The year of living Lourdes from home

By Father Simon Gore

Father Simon Gore explains why his sadness over this summer’s postponed pilgrimage is offset by the many signs of the Lourdes spirit active here in our diocese.

When people have asked me what I have been doing in lockdown I have tended to answer: cancelling things.

I expect we have all had to cancel or postpone plans that we had. In early April it was certainly a sad day for the Archdiocese when this year’s Lourdes pilgrimage was postponed. For many, this summer will be the first time that they have not been to Lourdes for years – possibly decades. To miss being on pilgrimage to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin, even for very good and understandable reasons, is a sad thing.

Fortunately, there are plans afoot for a virtual pilgrimage this year. More news about that will follow and it would be nice to see as many pilgrims as possible gather together ‘virtually’, even if we cannot be with each other in person.

As well as missing the actual week in Lourdes we are also missing the preparation time that is integral to the Liverpool Youth Pilgrimage. Normally, this would be a busy and pleasant time for us as we reach the end of our preparation period. Young people would have been meeting their fellow coach pilgrims for the past few months: getting to know each other and learning more about what Lourdes entails.

It might not sound like there is much to miss there but those times of meeting are essential. It is said that our faith is one of encounter, and to miss those encounters of the living Body of Christ is to miss an essential part of pilgrimage.

We would have been having our liturgy preparation as well. Believe it or not, all the liturgies we do are planned and prepared. Again, these times are full of vigour and spirit as we try to break open the theme of Lourdes each year to make it as accessible and enjoyable and thought-provoking for our young people as possible. This year we were due to reflect on ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’; a tricky theme, I think. But I am sure we would have got a lot from it over the teas and coffees of our preparation meetings. As the pilgrimage is postponed, we will tackle it next year instead so let’s see how we get on in 2021!

Our Departure Mass this year was scheduled for the first weekend in July. The Departure Mass really sets the scene for the pilgrimage week ahead. We have all our pilgrims together, and their families can be with them to see them off on their pilgrimage journey. As much as we try, the roof has managed to stay on Lowe House but maybe next year will be the year we really do blow it off with the singing!

Of course, there is much more that happens as well in this time of preparation. But to think what we would normally be doing now is to remind myself of how the world has changed since that announcement went out about Lourdes. The pilgrimage was postponed, yes, but so much else has had to change as well. Of course, I am sad to miss those encounters in the lead-up and I am sad to miss the week itself.

Yet I am also aware that there is no point dwelling on what we cannot change. It is better to focus on what we can do and have done. And that, for me, has been to see that although Lourdes has not taken place this year in the way it ‘normally’ does, the spirit of Lourdes – of service and simple humility – has been shining through in our Archdiocese. I have seen so much good work in our parishes as people reach out to those vulnerable and in need – surely the message of Lourdes. I have seen so many young people putting the needs of others before their own. Again, the spirit of Bernadette and the message of the Blessed Virgin. We have missed our encounters in person but the Body Of Christ has remained intact through virtual encounters.

I sit here a little sad to have missed all the build-up to Lourdes and what that brings, but also heartened by what we have gained and what we have seen: Lourdes lived out at home.