Chloe Chester was one of 400 young people on July's Liverpool Youth Pilgrimage to Lourdes. Here she recounts a week to remember.
After the long-awaited countdown, Lourdes 2018 is finally here. The coach journey was long but fun – 27 hours of watching films, making friends and, well, just a little bit of rest. We arrived in Lourdes at lunchtime and shared our first meal together as a coach. Next we got our bearings with a tour of Lourdes – splitting into groups to allow the new faces to mingle with more experienced members and ask any questions. The evening brought our Welcome Mass in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes – a breathtaking church. Afterwards, we met up with the other coaches for a sing-song, feeling the magical spirit of Lourdes once more.
This morning, pilgrims from Coaches 1, 4, 6, 7 and 8 took part in the Grotto Games, where we're put into groups with people from other coaches for team-building exercises. Later was the group photo for the whole Archdiocese and then some free time where people could explore the surroundings of the domain, go shopping, or grab an ice cream or drink with friends. This evening we met up with another of the coaches – and as it was an Over-18s night, we got to stay out a bit later!
This morning brought the Blessing of Hands Mass in Saint Bernadette's Church. Our Under-18s were tasked with taking the sick and assisted pilgrims down from the Saint-Frai, the hospital where they're based, to the domain. The Over-18s were on duty on the esplanade inside the domain, making sure the way was clear for our pilgrims. This Mass was a personal highlight as the priests blessed the hands of all the volunteers. At 5pm we helped with the Blessed Sacrament Procession in the Underground Basilica, saving seats down there for the Liverpool pilgrims. Our Youth later joined in the Torchlight Procession, followed by night prayer and a discussion about which ways we see Christ in other people.
Our morning duty was at the Stations of the Cross – some of us pushed pilgrims, some were on water duty and others read at the stations. At 2pm we had Mass at the Rosary Basilica, followed by a Holy Hour. This evening, we were back in the domain on duty for the pilgrims' torchlight procession – it was extremely special to be part of this time of prayer and peace. After taking the pilgrims back to the St Frai, we held our night prayer on the rooftop there, overlooking Lourdes. A perfect spot for reflection.
It was an early start with breakfast duties at the St Frai – this involved waking the pilgrims, serving them their breakfast and cleaning up. Meanwhile, the Under-18s were participating in Woody's magical mystery tour of Lourdes! After lunch, we brought the pilgrims down to the domain for Mass, after which many of us took them shopping or for an ice cream. Another high point of the week was the Night of Mercy that followed – including personal testimonies, praise and worship, and the opportunity to go to Confession or speak to a 'listener'. In the words of one of my coach-mates, Joe: 'Nowhere else can you get 500 young people smiling, crying, singing and dancing all at once.'
Today the other Liverpool pilgrims had the Grotto Mass, but for our coach it was a long-awaited day off – meaning an outing to the beach. On our return, we had prayer stations and then a coach Mass led by Father Dom. All that remained then was a night of fancy dress, and it's fair to say that with a Wizard of Oz, a wedding party and everything in between, Coach 1 didn't hold back.
Our final day began with taking the hospital pilgrims down to the Underground Basilica for the Mass of Anointing of the Sick. In the afternoon there was a choice of activities: some took the pilgrims to their Farewell Mass followed by a garden party; others wanted to experience the Lourdes baths. This evening we headed back to the Underground Basilica for a Farewell Service for the Liverpool Youth. There was praise and singing, reflection and reminiscing – and slideshows featuring pictures from the amazing week we'd all been part of. We then had our final night prayer and each of us individually lit a candle for our own intentions. Then it was time to head out for one last night in Lourdes ...