On Sunday January 23, which marked the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian unity, James Bruce set off from Walsingham in Norfolk with the aim of getting to another Marian shrine on the other side of the world – Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, writes David Hothersall.
Mr Bruce, 36, is from Bristol. He was received into the Church while studying Russian at St Andrews University. He completed a six-month pilgrimage on foot from London to Jerusalem, raising £2,000 for Mary’s Meals.
He said: “I was amazed by the kindness of people along the route, especially in Turkey. The only problem I had was with the police sometimes, who thought I might be a homeless person.”
Sleeping arrangements varied from the back of a lorry, bus shelters and church porches to people who opened up their homes and welcoming monasteries along the way. “I find that after a couple of hours walking, you might as well keep going,” he added. He cheerfully described the pilgrimage as a “walk to a lake on the way to a church” since he intends to visit Lake Baikal in Siberia, the world’s largest freshwater lake, on his way to Guadalupe in Mexico after “somehow getting across the Pacific”.
He is paying for the pilgrimage himself, thanks to a legacy from his late grandfather. He is raising money for Mary’s Meals, the international charity that sets up projects where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education. It was founded by Mr Bruce’s second cousin, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, who was recently appointed an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list. Mr Bruce says he was “quite a militant atheist” in his teenage years, with strong objections to the way the Church exerted moral influence.
He began drawing closer to the Christian faith at his uncle’s funeral, whom he later realised was a Catholic, and whom he remembers for his serenity.