We arrived after a long and tiring coach journey to see beautiful mountains and bright blue skies. After 24 hours, we had finally reached our destination. On Sunday evening we celebrated mass in a small chapel at the side of the domain. It was the first time we had properly come together, and the atmosphere was incredible. We played some great games and had an amazing night prayer lead by Pete and Eleanor, but nothing could prepare us for the next day…
After breakfast, we got into our small groups and went for a tour of the town. I say tour, but our group leader didn’t quite know where anything was so for us it was more of an adventure! We visited St Bernadette’s house, then the town centre and the Lourdes parish-we even met some monks with Robin Hood hats! Lunch swiftly followed, and then we headed to the baths. It didn’t matter how many times people had told me that they were cold, I didn’t believe them till I’d been in! Despite the shock to the system, it was a really powerful experience and I felt truly cleansed when I came out. Monday evening was our first Mass together as an entire pilgrimage, and we celebrated it in the Chapelle Notre Dame. Once again, it was an immensely powerful experience and as I played my guitar and sang with the rest of the musicians I certainly felt God at work.
Tuesday marked the first full day of the pilgrimage, and we celebrated mass in the morning in the domain before the annual pilgrimage photo. After lunch, we had some free time and a catechesis session on Mary and the rosary where we made our own rosary beads and prayed together. At five o’clock we headed back to the domain with the pilgrims, where Bishop Patrick blessed and lit the pilgrimage candle and we then visited the stations of the cross. As it was my day off, some others and I headed up to the High Stations, and this was one of the most amazing experiences of the entire trip. They were so amazingly sculpted, and they really made me take a minute to think. In the evening I had the privilege to watch the Marian procession from above and it was a brilliant sight.
The first service of Wednesday was the International Mass. Walking into the underground basilica really took my breath away. The ceiling towered above us, and the sight of thousands of people all ready to praise God was inspiring. Whilst it was a little confusing trying to follow mass as it was said in different languages, it was still a brilliant experience. After dropping the assisted pilgrims back to their hotels, our youth contingent headed off on an excursion to Lac de Lourdes. This was an amazing break, and it was where everyone really bonded. We were all messing around in the pool and swimming, and it was the most amazing few hours. When we got back, and after we’d freshened up, we took part in the Blessed Sacrament Procession. Bishop Patrick led this, and it was a really thought provoking service and procession. In the evening we had a Reconciliation Service, which was the first time that we all got really emotional. The whole experience really helped open my eyes to the true healing power of Lourdes, the spiritual healing.
Thursday was almost entirely taken up with an excursion to St Savin and an anointing of the sick service. This was a truly humbling experience, and seeing how emotional it made everyone really hit home to me about why I was on the trip. On Thursday evening, the Nottingham Diocese lead the Marian Procession! I had a particularly amazing experience then, as me and a few other young people were asked to sing with Andy, Tom and Fr Joe in front of the entire procession. We sang the Magnificat and 10,000 Reasons, and I’ve never felt so alive in my faith. Everybody seemed to appreciate the true faith, honesty and emotion that we put into the songs, and I definitely felt that God was with us that night. We also had night prayer opposite the grotto, which just added to all the emotion that I’d felt that day.
Friday was the last full day of the pilgrimage. We began very early, with the Grotto mass with the Diocese of Down and Connor at 8:30 am. We then took the assisted pilgrims souvenir shopping, and they were all very generous and many of us were treated to an ice cream or a coffee! We took them to the baths, and then we took part in the blessed sacrament procession. It was just as moving the second time, if not more so as I fully understand what was happening. I also gave one of my Robin Hood hats to the trumpet player, who proceeded to strut around wearing it with an extremely proud look on his face! After dinner was the eagerly anticipated pilgrimage social. Some of the young people, pilgrims, priests and Bishops(!) showed off their many brilliant talents with much encouragement from us all before we trooped out to see the Bastille Day fireworks. Despite a slight delay in their start time, they didn’t disappoint and finished our final evening in the best possible way.
Saturday morning was hard. I was left feeling very tearful that our pilgrimage had come to an end. If somebody had asked me to stay for another week I’d have said yes, no questions asked. The entire experience was something that I have never felt before and far exceeded my expectations. I definitely intend to go back next year, because I feel like I still have so much more to give, and I grew so much in the time I was there. It was so rewarding to help those that needed it and to see how grateful they were that we were there. To anyone thinking of going, I would say that you definitely should. You will not regret it, and you’ll come back with new friends and as a much better person.