An ecumenical group led by Brendan Lally, and under the spiritual guidance of Fr Stanislaus Maciuszek, left Penistone bright and early on 5 May on a pilgrimage which would take them to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor to undertake a journey with St Paul and the early Church. Catholics, Church of England, Methodists and the Chinese Church in London were all represented, sharing a common desire to follow in the footsteps of St Paul, visiting churches he did, whilst at the same time enjoying the magnificent scenery and coastal beauty of Turkey.
As the Gospel of Jesus Christ began to spread, St Paul took the word on three occasions to Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, where there were some of the most influential cities of the Roman world, most of which were visited by Paul.
The scenery has changed little over the last 2000 years and to visit the sites Paul visited was a chance for the group to experience the ambience of those heady days of the beginning of our faith. The startling geography of the region, with dramatic mountains rising straight from the shore, has ensured that the coastlines and deep-set wooded inlets are still unspoilt by the input of the modern world. The archaeological sites still strongly reflect the atmosphere of the first century AD, the time when Paul travelled to these cities. The city gate and streets of Ephesus, the theatre of Miletus and the seascapes of the Aegean are as Paul would have seen them.
Testimony to the importance of Asia Minor in the history of the Early Church is the fact that it was here that the first Christian state arose, the Byzantine Empire, which was to keep the light of Christianity alive for over a thousand years when Rome had been overrun by barbarians. There are powerful echoes of these ecclesiastical pioneers in the many early Byzantine remains which are still being discovered.
Time was also devoted to studying the letters of Paul to the seven churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The messages of Paul were: to love Jesus; to endure persecution; to teach soundly; not to tolerate evil; to be spiritually active; to wait patiently for the Kingdom of God and to be humbly dependent on God. These lessons are still as pertinent today as they were when written by Paul.
Mass was celebrated in a number of locations, most notably on the shore of the Aegean sea and at the house of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus, where tradition has it that Mary spent her last days with St John.
That the pilgrimage was an undoubted success could be put down to how well the group integrated from the first day, the spiritual leadership of Fr Stan, supported by Pastor Osh from the Chinese Church in London and Dorothy Pearson, Methodist Lay Preacher, and the local and historical knowledge of our guide, all brought together skilfully by Brendan Lally.