The team arrived from a 6.30 am start in Basildon and were ready to welcome pilgrims by 8am. The flow of people never relented as they walked the pilgrim journey to Don Bosco's relics. Cathedral staff estimated that about 4,000 people visited the relic during the day. Groups arrived from parishes from around the diocese and beyond; from Hertfordshire, Chertsey, Farnborough as well as many from central London. Manor House , Rotherhithe, Basildon, Tourists visited from places like Mumbai where they already had participated in the pilgrimage of the relics of Don Bosco and were delighted to re-engage in a more intimate encounter with Don Bosco.
Watching the pilgrims approach the relics in silence was a meditation in itself. Some came and stood quite close and looked. Some stood a few feet away looking, perhaps more objectively an perhaps hesitantly at the practice of veneration of relics. Those who stood close were looking at the lifelike effigy of a man who looked quite ordinary, small in stature, with the signs of a stroke on his face and the impact of a lifetime of hard work behind his closed eyes. But what was going on in the minds of the pilgrims as they looked at the casket? Here are some of their words:
I wanted to talk to Don Bosco about my children and ask his guidance.
I had no thoughts.... just a sense of peace and reassurance that God had not left me.
I found that I wanted to cry and I did. I don't know why but it was good and I walked away with my shoulders a little but lighter. I was surprised because, to be honest I am a bit of a sceptic really.
I felt that Don Bosco was not a relic but standing right next to me and smiling even as I was looking at his relic. It was weird but very calming. I was aware that I was stood in a powerful place, a focus of holiness that was linked to the relic but separate from it.
I felt that God had hugged me right there at the relic. Everything else seemed to fade and it was just me and a presence which I suppose is God.
One lady stood at the feet of Don Bosco and moved her lips in silent prayer for twenty minutes. Many others simply wanted to touch the relic and even caress the glass that contained it. Their faces shone in the reflected glow of lighting around the relic. One group stood in silence and held hands allowing Don Bosco to recognise and bless their bond of friendship. All of these pilgrims, caught in the light of a saint came away changed on their own pilgrim journey. Each one was challenged if not illuminated by that light for the road ahead.
At 2pm Bishop Alan Hopes led a thanksgiving mass with 32 concelebrants and spoke warmly at the beginning and the end of mass about the impact of Don Bosco and the animating influence of the pilgrim team which were accompanying the relics around the UK. Fr Martin Coyle preached on the need for Don Bosco's balanced approach to faith in which the sacred is recognised as much in the home, school and playground of each life as it is in the church. Fr Coyle challenged the congregation to demonstrate their faith through optimism and cheerfulness. Those thoughts were echoed in the offertory procession as 8 large banners were carried forward.
Towards the end of the mass the road crew,all volunteers from the Salesian network, gathered on the sanctuary to lead the congregation in the pilgrimage hymn ably led by the cathedral organist. After the blessing Bishop Hopes venerated the relic and incensed it on behalf of the congregation. Then, accompanied by the clergy and the uniformed road crew, the casket was taken into the piazza where a van waited to take the relics to a new location. As the relic moved into the specially adapted van the crew began to sing “da mihi animas !” and “viva Don Bosco!” as the van moved away. Bishop Hopes then moved among the team and thanked them for their work, enthusiasm and inspiration.
The team then spent the next hour dismantling the pilgrim experience before returning to theor hosts in Basildon parish for a shared meal.