At a farewell Mass at the National Shrine in Walsingham, the Bishop of East Anglia, Alan Hopes, paid a fulsome tribute to Mgr John Armitage for his hard work over the past five years as he prepared to start a new role as a priest in canning Town, London.
Here we reproduce just part of the bishop’s speech:
“Mgr John brought a huge amount of energy and generosity to the Shrine which I know you have loved from your early days. You created a whirlwind which has captivated and inspired so many different people in so many different ways. These last five years have been a very significant ones in the life of the Shrine.
“Mgr John came with a vision for the shrine which was rooted in his own deep spirituality and love for Our Lady. You knew that at the centre of this place there must be a beating heart of prayer before anything else could be achieved under God.
“So it was not by chance that the first building to be renovated was Dowry House, generously given to the Shrine on a long-term lease by a local Catholic family. You invited the community of Our Lady of Walsingham to oversee it as a place for people to make retreats and to find a space of peace and refreshment in busy lives. In the chapel there is 24-hour adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – at the heart of the village and in the homes of thousands of other people as it is live streamed each day across the world.
“And just recently you negotiated with the Franciscans to return to Walsingham after nearly 500 years to live and pray and work in the village and the Shrine. We are greatly blessed by these two communities and all the religious who work here.
“You also knew how important hospitality is for Pilgrims – both those who stay in Walsingham and day pilgrims. You have achieved what was thought to be impossible – the upgrading of Elham House which can now welcome groups of young people, the less able bodied and the sick.
“You have facilitated so many projects during your time here. You have built up the ecumenical relations with the Anglican Shrine. You have used modern technology to set up a permanent live streaming of the Mass and other celebrations which are enjoyed across the country and the world. The Shrine was a huge blessing for so many thousands of people during the recent lockdown, connecting them to their faith. And there is so much more.
“But by far your greatest undertaking has been the promotion of Our Lady’s Shrine and the Message of Walsingham. Here you have presided over the increasing popularity of the Shrine with a huge growth in the number of pilgrims.
“You would have thought that all of this would have taken a lifetime’s work – not just five short years. That is the measure of the Rector you have been, Fr John. You have served our Lady and her Shrine with deep commitment, with outstanding enthusiasm and patience in spite of the many setbacks and obstacles that you have encountered on the way.
“The Church in England and Wales owe you a great debt of gratitude.”