Lourdes Diary 2012

Saturday 28 July: Back home and looking forward to next year

Arriving back at around 10.00 am (after a brief stop in Wigan to drop off our Coach Four over 18’s, who had joined us for the journey home), blurry eyed and drained, we were greeted by friends and family at St Peter and St Paul’s in Kirkby writes Mike Meadows.

I say this every year, but it only seemed like hours ago that we were boarding the coach to depart for Lourdes, and yet before we knew it we had arrived back home.  Once again, I feel incredibly proud to say I was part of the Liverpool Archdiocesan Lourdes Youth Pilgrimage 2012, and witnessed first-hand the physical and spiritual service which the young people of our area offer to our sick pilgrims. Their commitment is something which is truly inspiring to see, and is not limited solely to the sick, but to each other and to themselves also.  This year’s pilgrimage journey has seen the youth of Liverpool gather in the eyes of God, and Our Lady, with one common cause to help those who are less fortunate, and in doing so, truly kept their lamps lit.

We all absolutely cannot wait for Lourdes 2013.

Friday 27 July: The journey home begins

Our final morning in Lourdes began by meeting in the St Frai for duties at 5.30 am writes Mike Meadows.

These duties again included waking the sick pilgrims on our allocated Wards, assisting them with showering, going to the toilet and getting dressed, and then ensuring that they were all packed and ready for departure.  We had a brief opportunity to say goodbye to the pilgrims we had made friends with this year, and as always pledge so see them back here again next year.

Following our duties we had a quick dash down to the Rosary Basilica for our Youth Pilgrimage Departure Mass, where we were introduced to Dom, Sarah and Rosie from next year’s Animate Team, and had the opportunity to bid farewell to Father Stephen Pritchard who is leaving as Director of the Youth Pilgrimage after thirteen years.  Father Ste was presented with gifts and a brief speech was read about his time as director and the commitment he has continually made to our Youth Pilgrimage.  He was thanked for his service by our youth pilgrims through resounding applause and cheers, before the Mass, and our pilgrimage drew to a close as our respective coaches travelled back to hotels to board coaches and depart Lourdes.

Thursday 26 July: Anointing

After having Wednesday off duty, today was our final full shift of pilgrim contact time, starting with the Mass of the Anointing in the Underground Basilica writes Mike Meadows.  This is always an extremely well attended celebration, and this year was no exception, as both sick and youth pilgrims joined together, led by Archbishop Patrick Kelly.

Following the Mass of the Anointing, our sick pilgrims were taken out for shopping and social time, and an opportunity to visit the Grotto for the last time this year.  Whilst this was going on I had the opportunity to sneak off for a brief period to speak to Roger Phillips live on BBC Radio Merseyside about our Pilgrimage, as part of our media team endeavours.  Roger asked about all aspects of our experience, from duties to the commitments that our young people make to attend, and I felt extremely proud to be able to talk about the work that we do each year in Lourdes.  A wonderful opportunity for us tell people all about our pilgrimage.

Following on from our afternoon’s duties the Youth Pilgrimage joined to process in the Torchlight Procession, as we traditionally do on the last evening of our time in Lourdes.  I always feel this is a fitting way to end our time, as we all stand together as one, united by our common cause to assist the sick who join our pilgrimage.  After the torchlight we had a brief opportunity for social time, and packing suitcases for our departure the following day.

Wednesday 25 July: Going to the Zoo

Our day off!  After a wonderful lie in until 8.30am (an alien concept when on a youth pilgrimage!) the St Frai Team joined to complete the Stations of the Cross as a group writes Mike Meadows.

I always enjoy this aspect of our pilgrimage each year, and find it to be one of the most rewarding and reflective periods of our spiritual journey.  As we complete the stations in silence, and building towards our Reconciliation Service in the evening, we think about our individual relationships with God, and how we wish to pray for forgiveness later in the day.

