And so the last full day of our pilgrimage had arrived. Unfortunately, the arrival of the last day also seemed to welcome the start of some beautiful weather in Lourdes! Although it had been pretty warm all week, it had also been overcast and rainy. But when we woke up on Thursday, the sun had decided to put in an appearance!
After breakfast, we went in our groups to the various hotels where we took the VIPs to the domain to pray the Way of the Cross on the 'Low Stations'. It was led by one of the seminarians and was a prayerful time in the sun. It was incredibly hot – especially as there is no shaded areas while doing the stations and so a stop at a fresh water tap to fill up our water bottles was a welcome break on the way back!
After returning the VIPs to their hotels, it was lunchtime, and then time to leave the hotel again. We collected the VIPs for the last time, taking them to the Mass of Farewell in the Underground Basilica. It was a lovely Mass of thanksgiving for everything we had received on the pilgrimage and just like that, the pilgrimage was over! We processed for the last time to the candle area, where the diocesan candle was lit as a symbol of our prayers remaining at the grotto long after we had returned home.
When we had seen the candle, my VIP Jackie and I went for a drink at a nearby cafe where we sat with a group of other pilgrims from the diocese and were able to chat about our highlights of the week and much more besides. An hour or so later, I took Jackie back to her hotel and then made my way back to ours. On my way back, I stopped off at the ice cream van for my last Lourdes ice cream for a while! I bumped into Catherine there and it was n-ice 😉 to enjoy our last ice creams together!
We then went our separate ways for the time being – Catherine to do some last-minute shopping, and me to go and get changed before tea and the VIP farewell party later that evening.
As much as I do love wearing our blue polo shirts and representing the diocese, it was so lovely to finally change out of them and to wear a nice outfit for the evening! The VIP party was a great night – as always! We had a lovely time of socialising with the VIPs and each other, having a laugh and sharing stories from the week. It was the perfect conclusion to our pilgrimage.
When the VIPs started to get tired, some of us escorted them back to their hotels – while many of them from our hotel stayed in the bar area for a bit of a sing-along!
We were given the opportunity to go down to the grotto for the final time. This was our opportunity to light candles, fill up any remaining Lourdes water bottles and have a final pray at the Grotto. Unfortunately, because the party had only finished late and the gates of the grotto close at 12am, we had to be quick! A bit of speed walking through the domain was required so we could get to the far side and light our candles. When I'd lit the candles, prayed and filled up a Lourdes water bottle for my Grandma, it was time for us to leave.
Many of the youth followed the little superstition of Lourdes: to pray the Hail Mary three times at the Crown Statue to hopefully be able to come back again. But this was the first year I've been where I didn't do this. During the last year, I felt so many signs in my life that Our Lady was calling me to go to Lourdes this year, and so I believe that when it's time for me to go back, she'll do the same again!
We went back to the hotel and to bed – the next time we'd be sleeping in a bed would be when we got home after the coach journey home!
The next day, we woke up early to finish packing and went down to breakfast. It was quite sad to think that it was the last time we would all eat together! After scoffing down all the croissants we could, we headed down to the foyer where all the suitcases were gathered for everyone travelling by plane. After helping put the cases on the coach, it was time to say goodbye. This was especially sad for Catherine and I as we had to say goodbye to our good friend Rachel, who was getting the plane. Even though we'd only known each other a week, the three of us had grown really close and I feel like I've made a friend for life!
Not long after, it was time for our departure! We got on the coach, sorted all our on-coach luggage, and left. I'm not going to share with you what we did on the journey- it was quite long and boring experiencing it, so to write it to sound more exciting probably wouldn't be the most honest account!!!
The journey back only took twenty-two hours (compared to twenty-seven on the way there!) and included a very rough journey on the ferry across the English Channel…. that wasn't fun!
We arrived back home at about half past eight on Saturday morning and just spent the day sleeping and eating!!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was our pilgrimage to Lourdes! I had a great time, made new friends; strengthened old friendships and came back exhausted but happy – just the way you should be after a pilgrimage!
I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made the trip so great – all the nurses, carers and brancardiers; the youth leaders (Fr Daniel, Fr John, Sister Florence, Patricia, Stephen and Kate); the other pilgrims and the rest of the youth. Thank you all for making it such a great experience!
Until next time,