Pilgrims Way 1997, which celebrated the joint 1400th anniversaries of St Augustine and St Columba, ended with a Eucharist at St Columb's Anglican Cathedral in Derry on Monday 9 June. The pilgrimage began in Rome in May when a group of ecumenical pilgrims travelled the route St Augustine would have taken to Canterbury.
After the Canterbury celebrations different groups of pilgrims travelled across England, Wales and Scotland on route for celebrations to mark St Columba's anniversary in Ireland. Pilgrims arrived in Ireland from four different routes. Highlights of the pilgrimage included a warm Irish welcome in Wexford, where the congregation of 600 was also invited to share in the pilgrims' supper as so much food had been provided by the hosts; a walk around the ancient Christian sites of Kells where local school children put on a pageant about St Columba, and a procession between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals in Belfast.
There were also celebrations at St Columba's birthplace in Gartan. On 4th June Bishop James Mehaffey, the Bishop of Derry, began a pilgrim's walk from Gartan to Derry, a walk of around 35 miles. President Mary Robinson of Ireland unveiled a commemorative stone at the Old Columba Abbey in Gartan and on Sunday 8th June the Anglicans organised an open-air Eucharist service at his birthplace. The highlight of the Gartan celebrations was an large ecumenical service. Different groups reenacted the different stages of Columba's life and each church leader gave a symbolic gift associated with the saint. Bishop Mehaffey brought doves and spoke of the importance of Columba in the work of reconciliation.
All of the pilgrims came together at Corrymeela, a well-known centre for reconciliation. The Route Coordinator for the pilgrimage, Mr Glyn Preece, spoke to ACNS about the important witness of this pilgrimage:"The pilgrimage showed how reconciliation can work in a very practical way. The pilgrimage was ecumenical and it showed how well people can work together and become bonded together during such an occasion."
Celebrations in Derry on 8th and 9th June brought the pilgrims to the end of their journey. Here, the Bishop of Derry, the Rt Revd James Mehaffey, spoke on the theme of reconciliation and how the pilgrimage had brought people back to a common root in the Gospel. Afterwards the pilgrims and local people went to the quayside where a currach (traditional Irish boat) and crew set sail for Iona, off Scotland, retracing St Columba's journey in 503AD.
Pilgrims Way 1997 has brought together a total of 338 pilgrims from UK, Eire, Canada, the USA, Australia, Italy, France, Germany and India for a three week pilgrimage of faith. Different groups of pilgrims have travelled the mission routes of St Augustine and St Columba and made pilgrimages to other Christian centres along the way. Not all these centres have been ancient Christian sites, like Canterbury, Lindisfarne and Derry, many have been modern cities, like Leicester where Christians work with people of different faiths and traditions.