Lourdes 2018 as told by Alex Prior, Director of the Diocesan Pilgrimage

More than 400 pilgrims from around the Diocese took part in the 2018 Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from 1 to 6 July.  This included 115 young people from the 7 Diocesan High Schools, accompanied by over 30 staff and youth leaders, together with 70 volunteer helpers (Doctors, Nurses and Male and Female Helpers) and the Assisted Pilgrims who are at the heart of the pilgrimage.

  The Pilgrimage was led by Bishop Ralph, and Bishop Emeritus John Rawsthorne joined the pilgrimage too, together with 10 priests from around the Diocese.  Two charter flights took pilgrims directly to Lourdes on Sunday, 1 July, where pilgrims joined the Youth who had travelled out on 3 coaches.

  On Sunday evening we celebrated our Opening Mass with Blessing of the Helpers.  On Monday morning we celebrated the Grotto Mass with the Diocese of Galway.  Our Penitential Service was also on Monday and then in the evening we took part in the Torchlight Procession.

  Our Mass with Anointing of the Sick was celebrated on Tuesday morning, and then Holy Hour was held on Tuesday evening.  Pilgrims attended the International Mass on Wednesday and we took part in the Blessed Sacrament Procession on Wednesday afternoon.  In the evening we enjoyed a social evening hosted by Hallam Youth.  The young people of the Hallam Diocese play a major part in the Diocesan Pilgrimage.  Some of the Liturgies were live streamed into our Diocesan schools.


  This year Hallam Youth stayed an extra night and so on Thursday we were able to use the full day.  On Thursday morning we focused on Water and its significance in Lourdes, and a reminder of our own Baptism.  During that Mass Bishop Ralph washed the feet of 12 pilgrims – each representing a different role within the Pilgrimage.  We prayed Stations of the Cross on Thursday afternoon and then joined together on Thursday evening for our Closing Liturgy, which was very powerful and included a short video showing some of the memories of the week.

  During that Liturgy we were invited to make a gesture with Lourdes water.  The Youth/Helper made the Sign of the Cross on the palms of the hands of the Assisted Pilgrim they had accompanied during the week – and then the Assisted Pilgrim did the same to the Youth/Helper.

  On Friday morning we celebrated our final Mass together at 9am, leaving time for us all to say our farewells before lunch and the journey home.

  Our 2019 Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes will take place from Sunday, 30 June to Friday, 5 July.  Booking Forms will be available towards the end of the year but you can register interest by emailing hallamlourdespilgrimage@gmail.com or telephoning 01302 247910.

Cathy Webster reflects on her Pilgrimage to Lourdes ~ “It was time to see for myself”

Wow! I have just spent a week with the Diocese of Hallam Lourdes Pilgrimage.  A week to be reflected on in so many ways.  I admit I was feeling somewhat sceptical about visiting Lourdes but as a cradle Catholic and with four children who have visited Lourdes on numerous occasions with the Hallam Youth Pilgrimage, it was time to see for myself.

  It was an early start to Doncaster airport on a warm July morning.  My apprehension was almost immediately calmed on our arrival as our role of helper was required immediately to assist less able pilgrims to navigate the airport boarding procedures, including security checks.

  Loading the aeroplane took some time but we were very ably assisted by Doncaster airport volunteers (despite the early start).  The flight was only two hours and our arrival at Tarbes airport heralded the arrival of Hallam Youth who expertly transported pilgrims, wheelchairs and luggage to the waiting coaches, followed by a short coach ride to Lourdes: a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

  On arrival at the hotel, the Hallam Youth again deftly dealt with luggage, delivering it to respective rooms (apart from the twenty-two that went temporarily missing!)

  A very welcome lunch was served and we started to get to know our fellow pilgrims – embarrassingly many from my own parish who, although I recognised them, had never passed more than pleasantries with, but after our time together, friendships have been well and truly forged.

  Our hotel was the Alba: a four star hotel with comfortable bedrooms, powerful shower and usual facilities.  The meals were excellent.  Continental breakfast, three courses for lunch and four for tea!  The hotel staff were all very obliging, with nothing being too much trouble, despite our limited French speaking.

  The opening pilgrimage Mass in the Rosary Basilica was an inspiring introduction with two bishops (Ralph and John) and more than a dozen diocesan clergy.  I was already beginning to understand the reason pilgrims return and return – emotions were rising rapidly in response to the loving and caring atmosphere that you could feel envelope you.

