Lourdes 6

Sept 9th / During the summer, some of our pupils took part in the Westminster Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes.  Every year over five million pilgrims visit the grotto where the Immaculate Conception appeared to St Bernadette. Alongside these pilgrims hundreds of young people volunteer as “Red Caps” to assist the elderly and the sick who wish to appreciate this holy site. For the twenty fifth anniversary of the Red Caps, Loreto College took fourteen students to Lourdes so that they could offer our help.  The following report was written by report by Vicky Argent in Y13.

We departed on Monday morning to fly from Gatwick to Toulouse; from there we journeyed onto Lourdes. Unfortunately our plane was delayed so we missed the opportunity to meet our malades that evening. Instead, we joined the rest of the Westminster Red Caps for a prayerful reflection. They discussed how they spent their day and spoke about the moments everyone was looking forward to in the coming week.

Lourdes 1

The following day we joined the Westminster Diocese, both malades and Red Caps, for an official photograph (above). This was special for both us and the malades as it is something to remember this special time with. Many people, including a few in our group, stay in contact with their malades after they return home and this photograph often provides precious memories. After taking this photograph we attempted to find our malades. Due to this we were instead given the opportunity to do shifts at the hospital, St Frai, and to help within processions and masses. We went to a garden party hosted by Father Vlad, another founder of the redcaps. It gave the malades a social occasion to bond and gain friends who they can share this experience with. At the candlelight procession seven of us led the congregation, accompanying the crucifix and the statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Lourdes 2

Lourdes 3

On Wednesday the group started the day by assisting the priests delivering communion at the international mass. After this mass we helped the people in hospital with their lunches. This gave them someone to talk to and we also helped them to eat. Some of them merely needed their meat cutting into smaller pieces whilst others needed to be physically fed. By doing this we were adding to their experience and ensuring they were never lonely. After this we accompanied the maladies down to the Stations of the Cross. This involved holding umbrellas to protect them from the shade, providing them with water and applying sun cream if they needed it. Afterwards the woman I was assisting, Jane, wanted to go shopping and post her letters home. We accompanied her as she bought presents for her family back at home. This was such a memorable occasion for me as it made me feel as if I was truly helping this woman and making a difference to her trip.

In the evening we went to a mass at the Grotto, held by Cardinal Vincent Nichols. It was for those who are under the Westminster Diocese and was a lovely service. Having mass in this beautiful and quiet setting was a real pleasure for the malades as it was quite intimate. After the service I unfortunately had to make another visit to the hospital. This was due to an electric wheelchair running into the back of me whilst I was holding an umbrella for Jane. It injured my leg and I wasn’t able to put pressure on it for the next day. Instead I was in a wheelchair on Thursday, joining the malades in their activities!

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The malades were all taken up to St Pauls for a treetop mass service. Coaches took them up the mountain and then red caps pushed them the rest of the way up the narrow path. They enjoyed a stunning service within the middle of woodland (see the photo above). After the service we took them back to the hospital and helped them again with lunch. In the afternoon Cardinal Vincent Nichols visited St Frai to see the patients. They were thrilled with this, though some of them were so nervous they couldn’t speak to him. It was very evident this visit meant a lot to them and they thoroughly enjoyed their time there. That evening my group led the Blessed Sacrament procession, holding candles in the procession (see below), and then throughout the service.

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On Friday, our final day, we were leaving relatively early in the afternoon so we didn’t assist any groups. Instead, we went to a final mass in the underground basilica. Afterwards we made a visit to the baths alongside many other pilgrims. This was wonderful as it meant we could appreciate the religious significance of this holy place.

Overall I found Lourdes to be a truly magical location. The religious significance is outstanding and when it is teamed with the picturesque setting it creates a wonderful atmosphere. Visiting this spiritual place creates amazing memories for these elderly and sick people, and they treasure this time away to spend with God. I am overjoyed I had the opportunity to go to Lourdes and I will definitely be going again.