The Christus Rex Pilgrimage in Australia

Each year in Australia the Christus Rex Society sponsors the Christus Rex Pilgrimage, a 3-day walking pilgrimage that covers 90 km from Ballarat to Bendigo. About 500 participants make the walk, in honor of Christ the King, with two nights camping. Liturgies are celebrated with great care in the classical tradition with an English Benedictine approach (think full surplices and conical chasubles), all a fitting touch in the land Down Under. Last year the pilgrimage was held from October 27-29. 

In the Medieval Footprint

Pilgrimage is a global phenomenon and it shapes the human soul. It is a camino or way sown with demonstrations of fervor, suffering, repentance, hospitality, conversion, art and culture. It speaks eloquently of the spiritual roots of the old continent. The routes of pilgrimage in the Christian world are many and varied. In France there is the Pèlerinage de Chartres. In Quebec there is the Marie Reine du Canada Pilgrimage. In the U.S. there is the Three Hearts Pilgrimage. In Australia, there is the Christus Rex Pilgrimage. 

For medieval man, nothing existed without meaning. Everything created was made in such a way as to awaken the thought and memory of God. The same thing with the Christus Rex Pilgrimage. Indeed, it offers an itinerary of the soul to God through the sensible signs, experience, and graces that are always different and unequal with different people. Participants respond to a divine appeal. The truth of a pilgrimage consists in revealing the supreme Truth through a harmonic ensemble mix of pain, prayer, sacrifice, joy, toil, and growth. 

The Christus Rex Pilgrimage commemorates the feast of Christ the King. It was originally instituted on this day in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas. The spiritual benefits of the event are bountiful not only for those who participate, but also for the whole of society. The graces of a walking pilgrimage in the medieval footprint are felt through generations and the liturgical arts on display help bolster the remnant and convert minds and hearts, insisting on the kingship of Christ and the cosmic dimension of the liturgy. 

The Impressive Itinerary

The pilgrimage begins with a festive Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat, on the Friday before the feast of Christ the King. This is a charming Gothic Revival cathedral under the shade of palm trees, built between 1857-1871, and based on a design by an English architect. 

On Saturday the pilgrims continue their trek to the village of Campbelltown, where the Votive Mass of Our Lady Help of Christians is sung with deacons at midday in a picturesque outdoor setting under a colorful Medieval style tent. The vestments are in an English Benedictine style and reflect in their own way the ineffable beauty of God. 

On Sunday, the pilgrimage concludes with Solemn Pontifical Mass celebrated at the magnificent Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bendigo, one of Australia's largest cathedrals and most stunning provincial city churches. Built from 1897-1977, it is an architectural jewel of the island and the perfect place to end the walk. Those who attend the Mass are not only participants who walked, but also others who could not make the walk and still wished to participate in the concluding festivities.

Splendor of the Latin Mass

The human intellect was created to ascend gradually. It does this naturally with the Latin Mass. The liturgies are celebrated in the Classical Rite, depicting heaven as seen from earth, transcending man to embrace all of history and the entire cosmos, including the great outdoors. The liturgy is the bond that holds heaven and earth together. This ancient aspect of the liturgy has profound consequences for mankind, making this reverent liturgical celebration in a tent just as beautiful as one in a cathedral, inspiring all who are present to greatness and oneness with Christ.

At all of the Masses a dedicated schola of choristers sings exquisitely, befitting of such a joyful and solemn occasion. The vast ensemble of music gives a richly rhythmical conception of the world, a polyphonic expression of eternal harmony. The repertoire includes sublime Gregorian Chant, a first-time experience for many newcomers, and an important tool for the revival of the Faith. By the traditional music and liturgy, participants in the pilgrimage elevate themselves to the consideration of the holy, infinite and uncreated beauty of God. 

The Majestic Tent

Great care is taken to set up the colorful tent for the outdoor Mass on the second day of the pilgrimage. Two different tents are depicted in these images, both of a medieval idiom, owing something to the Pugin Gothic Revival. The main photo is of the present tent, owned by the Christus Rex Society and purchased from a marquee manufacturer, with printed custom designs by Chris Wolter. The tents alone are a work of art and bring to mind how the Church has inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts, even embellishing tents for sacred worship.  

A beautiful portable altar is placed inside, with a decorative fabric dossal suspended behind it. A tapestry of the Madonna and Child is hung as the backdrop. The ambiance is given to prayer and wonder at the beauty of God. The colors, sounds, scents, and states of the soul all come together for a feast for the eyes. The tent protects the altar from both the sun and possible inclement weather while pilgrims come prepared for rain or shine. 

The Cathedral of St. Patrick’s Cathedral where the pilgrimage begins in Ballarat
A Meteoric History

While walking along the route, the pilgrims engage in prayer and song, as well as personal reflection and mediation. All of this is inspired by the famous Chartres Pilgrimage in France, held every year on the weekend of Pentecost Sunday. One main difference is the Australian version is instead scheduled in conjunction with the Feast of Christ the King, a preferred time of the year for fair weather. 

The pilgrimage began in 1991 and has flourished, growing each year. It had begun with a handful of Catholics who were devoted to their traditional faith, and who saw the institution of the pilgrimage as a powerful weapon that would do well to be revived. Repentance and conversion are therefore themes of the pilgrimage. Within a few decades the pilgrimage has thus grown, with many graces felt, and many vocations discovered, including not a few marriages.

In the beginning the original founders of the pilgrimage were faced with the task of finding two cathedrals in Australia that were only about a 3-day walk apart that were aesthetically appropriate for the worthy celebration of the traditional Classical Rite. This was a challenge in a modern country like Australia, whereas in densely-populated France there are many worthy churches and shrines, after two millennia of Christianity with Roman roots.

Concluding Pontifical Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

In the end, the choice for the original organizers was clear: the road from St Patrick’s Cathedral Ballarat through the Victorian countryside to Sacred Heart Cathedral Bendigo was the best possible option. Thus, a perfect walking experience. The Feast of Christ the King, always on the last Sunday in October in the traditional calendar, was chosen, an ideal theme fitting for a pilgrimage, especially for a Commonwealth country.  

Concluding Pontifical Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

A solid foundation through strategic preparatory work was put in by the founding chairman, Mr. Bill Rimmer. By surveying the route, and negotiating with churches and farmers for permission to use facilities, all came together through hard work and planning logistics. In 1991, the first pilgrimage set out – a band of about a dozen walkers from several different Aussie states, with Canberra priest Fr John Parsons as the chaplain. The rest is history. 

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart - the final destination

The Future is Here

Rosaries are prayed, hymns are sung, sermons are preached. The next generation is being formed. And Masses are celebrated as the walk progresses. An army of volunteers help out, including marshals to help direct traffic, serve food, and attend to first-aid stations. God bless and reward all from the Christus Rex Society for their hard work, making a firm contribution to the liturgical arts and the spread of the Gospel in the southern hemisphere. May this important work continue!

As Newman insisted, the Church is not a creed or a philosophy, but a "counter Kingdom."  It is the Mystical Body of Christ, the supernatural society that the Christian faithful venerate with the name Holy Mother Church. May God be praised as the Church herself constitutes a whole universe of harmonic and variegated communities across the globe that reach the far corners of the world. Through the pilgrimage experience, many souls are being confirmed in the Faith and laying a strong foundation for the future. 


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