Downside pupils and OGs to Lourdes

It was encouraging that a good number of current pupils from the Sixth Form and young Old Gregorians took part in this year’s OMV Lourdes pilgrimage.

To be a volunteer you have to be less than thirty years of age (except for the medics, chaplains and one or two others). The organisation of the pilgrimage is in the hands of the Committee and young helpers, and it is inspiring to see young volunteers giving themselves wholeheartedly to the hospital pilgrims, serving and putting the interests of others first. Lourdes is a place where all pilgrims return healed in some way; each person will have his / her story to tell. As always, the two processions – the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and the Torchlight Marian Procession- are highpoints for any pilgrim. This year the Blessed Sacrament Procession was a particularly moving occasion for me as I stayed with the OMV pilgrims, rather than joining the priests and the bishops. It was my privilege to accompany and assist one of the young hospital pilgrims. When the pilgrims and clergy had arrived in the underground basilica, we had Benediction, and it is traditional for the presiding bishop to walk round the basilica blessing the sick after some time has been spent in silent prayer. As the archbishop came to bless the hospital pilgrims the heart of the young hospital pilgrim next to me was moved as she was filled with the presence of God.

The young Bernadette Soubirous was told by Our Lady in one of her apparitions that pilgrims were to come and drink and wash in the waters of the nearby spring. Every day large numbers queue up to bathe in the icy waters and yet all pilgrims have a reluctance and fear about going to the baths to bathe in the cold water. I accompanied two hospital pilgrims, both in wheel chairs and both unable to speak. On both occasions I was moved by the dedication, care and sensitivity of the volunteers who were working in the baths assisting the pilgrims. Each pilgrim has to surrender himself / herself entirely to the help of the volunteers. This calls for an act of humility and thanksgiving from all of us.

Dom James Hood

Photography credit: Order of Malta Volunteers []

It is only after Lourdes that you come to appreciate the mental, physical, and emotional week that you have just experienced. As a first timer, I was chucked into the deep end on the first day as everyone else was and had to get stuck in immediately. However, this is the best way to learn and get started in order to empathise with those one is helping and to learn.

Some think that it is all work, this is partly true, but much time is spent hanging out with the HP’s (hospital pilgrims) and meeting many new and really nice people. You become such good friends over the week whereas it takes years to make good friends with someone you see every day at school for five years.

There is an aspect about Lourdes which draws people back year after year. Each time you go back makes it more special. From hanging out at the Broncs (the infamous bar filled with pilgrims), to making friends with both the helpers and the HPs, to having  an average of four hours of sleep each night, to night prayers opposite the Grotto, where Mary appeared to Bernadette.  Every moment of the day is really precious and this makes it an experience that is like none other.

Digby, Upper Sixth Form pupil