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Over 3,000 British pilgrims set off for Madrid

Young people from the dioceses of Plymouth and Clifton catch a plane to Madrid (Photo: Marcin Mazur)

About 3,200 young people in Britain are heading to Madrid to take part in Pope Benedict XVI’s celebration of World Youth Day.

Young pilgrims from the Diocese of East Anglia intended to complete a “three shrine challenge” over three days on their way to Madrid. Sixty pilgrims aged 16 to 40 began their challenge early on Wednesday morning with Mass at 6am at the National Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, before boarding a coach to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The pilgrims hoped to reach the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain, today.

Ruth Waterson, 18, who is one of the pilgrims taking part, said she was looking forward to the challenge. “I haven’t heard of any other diocese doing this,” she said. “It will prepare us both mentally and spiritually for World Youth Day. I am hoping that it will deepen my faith even further and also help other people with their beliefs.”

In harmony with the central theme of World Youth Day, the group will be guided by the two youngest priests in England and Wales, Fr Luke Goymour, aged 27, and Fr Michael Collis, aged 26.

Despite the recession about 4,000 British pilgrims are due to make the long journey to welcome Pope Benedict in Madrid next week. Among the faithful are 80 seminarians, 51 religious and 20 bishops.

The Diocese of East Anglia is just one of many travelling abroad ahead of Pope Benedict’s arrival in Madrid. The prologue to World Youth Day is officially known as, “Days in the Diocese”, during which foreign dioceses host British pilgrims as they prepare for the Pontiff’s arrival.

Among the many dioceses participating in “Days in the Diocese” is Portsmouth, which has 127 pilgrims travelling to San Sebastian in the north of Spain.