Here at Aylesford we were delighted today to welcome the annual Portuguese Pilgrimage. The piazza of the main shrine swelled with heartfelt singing, prayer and joy with the hundreds of pilgrims who had come on the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist.
Despite the threat of rain, clouds soon dispersed as Mass began at 11.30 am at which Bishop Antonio Vitalino Fernandes Dantas, O.Carm. presided. Bishop Antonio had come specially from his diocese of Beja in Portugal and recalled with fondness his previous visit to The Friars many years ago for an international meeting of Carmelites.
Professed as a member of the Carmelite Order in 1960, Bishop Antonio was ordained to the episcopacy in 1996 and was Auxiliary Bishop of Lisbon, Portugal, until becoming Bishop of Beja in 1999.
After Mass, the Portuguese pilgrims had BBQs, dancing and even games of football in the grounds of the priory. One pitch sported Portuguese flags at one end and English flags at the other! Was this a prophetic gesture about the European championship... or perhaps just wishful thinking?
Although the rosary procession normally concludes the day, socialising and more fun continued into the early evening.