  Hallam Youth, resplendent in their distinctive yellow t-shirts, transported all the pilgrims requiring wheelchairs responsibly, and their relationships started to develop.  They were nervous at first, but gradually grew in confidence and by the end of the week they could be found comfortably chatting and drinking with their pilgrims in the many cafes.  I believe each generation was enriched by the experience.  The school staff and youth leaders should be rightfully proud of all the young people in their charge.

  Our second day started with Mass in hot sunshine at the beautiful and captivating Grotto where, 160 years ago, Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette on eighteen occasions.  We started to use terms like the Domain, Grotto, Basilica as if we had used them in everyday life.

  The Service of Reconciliation that afternoon was in the St Pius X Basilica which has a resemblance to an NCP car park, but provides a massive indoor arena which is used to host processions if weather is inclement.  This was an incredibly moving service and provided both availability of individual confessions or a listening ear.

  The iconic torchlight procession, singing Ave Maria and raising our candles in harmony is run like clockwork and a sight that needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

  Tuesday, 3 July dawned with great expectations for England in the World Cup but we started with the anointing of the sick – a tremendously emotional Mass.

  The rest of the day was our own and my chosen option was to visit the beautiful village at the top of the valley, Gavarnie.  The fast flowing river Pau provided the route to its source high in the Pyrenees.  Horses, shops, sunshine and cafes beckoned and we took a stunning walk towards the waterfall.

  We returned for Holy Hour in St Joseph’s Chapel or England in the World Cup, both of which provided an atmosphere of intense adoration and a positive outcome.  We won 4:3 on penalties, and the four Columbia supporters in the hotel were commiserated with!

  The night Grotto visit followed, which for me provided my most memorable moment of the pilgrimage; a spontaneous hand holding with a lady gently crying in a wheelchair behind me in the queue.  This was a very special time and of immense comfort to us both.

  Wednesday dawned with continuing sunshine – the International Mass – an amazing phenomenon with fifteen bishops presiding over Mass in a variety of languages.  After lunch, there were two options for the Stations of the Cross: the high stations, a steep rocky trail upwards with life size figures set in traditional scenes, or the low stations, easily accessible by wheelchairs but equally atmospheric.

  The Blessed Sacrament Procession, again magnificent in its tradition, was held in the underground basilica due to the heat outside.  The reverence was palpable.

  The youth provided an upbeat musical entertainment in the evening lead by teachers and youth leaders – a mixture of pop music and hymns – both enjoyed in equal measure and enthusiasm.  A great, if exhausting day.

  The following day was Hallam’s chance to get priority at the baths (note priority to those in wheelchairs and their pushers).  I queued for about an hour following rosary and singing hymns lead by our youth team, I admit to feeling quite frightened – it was an unknown experience (? how Bernadette felt).  The helpers were kind, considerate and gentle and I would recommend everyone to partake – some of those who didn’t later regretted their decision.

  The closing liturgy that evening was full of inspiration, compassion, tears, laughter and joy from the pilgrims, youth, helpers and clergy.  Our last day dawned with a feeling of sadness that our time in Lourdes was coming to an end.  But Mass celebrated by Bishop Ralph was uplifting and positive.

  The logistics of getting over four hundred people home was well organised with only a few minor hiccoughs, although I was very glad I was on the flight and not the twenty-four hour coach journey undertaken by the youth team.

  To sum up, I had been somewhat sceptical about Lourdes, having heard of flashing madonnas and fluorescent rosary beads but travelling with the Hallam Pilgrimage has been an inspirational journey of love, compassion and a warm glow inside.  It has enriched both my life and my faith.

  If you ever thought about going to Lourdes I would recommend that you take the opportunity – you do not have to be a youth, elderly or disabled.  It is open to all and if you are unable to walk everywhere, there are wheelchairs and helpers available, as well as a team of doctors and nurses.  Lourdes is a deeply moving and powerful place and touches everyone who visits.

A student,  Thomas Lowson, returns to Lourdes for his fourteenth visit

Photograph: T Lowson

As a young person in Britain, it’s often not an easy task being Catholic.  When many of my friends are getting dolled up and their pre-drinks in on a Saturday night, I’m tucked away in bed, ready for an early start on Sunday for 9am Mass, sometimes to my own chagrin.  But for one week each summer, my spiritual battery is recharged.  For the fourteenth time in my life, I went to Lourdes, and I can truly say it gets better each year.

  Arriving at the Hotel Mediterranee, I, alongside my mother and father who I’d travelled with, were naturally exhausted.  We’d set off at 8am that morning, for the long drive down to London, to queue for hours at the airport, to board a plane, to queue some more, to get a taxi to make it to the hotel.  But as we approached the hotel, with its friendly staff ready to welcome us, I felt all that exhaustion melt away.  It was a sense of familiarity that just made us all ready for another fantastic week of prayer, reflection and helping.

