FORMER Boyzone star Shane Lynch will embark on a religious pilgrimage to Portugal with six other celebrities this Easter for BBC Two series Pilgrimage: The Road Through Portugal.
Starting on Friday at 9pm, the three-part show will air weekly on BBC Two as it follows seven "well-known personalities" from a variety of backgrounds and faiths as they embark on a pilgrimage to the city of Fatima by foot, road and train along Portugal’s Northern Way.
Their destination is the city's famous Sanctuary, where three local shepherd children reported seeing apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917 - an event subsequently known as the Miracle of the Sun.
Also instantly available on iPlayer from Friday, the three-part series will see the former Boyzone man accompanied by former Hi-De-Hi star Su Pollard, former EastEnders actor Rita Simons, reality TV star Vicky Pattison, maths whizz Bobby Seagull, comedian Nabil Abdulrashid and Paralympian skier Millie Knight on a 14-day adventure: starting in the border town of Valenca, they will follow the 364 km Northern Way as it winds its way south through stunning landscapes, passing places of historical and cultural interest.
For the first time ever in this fifth series of Pilgrimage, the celebrities are on a deadline: they need to arrive at the Sanctuary in time for a major celebration attended by tens of thousands from across the world to celebrate the story of the miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary. But will they all make it?
We spoke to Shane Lynch about the experience of making the show.
Did you experience what you were hoping to? Any revelations about yourself or your faith?
I 100 per cent achieved it and more, because there was certainly a sense of peace. A number of weeks after I returned, I realised I had started to feel a lot of calm in my life, and that is mega to feel that way. And it made me realise how a pilgrimage does many different things for different people.
For some, it was the knowledge and stories you learn along the Northern Way to Fatima. But what I got from it was being there and enjoying the life moment as opposed to the history lesson. I came in and out of different conversations in the history lessons and found myself floating off into my own world of thinking about what this pilgrimage was for. And that's what I loved about it.
Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?
Absolutely. I took it really seriously. I was doing 5k and 7K hikes. I kind of broke in a pair of boots and my joints a little bit. And I'm glad I did because when I got there, I felt good and I felt strong.
In hindsight, was there anything else you should have done to prepare yourself?
In hindsight, I probably could have done less, really, and not taken my preparation so seriously. I really did focus on this achievement as a journey. I had military in my mind.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?
Moments were challenging and sometimes I think being tired can get to you, but then there was also a lot of joy.
Did you find the experience emotional?
It wasn't emotional but I think the emotions came with a relaxed sense of feeling. Two weeks on a walk creates so many different mindsets and different conversations and emotions.
Were you surprised by any of your fellow pilgrims’ reactions to any situations?
No, it's cool to see people having a good time. And an achievement. I think maybe Bobby got the most from the whole thing. Bobby was buzzing. He really loved the story of Fatima, loved the fact that he was there and participated in it.
And maybe for Millie, it was an achievement too. She's so articulate, so expressive, and was so encouraging. And I think she might have got a lot out of that too, which is nice to see. She’s a beautiful girl. She managed to get through the journey better than some of us.
Are you affiliated to any religion? If so, which? Do you practice?
Yes, I’m a Born-Again Christian. It's a lifestyle, it's not a religion at all. I was born and raised a Catholic, but I was baptised as a child. Being born again is the symbolism of baptism. So, as an adult, I made the choice to be baptised. And I decided to have a direct relationship with God.
What made you change religions?
I changed religion and I changed lifestyle. I changed everything because of my behaviour. I was on the dark side, and I was very interested in Satanic stuff for a long period of my life. I knew and understood the spirits as such (and the Spirit, the Holy Spirit), the spirits of the occult and witchcraft, which I know is a dark and horrible world. So, knowing the dark, I decided I needed the light. That was the symbolism and I found Him.
Do you feel your life has been enhanced by your newfound religion?
Yes, it’s given me life, more than enhancement. It's unbelievable. We are the only ones who can decide. It's our decision to either want God or not. God is not a bully. He doesn't come in and say, “right, I’m in your life now.” You have to decide that you want to know what that world is. Experience that love and prosperity and he leaves you to it.
And, if you want to go to Mass on Sunday, and that's it, then that’s your relationship with God. If you want to sit with God all day long in your car, listening to the radio, I look at it as mental food. So, it's what feeds my mind. What I watch, what I listen to, what I digest, it's actually mental food instead of mental health.
Is religion something that you have always been happy to talk about?
I've always been happy to answer a question. I don't go around talking Christ all the time. Naturally, if someone asks me a question, I am super happy to answer that question.
Has the experience changed or increased your faith in any way?
No, but I think every day changes and increases faith for me. And I think having faith is just to trust in God. And that's in the good and the bad. Knowing that there's rhyme and reason for everything. We're given a choice about how we act, what we say, what we do, what we don't do. And that's just your choice and part of your relationship with God.
Since you returned home, has the experience made you do anything different when it comes to your faith, or did you slip back into your normal life?
It's given me more interest in God and doing another pilgrimage. I’d even go back on the Northern Way, because I liked it. And I definitely came home after two weeks of peace, with a sense of peace, which was lovely. I’ve never felt that peace before.
Did you learn anything new about your faith whilst on the pilgrimage?
Not necessarily about my faith, per se. I think I learned there’s a lot of people with faith. I hope they're in the right place. I hope what they're dedicating their lives to has the outcome. I hope that the belief they have transpires to actually God and Christ. And I think going into some of those churches and those beautiful places, made me realise there's nothing wrong with that, regardless of religions.
Did you learn a lot about the other pilgrims’ faiths that you didn’t know before, while you were on the journey?
In particular, Nabil was very forthcoming with his religion. We had a lot of different connections, Nabil and I, with our religions. I guess there’s historicalness in lots of religions. But it was good to contemplate and it's good to know that I'm in the right place.
What do you hope Pilgrimage viewers will take away from watching you take part in this series?
I've only seen a little bit and it's great. It's joy. It's funny. There's so much about it that I had forgotten. I’d love to be back there because it was great. The crew were great, and everyone was happy, and it was brilliant. I can't believe how funny it is. And that's good. You know it's good to laugh. It's good to see an enjoyable show about religious belief. It's a great show!
Summarise your experience on this pilgrimage.
I’d do it again!
:: The Pilgrimage: The Road through Portugal starts on BBC Two on Friday April 7 at 9pm. All three episodes will also be available via iPlayer.