Following on from this, and after a brief visit to a rather bizarre waxwork show in the centre of Lourdes, we got on our coach to visit Lourdes Zoo.  It had been a bit of a running joke that when we got there all we would see would be a goat painted as a tiger, such were the not-so-favourable online reviews.  However, we were pleasantly surprised by the attraction, witnessing a (real) tiger, otters, monkeys, kangaroos, llamas and pandas, to name a few.  We had a great day off, and soon were back in Lourdes to get ready for our evening Reconciliation Service lead by our Chaplain, Father Brendan Rice.

The Reconciliation Service was extremely reflective, allowing us an opportunity for both praise and contemplation, as we were invited to either speak with our Chaplains, or talk to God ourselves in silent prayer.

Once the service had concluded we walked back to our hotel to prepare for the evening’s ‘Superheroes’ themed fancy dress.  As always, the St Frai Team went all out with costumes, and the superheroes on show included myself as Superted, and others dressed as Catwoman, Harry Potter, the Incredible Hulk and characters from Thunderbirds.

We joined the rest of the pilgrimage’s over 18’s later on, the majority of which were also in fancy dress, with Popeye, the Mario Brothers and Bananaman also making an appearance.  This was an extremely enjoyable evening and but by the end of the night I was absolutely shattered, as being dressed as an oversized teddybear in thirty degrees of heat was not a wise decision!

Tuesday 24 July: Duty in the St Frai

Tuesday morning started with another early rise as I was on duty in the St Frai for around 6.00 am writes Mike Meadows.  Similar to previous early duties, this meant assisting the sick pilgrims in their morning routines, and particularly helping the higher dependency patients in my Ward to do the things which you or I may take for granted, such as showering, going to the toilet and getting dressed.  On this particular pilgrimage I have thought quite a lot about the difficulties which some of our sick pilgrims contest, yet always with enthusiasm and a big smile on their faces: this is something I wish I could say I did too, when the going gets tough.

After our pilgrims had completed their morning routine they were taken down to the domaine for their opportunity to visit the Lourdes baths.  This is a particularly poignant and significant aspect of our pilgrimage, as many sick pilgrims from around the world visit the baths each year to pray to Our Lady for relief from their respective illnesses.  As I waited to process to the domaine for our visit to the baths, I had the opportunity to chat with a couple of our sick pilgrims who were still in the hospital, Ann and Margaret from Widnes, who explained to me the importance of the pilgrimage to them.  I really enjoyed chatting with these ladies, particularly as it enabled me to gain an understanding for the various reasons that some of our sick pilgrims come each year, and helped me to appreciate how the various services that our young people offer help in so many different ways.

After lunch, we assisted the sick in processing back to the domaine for mass in St Bernadette’s Chapel, and then the youth pilgrimage joined in procession for the blessing of the sick in the Underground Basilica.  This pretty much took up the entire afternoon, and before we knew it we had to be back at the hotel for a quick change, evening meal and evening duties back at the St Frai.  These ‘duties’ were the ones most of us look forward to most: a period of entertaining the pilgrims through the medium of song and dance.  This was led by our Widnes and Isle of Man contingent, and began with youngsters dancing to some classics, with our sick pilgrims particularly impressed by Dominic Cain and his ‘moves like Jagger’.  After some karaoke and a comedy routine the focus turned onto the St Frai Youth Pilgrimage Team as for some reason we found ourselves dancing to the Macarena, YMCA et al.  Once this fun but rather humiliating session was complete we rounded off our evening by assisting the sick in getting to bed, and meeting for night prayers with our team colleagues, before an early night.

Monday 23 July: Torchlight Procession

Today my day began with a meeting alongside our Media Team, lead by Father Stephen Pritchard writes Mike Meadows.  We discussed what we've been up to so far and how we wished to press forward with the rest of our pilgrimage coverage.

I then made the short walk to the St Frai Hospital, to assist our pilgrims in getting out to the afternoon's Rosary Basilica Mass. For anyone who has not had the privilege of seeing this church, you really have to: it is absolutely beautiful. The mass went wonderfully, with pilgrims all in full voice and sounding fantastic in such a tall, open building.  After mass the sun was really shining, even more than we have been blessed with so far on this pilgrimage, so we went back to the St Frai, making sure all sick pilgrims had suitably applied their sunscreen as they spent their afternoon with our young people shopping.

