The events of this year’s Pilgrimage for the Society of Mary to Lourdes are described by its Director, Fr Graeme Rowlands

Our Pilgrimage for the Society of Mary to Lourdes this year had a very different character to it. Over the last few years it has become obvious that we are able to take a larger and more diverse group if this is organized once every two years rather than every year.

Available to all

We have tried to vary the timing of the pilgrimage so that is available to those who are only free to go during the school holidays. But this year, for the first time, we decided that it would be beneficial both to the young people and the adults if we were to take a significant youth group with us and, to make it easier — for those who wished to go, that the Society would support each of the teenagers with the cost of their pilgrimage. To make the pilgrimage more readily available to all, we also decided to keep the arrangements in house; without using a tour company, and to travel by train from London.

The journey

So it was that Fr Miller and his family came with me to Lourdes last year to investigate the possibilities, to plan a programme and to visit the Youth Village where that group would be staying. And then at the beginning of August, eighty-three of us met at St Pancras Station on the Sunday afternoon, those prepared to travel overnight, to be followed by a further twenty-five during the day on Monday.

The travel in itself was quite an adventure! Having managed to get everyone across Paris on the Sunday evening, it was for most of us our first experience of couchettes on a French train. The one thing which one cannot easily do in a couchette is to sleep, still less find anywhere to put the luggage! A fairly bedraggled group arrived in Lourdes just after 6.00am on the Monday, in the pouring rain and while it was still dark. After breakfast and a chance to wash and change, life began to improve.

Youth programme

The programme had deliberately been organized so that most of the events were shared, but the youth group had their own programme, with games and discussions at the Youth Village each evening and a vigil at the Grotto on the Monday evening. While the adults explored the bars and restaurants of the town on Tuesday at St Bertrand de Comminges, they went to the Roman remains in the valley and held a prayer vigil at the fifth-century Basilica of Saint Just en Valcabrére. While the rest celebrated a Mass and visited the Museum of the Shrine of Our Lady of Bétharram on Thursday afternoon, the young people visited the caves nearby.

At the International Mass on the Wednesday, they brought up many of the gifts at the offertory and provided an English petition during the intercessions. At the torchlight procession on Thursday evening, they were the torchbearers to keep the end of the procession in order. And, to the benefit of us all, the crowning glory was that they had written their own meditations and led all the pilgrims for the Stations of the Cross.

A new vision

I hope we shall be able to do it again!

I am, of course, grateful to our bishops and priests for leading the pilgrimage and for all that they did during that week. I am grateful to the adults and children who stayed at the hotel and formed an enthusiastic and devout group of pilgrims to the Shrine. I am particularly in awe of Fr North, Fr Miller andJacqui who stayed at the Youth Village all week and bore the burden and heat of the day in caring for all our young pilgrims! But my main thanks go to each of the youth pilgrims in providing a new vision and fresh enthusiasm on our pilgrim way.