We made it! It was different – very different – and at times difficult, but I hope and believe we met those challenges head-on and made them work.

I think we all felt a little anxious as we approached our pilgrimage – I know I did. But once at Teesside Airport at 3.30am, with most of our Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust youth group already there, tired but excited, all those anxieties melted away.  

As our supported pilgrims and pilgrims arrived, the chatter got louder and the hugs were delivered. 

We arrived at the Elisio Hotel and soon settled in. It was lovely to be able to able to spend our days in the company of our supported pilgrims, having our mealtimes sitting among them, sharing our social time and, most importantly, in our services and liturgies. On a personal note, I did miss the Accueil – even all those domestic duties!

Our Hospitalité teams worked so well together, delivering care, support and company to our supported pilgrims and each other.

We laughed, we cried and we prayed together. It really was a special year.  

This year we had with us for the first time two young brancs, Phil and Dan, and one young handmaid, Charlie, our granddaughter.

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing they were and how proud we are of them and, more importantly, how much they loved their roles. I’m sure they will be back year after year.  

We also had the 28 young people from NPCAT, pupils from Trinity Catholic College, Sacred Heart Catholic Secondary, St Peter’s Catholic College and St Patrick’s Catholic College, along with six staff.

Every one of them worked incredibly hard, always with a smile, chatting with our supported pilgrims and taking part in the services. Their schools and their parents should be very, very proud.  

I’m hopeful that our 2024 pilgrimage we will have lots of six-formers coming along and working as young handmaids and brancs.

Can I say a personal “thank you” to each and every handmaid on this year’s pilgrimage, especially our team leaders and deputies, leading their teams in difficult circumstances?

You provided care and support to our supported pilgrims as you would to your own families. My thanks also to all those at home supporting us with your prayers.

I hope next year, our 70th, many more will be able to travel with us on our pilgrimage.

A huge “thank you” on behalf of our supported pilgrims for the lovely cards and bookmarks made by Mini Vinnies from St Clare’s, Endsleigh Holy Child, St Patrick’s and St Margaret Clitherow’s primary schools and a group of St Augustine’s secondary school pupils. I wish you could see their faces and hear the conversations as they received them.

We managed to smuggle in two beautiful celebration cakes made by Kate and Pat, which we cut on the occasion of the Queen’s jubilee. All I can say is that we really enjoyed them! Thank you.

Like other years, we took beautifully knitted and quilted blankets and each supported pilgrim was given one at our pre-pilgrimage masses to put in their cases.

Although we had beautiful weather, they were very useful on the cooler nights in processions. Again, to each and everyone who took the time to create these blankets, thank you.

Chris Tillotson

Head Handmaid