Whilst back in the St Frai most pilgrims were out and about, so there were not too many duties to complete other than chatting to those who stayed behind and catching up with some friends from across the coaches who were also on duty.  It was absolutely baking in the St Frai Hospital, both up on the roof terrace and on the Ward, so I must say a big thank you to Rosie and Beth from the Sefton Coach who brought me some ice cream - it was lovely!

Once our afternoon duties had been completed I quickly walked back to our hotel for evening meal, then back out for the Torchlight Procession.  This is always the most spectacular aspect of our pilgrimage.  It is so inspirational to see our Liverpool yellow and purple t-shirts stood alongside both our sick pilgrims and our inter-diocesan counterparts.  For me, it is this unity and camaraderie which truly signifies the message of Lourdes, and instills the spirit which makes so many of us come back each year.  I always feel immense pride watching our guys process through the domaine using nothing but candlelight, it truly is a sight to behold.

After completing the procession my group met on the St Frai roof terrace for night prayers, followed by some brief social time and an early night, anticipating our second early rise for duty on Tuesday morning.

Sunday 22 July: Mass at the Grotto

Today was our first early shift in the St. Frai, as my alarm informed me at 4.30am!  We wandered down to the hospital for around 5.15 am anticipating the 5.30 am shift start, and started our day with a prayer alongside the Liverpool Hospitalité group, and our friends from the Sefton Coach Over 18s, who were also on duty with us writes Mike Meadows.

Our roles on this morning consisted of waking the sick pilgrims, assisting them in getting dressed, showering them and generally aiding them, where necessary with their morning routines.

After our sick pilgrims were dressed, showered and ready, they were taken in for breakfast in the hospital's refectory, before beginning their journey to the morning's sick pilgrim's Grotto Mass.  This was celebrated in the open air alongside some of our peers on from the Motherwell Diocese, and was a really enjoyable occasion, with both sick and young pilgrims alongside each other for the first time on this year's pilgrimage.  During the Mass I was assisting Father Brendan Rice as he delivered delivering communion to the sick, ensuring they were both under the shade of an umbrella as the scorching sun began to break through.

Following Mass we were able to go for the sick pilgrim, and youth pilgrimage photographs outside the Rosary Basilica.  This is something I always look forward to, as the sense of community felt as the youth pilgrimage stands side by side is something which I feel really proud of. The unity of our pilgrimage, striving to serve the sick with a common goal is something that is always extremely prevalent on our pilgrimage.

Once the photography had been completed we walked back to the St Frai Hospital whilst the sick pilgrims had their lunch, and were able to grab a quick cup of tea.  Whilst I was doing so I felt a tap on my shoulder, and was greeted by Father Gerry Wharton: one of the loveliest gentlemen you could wish to meet, who I got to know as I assisted the Hotel Pilgrims whilst on the Sefton Coach last year.  It was great to see Father Gerry, and he made sure he got to know everything that had happened in the last twelve months.  From a personal point of view, this is one of my favourite aspects of going on pilgrimage, as catching up with a pilgrim you've struck up a bond with on a previous trip feels so rewarding.

Our evening consisted of assisting the pilgrims in the St Frai with their evening entertainment: Bingo. I am sorry to say that I was a complete and utter jinx to Josie, and unfortunately we did not win anything!  Afterwards we went to La Solitude to meet with our Over 18s for an evening social, this was great with the guitars and singing in full voice: with some particularly stirring renditions of Oasis classics, and a new version of Depeche Mode's hit 'I Just Can't Get Enough' to pay tribute to one of of coach leaders.  We then retired to our respective hotels, extremely drained but delighted after a wonderful first day of duties, and looking forward to the rest of the week.

Saturday 21 July: Arrival in Lourdes

Arriving at our place of Pilgrimage in record time, we unpacked the coach and proceeded to settle into our surroundings writes Mike Meadows.

