This year's Walsingham Witness took place on a sunny day, which does help, as people are not likely to remain standing around in the rain. Neither is it very pleasant for those witnessing.
The number of pilgrims was well down on former years. This was partly due to defections to Rome and, possibly, some remaining at home for the Jubilee celebrations. Possibly, the preaching against this idolatry has had a bigger effect than we know.
Somebody counted the number of coaches in the parking area and there were eight this year, as opposed to eighteen last year. The number of mini-buses was also considerably reduced on previous years. When we first started witnessing some thirty years ago there would be around eight thousand in attendance. One year, when the then Archbishop of Canterbury was there, the number of pilgrims rose to ten thousand. This year there was, at the most, one thousand.
Those witnessing started to preach around 11am. Others handed out tracts and tried to engage people in conversation. At 11:45am the clergy, along with the Guardians of the Shrine, processed through the village, carrying the image of madonna and child shoulder high, to the ruined abbey grounds where the blasphemous mass was celebrated. The number of clergy has also greatly declined.
Last year the procession did not return by the normal route but went out through a back entrance and processed up a side street and back in to the abbey grounds. We were alert to a repeat performance and, sure enough, this is what occurred.
Those witnessing moved up close to the abbey gate where a line of police were across the road. Hymns were sung and the truth was proclaimed to those awaiting the procession and to those in the procession, when it eventually appeared. The narrow street acted as an amplifier which enabled the quieter speakers to be heard plainly.
The reason for the alteration of the return route, we were told, is for health and safety reasons, as congestion occurred outside the doll's house when they were returning the doll to her resting place. This is hard to believe as the village is cordoned off all day. We believe it is probably for two reasons. One, the decline in numbers. The return journey was a demonstration of the big support this event received and it is unlikely that the organisers would want the public, and those witnessing, to see such a big decline in their numbers. The second reason is to prevent their deluded followers from hearing the Gospel preached and idolatry denounced in the light of Scripture.
A number of people, including clergy, were engaged in lengthy conversations. It is quite amazing to hear them insist that they are trusting in Christ while, at the same time, they insist on the importance of Mary. They vehemently deny that they worship Mary, even when it is pointed out to them that they address her in prayer and sing hymns to her glory. Truly it is a strong delusion. However, most conversations were conducted in a friendly manner. They realise that we are there for their eternal good.
In former years, those witnessing sang the hymn “There is Power in The Blood” as the procession passed by singing the Ava Maria. This had to be sung repeatedly as we found it impossible, with the volume of noise, to change to other hymns. This year, as the procession was coming to an end, over the loudspeaker came the sound of that very hymn being sung. One would have to say the recording was much better in quality than the witnesses' singing. Their idea in doing this is no doubt to say that they are no different to us. We trust that God would be pleased to engrave the words on their hearts.
We returned home very encouraged. We felt that God had overruled the alterations to the procession route. We felt that there were some very worthwhile conversations. Above all, we were very encouraged to see such a big decline in the numbers attending this event.
Finally, as one went around the village one saw several shops selling idols and icons, rosary beads and candles, but there wasn't a Bible to be seen. Says it all really! Also, the public house in the Common Place, which used to do a roaring trade, with hundreds sampling their beverage and burgers, was almost totally deserted.