards explaining the significance of the cross in this year of Mercy, together with the CAFOD cards of Hope, were left on display close to the cross. The cards will be available for visitors to the  House of Prayer to complete

Download the Pilgrimage on the Refugee Crisis

In all we cycled 380 miles, climbing more than 15,000 ft., the six days of glorious sunshine without rain, and experienced  a spectacular array of Spring flowers. What did the pilgrimage achieve? Firstly, like all pilgrimages, it provided time for thought, reflection and prayer on the Christian response to the refugees seeking asylum in Europe. Secondly it has left a legacy in the churches on Iona and Lindisfarne in the form of the Lampedusa crosses, which will hopefully provide a stimulus for many other pilgrims visiting these holy places to reflect on the words of Pope Francis, that the refugee crisis is an opportunity for us to put some basic Christian principles into practice. Finally, it made us appreciative of the efforts of those early Celtic monks in bringing Christianity to Northern Britain, and the legacy that continues to influence us today.


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About cafodhallam

CAFOD is an aid and development agency dedicated to improving the lives of the poorest in our world. In the UK we work to educate people about the causes of poverty, inspire them to campaign to address issues of social justice and inequality, and support them in fundraising activities. Overseas we work with local partners in 40 countries in South America, Africa and Asia to deliver long-term development projects and emergency aid. CAFOD's headquarters are in London and CAFOD Hallam is the local office for Sheffield and the surrounding area.

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