More than half a million people took part Sunday in the rededication of England to Our Lady Sunday, organizers have said.
The English bishops had originally asked Catholics to gather in churches and cathedrals for the rededication at noon March 29. They were forced to change their plans when the government imposed a lockdown across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
They invited Catholics instead to follow the rededication ceremony live from their homes on the website of the Catholic National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady in Walsingham, Norfolk. So many logged on that the site crashed. Another website broadcasting the ceremony, churchservices.tv, also crashed. Organizers then asked viewers to follow the event on YouTube.
During the ceremony, Catholics recited an Act of Entrustment of England to Mary. The Act reaffirmed England’s status as the “Dowry of Mary”, a title dating back to at least the 14th century.
In a homily after the rededication, shrine rector Msgr John Armitage said: “When our bishops decided three years ago to undertake this rededication, they could never have foreseen the extent of our need at this time. Today we undertake this dedication in the ‘eye of the storm’.
“We have long pondered and treasured the words of Pope Leo XIII to an earlier generation of bishops: ‘When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.’ In the hour of our need Our Blessed Mother has indeed returned to England.”
In a message before the ceremony, Pope Francis said he prayed that the rededication would “inspire all to persevere in the urgent task of sharing the joy of the Gospel with the men and women of our times”.
“As they strive to bear witness to the beauty of our Catholic faith, to promote unity between Christians and to proffer the merciful love of Jesus to the poorest of our brothers and sisters,” he urged them “to draw wisdom and strength from the example and intercession of the country’s many confessors and martyrs.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, posted a video of himself reciting the rededication prayers at home.
“Today is the day we rededicate ourselves to Our Blessed Lady,” he wrote on Twitter. “This act of dedication asks of us to make a gift of ourselves to her. We ask for her protection, her mantle of love cast over us and our nations.”
Before the coronavirus outbreak, 299 churches, schools and organizations had signed up on a rededication map on the official website. After the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings, more than 2,000 individuals added their markers to the map.
Organizers said that a total of 382,000 people took part in the ceremony via livestreams. They explained that when they took into account the data from the map sign-ups, this brought the figure over 500,000. They added that this was a conservative estimate, as EWTN Great Britain also livestreamed the ceremony via Facebook, YouTube and its website.