I cannot find the words to tell you how wonderful it was to get a shower and a few hours sleep in a real bed after 25 hours on a coach!  In the afternoon we were afforded some free time to acclimatise within the town, I went for a wander with a couple of friends to show one of our Lourdes newbies the Grotto, Rosary Basilica, and tour the domaine.  With the sun peaking through the clouds, in stark contrast to the recent British weather, it was a lovely beginning to our pilgrimage experience. I was then able to briefly meet with some friends from the Sefton Coach, before meeting with the media team to discuss our pilgrimage activity.  Later in the day we met for our evening meal together and discussed what we had all been up to during the afternoon, there was a distinct sense of anticipation for the evening's Youth Pilgrimage Welcome Mass, which is always something to look forward to.

The mass was celebrated with Archbishop Patrick Kelly at the Notre Dame Chapel, and was an extremely uplifting occasion, with everyone meeting outside wearing beaming smiles as we greeted familiar faces we've got to know on previous pilgrimages.  Archbishop Kelly spoke movingly about what Lourdes means to him, and urged us to keep our faith shining out both in Lourdes and in our daily lives, but particularly during our contact time with pilgrims.  The mass concluded with Coach One doing a stirring 'encore' singing and dancing to pilgrimage hymn favourites.  Our day winded to a close with a brief social session alongside our peers on Coach Three, the St Helens Coach, meeting in Casa Italia and jamming on the guitars for an hour or so.  But, with the St Frai meeting the Sefton Over 18s for the early (5.30am) duty with the pilgrims, we soon settled back at the hotel and got an early night, so as to be fresh for what lay ahead on Sunday.

Friday 20 July: The Journey

The journey to Lourdes begins with pilgrims flying from Liverpool John Lennon Airport and ten coaches of youg people leaving on a twenty-seven hour journey to work with the sick pilgrims.

Coach 4 celebrated early morning Mass in St John's church, Wigan and Coach 8 in St Mary's church, Leyland.

Lucy Newton from Coach 5 writes;

After a hectic week of people dropping out, loosing a staff member and another staff member on crutches, we are finally on our way to Lourdes after a great mass at St Joseph's in Chorley.  After saying our goodbyes to family, friends and the rest of the parish, having given them prayer books and a single decade of rosary beads (made by the young people on the coach), we set off earlier than scheduled.  For the past four years coach 5 have been the last coach to arrive in Lourdes from Liverpool Archdiocese.  Hopefully this year we will not miss the ferry and arrive in Lourdes ahead of some other coaches.

Though the journey is going smoothly there have already been some travelling errors by some members of the coach.  To name and shame: Laura Broadstock, Jon Berry, Jamie Adamson, Rachel Miller, Anna Gilbertson and Mazza Gazza are all wearing jeans.  For a 27 hour journey jeans are not ideal.  However the biggest error of all, Sean O'Sullivan has forgotten his pillow.  What a nightmare!

Meanwhile Mike Meadows from the St Frai Team says:

Today the St Frai team, which I am part of for this year's pilgrimage, met at St Peter and St Paul's Church in Kirkby to begin our Lourdes Pilgrimage of 2012.  Assembling at 7.15 am, we swiftly packed the coach and headed to Wigan (my second home!) to pick up our over 18's friends from Coach 4.  Anticipating a the long journey ahead, the interaction on the journey began early, with plenty of catching up with those we had not seen for a while, or in my case attempting to forge new friendships, on a new coach for Lourdes 2012.

The journey seemed to progress extremely quickly, and before we knew it we were stopping at Toddington Services, near Northampton, to meet up with our coach drivers for the rest of the journey, Margaret and Phil. The rest of Friday's journey continued with plenty of activity on Twitter, as each coache tweeted celebrities, and each other in an attempt to forge further friendships and interest in our Pilgrimage.  Notable retweets and messages across the Pilgrimage came from wrestler Shaun Michaels, footballer Gaizka Mendieta, and boxing promoter Frank Maloney - himself a former Lourdes pilgrim, as he informed us via the social networking site.