Photograph: T Lowson

  Whenever one of my friends asks me to describe Lourdes, the best response I can give is that it has a ‘bubble’ around it.  Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a tendency to get worried about things, both small and big.  And this year is no exception.  I recently finished my degree at Sheffield Hallam University, so the worries about what my future holds are rife.  But in Lourdes, the outside world doesn’t exist.  All that matters is the place, the history, and how you can follow the teachings that have been given to us.

  This year, was very special, however, as I was privileged, to be chosen to give a bidding prayer at International Mass.  Whilst I’m no stranger to reading at church at home, there’s obviously a different atmosphere when 20,000+ people are listening to what you have to say.  It was an incredible moment that I shall cherish for as long as I live, and even though it was stressful to say the least, I consider myself extremely blessed to have been able to do so.

Thomas with his mother, Jayne Photograph: T Lowson

  I want to also give a mention to the amazing team that puts the yearly Hallam Lourdes pilgrimage together.  All the helpers, doctors, nurses, priests, and especially, the incredible youth team who brighten everyone’s day, literally and figuratively, with their bright yellow shirts and friendly demeanour.  They are an absolute credit to our diocese, and I hope they know that.

  We are already saving for next year’s pilgrimage, which I am looking forward once again to being a helper.  My parents always say that everyone should go, at least once in their lives.  As a kid, I didn’t see it, but over these past years, Lourdes has changed me, and definitely for the better.  I encourage everyone to make the effort, and share in the story of an incredible young woman, who changed the world.

Mandy Jimmison writes about a magical trip to Lourdes on the Easter Pilgrimage with HCPT 101 Doncaster Group

My name is Mandy and I live in Doncaster with my husband Simon and two children, Aidan who is 5 and Bethanie who is 9 with Down Syndrome.  We went on the Easter Pilgrimage in 2018 with HCPT 101 Doncaster.

  Our story actually began almost a year before we travelled to Lourdes.  When we were first approached about going, my initial response was no for various reasons:-

  • I figured someone probably needed the trip more than us
  • I didn’t consider myself religious so felt a bit of a fraud
  • I don’t feel I need respite from Bethanie

  But after discussing it further with the group leaders, Margaret and Phil, and understanding more about HCPT, I decided to go for it and I am so glad I did.

  We met various people before we travelled and everyone was so kind and welcoming.  I knew we would enjoy ourselves but I never anticipated how much.  I think I expected to spend a lot of time in church but it wasn’t like that at all.  It was more about rest, support and love.  It is as if as soon as you step onto the first coach to the airport you step into this bubble full of warmth, acceptance and security.  Everyone is there for everyone like a great big emotional safety net.  There was a Regional Mass and a Trust Mass as well as some explanations of the significance of Lourdes, but I found it all fascinating and uplifting.  My daughter absolutely loved the song “Rise and Shine”, in fact one of my favourite moments was when we were in the underground basilica for the Trust Mass, in this incredibly beautiful church and with thousands of people all singing Bethanie’s favourite song.  It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!!!

  It’s amazing how the week affected us both.  Bethanie has Autism as well as Down Syndrome and tends not to be very sociable, staying close to me most of the time.  But after a few days she was playing with the other children and happy to be with other adults.  By the end of the week she had formed lasting attachments to several people, which she doesn’t have with anyone else outside our family.

  The week really helped me too.  At the beginning of the week I was very protective and almost territorial over Bethanie, but after a few days I realised other people genuinely wanted to spend time with her so I made myself share her!  I felt safe and could really relax because I knew she was in good hands and everyone watched over everyone else.  The other thing I realised is that in this environment I didn’t need to justify or defend Bethanie, I didn’t need to explain her.  Everyone just accepted her, just as she was.  In fact it was more than that, they valued her and appreciated her and everything she is.

  There were lots of special moments over the week which I carry with me always.  From her actually cuddling a new friend, to her learning new songs and the peace I felt at the grotto.  I can see why they call Lourdes a healing place.  I felt revitalised and a new sense of calm and strength.

  This is why we are fundraising to make sure others can have the same opportunity we did.  If you are reading this with a view to going yourself I would encourage you to do so.  Go with an open mind and let the love and peace of Lourdes in, you won’t regret it!


If you would like to support HCPT 101 you can make a donation on the just giving page:  www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michaelhall101.