Pilgrimage – A journey to a place of particular interest or significance.
So, I have just returned from my pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Diocese of Lancaster. I have had the most incredible week with friends old and new, and I am really eager to share everything I have been up to. You may have noticed that all was quiet on here while I was away, and I used my time in Lourdes as a real escape for me. However, now I'm back I have loads of exciting posts planned but I wanted to get back into the swing of things with a mini-series of posts. For the next week, I'm going to be sharing with you what we got up to each day of our pilgrimage.
As a youth section, we arrived on our coach the evening before the other pilgrims from our diocese. This was really useful as it gave us a bit of extra time for a first visit to the grotto at night (when the sanctuary is at its most beautiful) and so those who hadn't been to Lourdes before were able to walk through the grotto and see the domain while it was quieter and the atmosphere more prayerful.
The next day, the Director of Youth, Fr Daniel, gave us a whistle-stop tour of many of the key sites in Lourdes. We saw two of the places St Bernadette's lived in Lourdes, and then visited a museum of St Maximilian Kolbe. We were given a talk on the life of St Maximilian before we were able to venerate one of his relics. Afterwards, the group was divided into three – the first group went on to visit the parish church of St Bernadette; the second to go and collect wheelchairs from the lock-up to take to the hotels we'd be using; and the final group (my group) went to the main hotel where we helped unload the vans of medical equipment for the sick pilgrims to take to the nurse's station.
Although this was my third diocesan pilgrimage go Lourdes, this was the first time I had seen just how much medical equipment was needed for the sick pilgrims with us. It was a truly eye-opening experience – to see in the flesh just how much equipment was needed in order for the pilgrims to be looked after during the week. Seeing the room that was the designated nurse's station completely filled with medicine and various equipment helped me gain a new appreciation for the work of the nurses and carers we had with us that we're looking after the VIPs.
Later on, we had lunch and then everyone finally arrived! As the coaches arrived, the pilgrims would get off the coach and us youth took their luggage into the hotel foyer before we showed the pilgrims to their rooms. Some of us then headed to one of the other hotels to welcome the coach there and help them unload their bags in order for everyone to get their lunches as quickly as possible. As the pilgrims were unloading the coaches, it was lovely to be able to recognise many familiar faces from previous years, and to meet many new people.
We had a brief catechises session after this, where Fr John gave us a talk about the Mass and what we should pray when during Mass. Although most of us have been going to Mass all our lives, what he told us was things that I had never been told before so it was interesting (and very helpful) to know.
We were then able to put our catechises session into practice as the evening concluded with Mass for the able-bodied pilgrims celebrated by one of the many priests with us. Having Mass together really started off the pilgrimage in a great way, and it felt like the week had really begun.
As a youth section, we had free time to do what we liked that evening, and so with my friends Rachel and Catherine and my sister Ellie, we headed down to the domain to do a little bit of exploring. We were able to wash our hands and faces and fill our water bottles up with water from the grotto (which is the nicest tasting water I have ever had!) before we walked up to the upper basilica to watch the torchlight procession as it concluded. Although it was raining fairly heavily, many people had still turned out and it was so beautiful to see and hear everyone praying in their many languages.
We then walked through the candle area in the domain – one of my favourite places in Lourdes. I always love looking at all the candles burning at the grotto, as they are symbols of all the prayers that pilgrims have left at the grotto that remain there until the candles are burnt out. The atmosphere there is so peaceful and prayerful, spending time there is a really moving experience.
We then headed back to the hotel for bedtime. The pilgrimage would properly start tomorrow and we'd need to be well-rested in preparation!
[To be continued tomorrow…]