A pilgrimage in the Catholic tradition is a journey to a holy place to venerate it, to ask for aid, and to do penance.
‘The Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ [is]
to be observed yearly throughout the whole world
on the last Sunday of the month of October’
– Pius XI, Quas Primas
The Christus Rex Pilgrimage honours Christ the King and commemorates His feast on the day originally instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas. This great solemnity continues to be observed in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite under the General Roman Calendar of 1960.
The Christus Rex Pilgrimage is a 90 kilometre walk which is completed over three days. It commences on the Friday immediately preceding the Feast of Christ the King with morning Mass and a blessing at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat. Throughout Friday, the Pilgrims walk 30 km to the town of Smeaton. On Saturday, the Pilgrims continue 15 km to the village of Campbelltown, where the Votive Mass of Our Lady Help of Christians is celebrated at midday in a picturesque outdoor setting. The Pilgrims then walk a further 20 km to the town of Newstead. On Sunday, the Pilgrims are transported to Lockwood, from where they walk the remaining 20 km to Sacred Heart Cathedral Bendigo. The Christus Rex Pilgrimage concludes with Mass celebrated at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday afternoon.
The spiritual benefits of the Christus Rex Pilgrimage are bountiful, not just to the Pilgrims, but to the whole of society. While walking along the route, the Pilgrims engage in prayer and song, as well as personal reflection and mediation. The sacrament of Confession is available to Pilgrims almost continuously along the way.
‘When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King,
society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.’
A uniquely Australian feature of the Christus Rex Pilgrimage is the great spirit and fellowship of the Pilgrims. The Pilgrimage is attended by hundreds of Pilgrims from around Australia and the world and attracts people of all ages and walks of life. The Christus Rex Pilgrimage provides a perfect opportunity for Catholics to make new friendships and renew old ones.
Today, the Christus Rex Pilgrimage is conducted by the Christus Rex Society Inc. The Society is made up of a volunteer group of pilgrims, successors to the original pilgrims, and who are united by their great love of Christ the King.
HISTORY OF THE CHRISTUS REX PILGRIMAGE
To understand the story of the Christ the King Pilgrimage, it is necessary first of all to know of the great French Paris-to-Chartres Pilgrimage, which is held annually over the Pentecost Sunday weekend. The Chartres Pilgrimage revived a French tradition in the early 1980s. It had begun with a handful of Catholics that were devoted to their traditional faith, and who saw the institution of the pilgrimage as a powerful weapon of repentance, conversion and weapon against the evils of our present age. Within a couple of decades, there were about ten thousand pilgrims, many from other countries, walking and praying the route from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres.
Inspired by the Chartres Pilgrimage story, a small group of Australians dedicated to the traditional liturgy decided to create a Pilgrimage tradition in Australia. They were faced with the task of finding two Cathedrals in Australia about a 3-day walk apart that were aesthetically appropriate for the worthy celebration of the traditional liturgy. This was a little harder in vast, modern Australia than it was in densely-populated France which had been Christian for over one and a half millennia. In the end, though, the choice was a simple one: the road from St Patrick’s Cathedral Ballarat through the Victorian country side to Sacred Heart Cathedral Bendigo turned out to be the sole candidate which fitted the bill on both counts. The Feast of Christ the King (always the last Sunday in October in the traditional calendar) was chosen, not just because the theme was very appropriate for a Pilgrimage aiming to convert Australia to the Catholic Faith, but because it was a mild time of the year weather-wise, and a relatively quiet time of the year liturgically, in which priests might be available. A great deal of preparatory work was put in by the founding Chairman, Bill Rimmer, in surveying the route, and negotiating with churches, shires and farmers for permission to use facilities.
In 1991, the first Pilgrimage set off – a band of about a dozen from several different states, with Canberra priest Fr John Parsons as its chaplain. Rosaries were prayed, hymns sung, ferverinos preached and masses celebrated as they are today. But things were a little different in those early days. There were no marshalls, or portaloos, and the Saturday overnight stop was Maldon, at which the Sunday Festal Mass was also celebrated early in the morning. 2nd Vespers for the Feast of Christ the King was celebrated at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo on the Sunday afternoon. The choir and the ministers and servers made up most of the turnout at each mass. And perhaps most importantly, the Saturday evening dinner was a superb roast with vegetables and gravy, supplied by our cooks, Marie and Michael Houlihan, who went on to cater generously for many subsequent Pilgrimages. (Some harbour the belief that the Saturday Night Roast might return to the Pilgrimage just before the Second Coming.)