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The Reverend Dr Robert Billing has been appointed the new Rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. He will serve for a five-year term and will take up his new responsibilities from 1 September 2023.

Fr Billing is a priest of the Diocese of Lancaster and served as Bishop’s Secretary to three successive bishops over a period of thirteen years. He is currently parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Carnforth, some seven miles north of Lancaster. As Rector, Fr Billing will oversee the mission of the National Shrine and will be responsible for the pastoral and spiritual care of pilgrims, the Shrine Chaplains and visiting clergy. The Rector also promotes the message and work of the Shrine nationally and internationally.

Fr Billing expressed his surprise and joy at his appointment:

“My appointment to serve as the new Rector of the Catholic National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham comes as a big surprise. Of course, it is also a huge joy and honour. Only a year ago, I was appointed, after a number of years in diocesan administration, school chaplaincy, and, more recently, engaged in canon law studies, to pastor three small parishes north of Lancaster, each under the patronage of Our Blessed Lady. I had never expected my time in these parishes to be so short, though in this year I have learnt much and received so much encouragement. Now, I take the faithful of these parishes with me in prayer to the heart of Our Lady’s Dowry, to Walsingham. As I take up this further service to the Church, this time nationally, I venture, first, as a pilgrim, eager to learn and to serve closely with those who dedicate themselves to make Walsingham ‘England’s Nazareth’ today. I hope to share and confirm that commitment.”

The Bishop of Lancaster, the Right Reverend Paul Swarbrick, welcomed the news:

“It is an honour for the Diocese of Lancaster for one of our priests to be chosen as Rector for the National Shrine to Our Blessed Lady at Walsingham. I am delighted that Fr Billing has accepted this appointment. When I was first asked to release him, I must confess that I said ‘no’ because I believed the
need of the Diocese could not spare him. Further reflection followed and I sensed that this request was actually coming from Our Blessed Lady, and I decided that I did not want to get on the wrong side of her! I have every confidence, given Fr Billing’s considerable talents and experience, that he is a good choice for this significant position in the national church. The work of the Shrine will be safe in his care. Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.”

As Bishop of the Diocese of East Anglia, it was the Right Reverend Peter Collins’ responsibility to appoint a new Rector for the National Marian Shrine:

“I am immensely grateful to Bishop Paul Swarbrick of Lancaster for his generosity in releasing Fr Robert for this important role. Fr Robert brings with him a wealth of talent and experience that will stimulate our vision of the future. His spiritual, pastoral and administrative abilities will undoubtedly bear abundant fruit within the national and international mission of Walsingham. I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Fr James Mary OFM Conv. for his contribution
over recent months as Acting Rector at the Shrine. As we look forward to welcoming Fr Robert let us be united and committed in praying for him in the weeks ahead. Our Lady of Walsingham – Pray for us.”

Bishop Alan Hopes, Chair of the Walsingham Trust and Bishop Emeritus of East Anglia, said:

“I am delighted that Fr Robert Billing from the Diocese of Lancaster has been appointed as the new Rector of the National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. With his undoubted spiritual and pastoral gifts, Fr Robert will bring renewal and fresh vision to the mission and work of the Shrine, promoting its message, both nationally and further afield. We entrust him to the prayers of Our Lady of Walsingham as he prepares to take up this important task.”

The Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham (Slipper Chapel)

The Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham was established around 1061 when, according to the text of the Pynson Ballad (c 1485), Richeldis de Faverches prayed that she might undertake some special work in honour of Our Lady.

“ Our Lady led Richeldis in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house where the angel had greeted her. ‘Look, daughter’ said Our Lady. ‘Take the measurements of this house and erect another one like it in Walsingham, dedicated to praising and honouring me. All who come there shall find help in their need.

‘It shall be a perpetual memorial to the great joy of the Annunciation, ground and origin of all my joys and the root of humanity’s gracious Redemption. This came about through Gabriel’s message that I would be a mother through my humility, and conceive God’s Son in virginity.”  (Pynson Ballad 1485)

The Lady Richeldis was a holy woman with a great love of the Mother of God. She asked Our Lady for a way to honour her, and it was from this desire in her heart that the events of Walsingham unfolded. Richeldis was not a visionary like the children in Lourdes and Fatima. She was a woman of faith, she pondered, meditated and prayed. In answer to her prayer, the Virgin Mary led her in spirit to Nazareth, showed her the House of the Annunciation where the Angel greeted Mary, and asked her to build a replica in Walsingham as a perpetual memorial of the Annunciation.

This Holy House was built and a religious community took charge of the foundation. Although we have very little historical material from this period, we know that with papal approval the Augustinian Canons built a Priory (c 1150). Walsingham became one of the greatest Shrines in Medieval Christendom.

Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

For more information about the history of the Shrine CLICK HERE

Fr Peter Houghton will be the new Parish Priest.  He arrives to take over pastoral care on Monday 14th August.

We wish Fr. Robert “Bon Voyage.”

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