On June 1, 2014, a group of thirteen J2A members were confirmed at St. Philip’s by Bishop Kirk Smith. The next morning, June 2, the J2A Pilgrimage set off from Tucson to London, England, accompanied by four adult leaders, the Rev. Allen Breckenridge, Allyn Baker, Sue Cross, and Woosug Kang.
The Pilgrims spent the first three days in London, then Canterbury, then a week at the international youth retreat in Taizé, France, and two days in Paris, before a harrowing trip home on June 18 filled with delays, via Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. They visited major spiritual sites including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame, and Sacré-Coeur Basilica, and hit many standard tourist favorites, including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, the London Eye, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower.
Below, the trip leaders reflect on their experience. Click here to read reflections from the youth.
From the Rev. Allen Breckenridge:
Our pilgrims’ journey began with God’s promises and hopes: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you” (Gen. 28:15) … First, I remember the 13 pilgrims—a Baker God’s dozen—no longer children, but wondrous, talented, faith-filled, and tested young adults who ended a journey together in deepened and even more active faith than they had when they began. I remember the family members and my fellow chaperones, who all helped the pilgrims make it to the journey’s end, albeit with detours, stops and starts, doubts, and worries along the way. … Like the pilgrims, we “leaders” journeyed too, and we were challenged and changed as we went …
We climbed high into St. Paul’s cupola to overlook the city of London, then on to Westminster Cathedral, resting place of kings, queens, and numerous saints, at once a shrine and sanctuary for worship. At the blessed Canterbury Cathedral, we lay on a cold stone floor in the darkness of an evening, gazing up at the vaulted ceiling and listening quietly for the footsteps of the myriad pilgrims who have graced its hallowed sanctuary. …
In Taizé in rural France … we experienced song, silence, and long lines with other pilgrims waiting patiently and joyfully for bread, chocolate, and butter. From many nations, we gathered in lively groups to play, pray, and share by the Spirit in a daily Pentecost, overcoming barriers of language, history, and timidity.
We washed clothes after arriving in the village Cluny, once home to 20,000 monks. Actually, our servant leaders Woosug and Allyn washed and folded all 13 pilgrims’ clothes, plus mine, while we wandered and feasted. Again and again, they served us and washed our feet and spirits to get us to our destinations—to food, shelter, and renewal —navigating and safely leading their charges onward.
Along the way, we stumbled and fell, like Jesus, as we faced barriers and obstacles countless pilgrims have experienced throughout the ages. Sadly, some of the pilgrims and leaders fell on an escalator after a delightful but tiring second day in London —not exactly the stairway to heaven we’d hoped for. … Sue, a chaperone, got the worst of it—a torn and broken foot hobbled her for a while and stopped her journey with us, or so it seemed at first. But she and the rest of us together rose again through prayer and sacraments and through the hospitality of strangers. All of us, especially Sue, met amazing friends in the hospital, including patients, chaplains, doctors, and nurses in a health-care system that works remarkably well, even for strangers. A gracious old Carmelite order welcomed us into sanctuary, our pilgrims selflessly helped one another and their leaders, and Sue’s beloved husband and family showed their willingness to go to Earth’s end to bring their loved one home and bind up her wounds. … In Canterbury, Taizé, Paris, and during our long trip home, our sister in Christ was never far away, inspiring the same faith in us and those we met along the way.
From Sue Cross: A Different Pilgrimage
As one of the four leaders accompanying the St. Philip’s J2A Pilgrims to England and France I studied the itinerary, train schedules, hostel rules, maps, and all the other papers in my folder. I thought I was prepared for this pilgrimage but it was not to be. My pilgrimage with the J2A group ended on our second day in London. We were heading back to our St. Paul’s Hostel after a full on day of sightseeing when I had a very nasty accident on an escalator in the Holburn Underground Station. My J2A pilgrimage ended there but my pilgrimage continued to take me in a very different direction.
… Fr. Allen sat with me throughout the night drinking copious cups of black coffee. After I woke from the general anesthetic the doctor informed me that after a second manipulation my foot and heel were in the correct position. In the early hours of the morning I was wheeled into Ward T10, University College Hospital. As I reflect back, this was the beginning of a very unexpected and spiritual journey.
… As the sun rose and the curtains around my bed were drawn, I found myself in a room with the most incredible view of London. The best hotels in London would be envious. I could see the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Thames River, and other landmarks we had visited earlier. I shared my room with three other women. In the bed opposite me was a silver haired woman who introduced herself as Helen. She remarked on my accent and asked was I from New Zealand. When I said yes, she laughed and said she was a Kiwi also. In a short time we became very close friends and discovered we were the same age, that we had both traveled to England back in the ’70s, had been to the same shows, plays, shopped at the same stores, and even been to the same restaurants. Helen did not talk much about her illness but said she had cancer and it was not good.
I met Helen’s husband and her two sons who came to visit her. One of her sons, Andrew, was a Catholic priest, and he was looking forward to traveling to Washington, D.C., to attend a course and work there. Helen and I had a special connection, and when I got back to Tucson I emailed her and sent her a card. On July 14 I received an email from Andrew,to say that his mom had died. He told me how much Helen loved reminiscing with me about our early days in London and that he believed that it was God’s plan to bring us together in Ward T10. I shared with Andrew that it was a blessing for me to meet Helen and how her friendship was encouraging and helped me during the times when I felt so alone. …
At the hospital Fr. Allen connected with the Hospital Chaplains and told them of the St. Philip’s J2A Pilgrimage to London and France and the accident. Fr. Martin, the Anglican Chaplain, and Fr. John, the Catholic Chaplain, were amazing and visited me daily. They brought me books to read and offered prayers to me, and together we prayed for the J2A youth and the other leaders. At the invitation of Fr. John, Fr. Allen stayed one night at the Kensington Carmelite Priory, and when my husband, Tom, arrived in London, Fr. Allen was able to rejoin the J2A Pilgrims in Canterbury. Tom also stayed at the Priory, and each evening when he returned from visiting me in hospital, Fr. John arranged for them to have dinner together either at the Priory or a local restaurant. When I was discharged from the hospital I spent one night at the Priory before our flight back to Tucson the next day. Fr. John and all the Priory priests were very welcoming, caring, and kind, and we look forward to seeing Fr. John when he visits Tucson in November and showing him the same warm hospitality he and the other priests showed to us.
As I now go through the slow process of healing from the accident I reflect on the caring and wonderful people I met during my five days in hospital. Their kindness and open hearts made this difficult situation bearable. Also, I must thank Fr. Allen for being there for me at one of my darkest moments and also thank Woosug and Allyn for their leadership and for making some tough decisions — but most of all I want to thank the J2A Pilgrims for their friendship and prayers. You are all special to me and I hope you continue to reflect on this pilgrimage as you follow the different paths your lives will take you. I hope you connect with a “Helen” and a “Fr. John” and when you find yourself in a tough situation, you are able to listen to God and be in that moment.
From Woosug Kang:
For me, the highlight of the trip was the kids. I got to know them better, and to appreciate what a great group of young people they are.
Photos by Kathy Kitagawa, John Kitagawa, Sue Cross, Woosug Kang