“We first met Ernie and Lena in Lourdes in 2013. We had travelled to Lourdes with our schools, St Bernard, St Mary and All Saints, representing the youth of the Hallam Diocese.  We looked after Ernie and Lena for the week.  The week brought us all together and we knew by the end of our pilgrimage we would all stay in contact after sharing such a unique experience in Lourdes.

“Over the next few years we returned to Lourdes with the Hallam youth and each time we asked if we could look after our special friends. Because of the bond created through the pilgrimages to Lourdes we visited them at their home resulting in us growing closer.

“In June, 2016 we found out some sad news regarding Ernie and Lena so to cheer them up we decided that we would fulfil a dream of theirs, and that was to see Pope Francis in Rome.

“After a lot of hard work and organising we managed to arrange the trip for September, 2016. When we informed Ernie and Lena what we were planning they were thrilled and very grateful that a group of young people would give up their time and pay for them to go to Rome.

“The trip was a great success. It gave us time to fulfil a wish of theirs to see the Pope in Rome and visit the incredible sights.  It was a very emotional and rewarding experience for everyone involved and we’re so proud that we managed to do this for them.

“Upon returning to the UK, Ernie and Lena told their parish of their experiences, from the first meeting in Lourdes, our visits to their home and then to Rome. We felt really blessed to learn that their parish had held a Mass in our honour to celebrate this wonderful achievement.

“When we first went to Lourdes a teacher said to us, “The friends you make in Lourdes are friends for life,” and after meeting such remarkable people and sharing something so extraordinary, we don’t think we’ve heard anything so true.”

Written by the ‘Special Gang’ – Hannah Turner, Beth Sawyer, Tyler Shield, Joseph Fletcher, Charlie Heywood-Heath, Connor Boyd, Jonathan Bell, Sean Briscoe.