On the 27th of March we departed from Newry as members of group 93 to participate in the 2016 IHCPT pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Irish Pilgrimage Trust. The organisation works with disabled children in providing them with a unique holiday to Lourdes, with over 1100 people attending each year, split into groups of 10 young people and around 12 or more adults. We were privileged to be given this opportunity to be a part of this incredible experience which was truly moving.
During our stay, the town was overrun by the IHCPT groups - who were found everywhere in different coloured clothes and hats or outfits to distinguish themselves as their own unique group, there was singing and game playing as groups met each other around Lourdes and created a great sense of community, we had all come to Lourdes as one big family. There were many laughs to be enjoyed.
Over the week we participated in many events and saw many sights. On the first day we got to know the town, we saw Saint Bernadette’s house that she lived in comfortably when they had income, and the home she lived in as she was poor, a one roomed house that was given to those in debt. It was a great experience to see her home in the same condition she had once lived in it and the struggles she had to endure whilst living in extreme poverty.
We also went to Gavarnie, a small village at the French border with Spain, there we climbed up the mountain, but didn’t go too far due to the high altitude of the mountains in which snow coated the top! There we met with other groups and said Mass on the grass, there was music played and fun to be had as we relaxed in the sun.
Additionally we attended a candlelight procession on the Tuesday night which was an exceptional and moving experience. Thousands of people moved in unison around the central Church of St Bernadette at Lourdes, where Mass was said in three different languages and people watched from afar in prayer. It was a time for our own personal prayers and requests as we all moved with our own candles towards the base of the Church. It was also a night in which the ICHPT marked its 60th birthday with a large firework display from the Chateau Fort in the town, which the children thoroughly enjoyed.
Furthermore throughout the week we had time for prayer, but in a unique, different way. ICHPT youth masses were held in churches and in the underground basilica in Lourdes and it wasn’t your ordinary mass. It was filled with colour, face paint and choreographed songs along with people coming in fancy dress, nearly all of the priests even got involved in this! Music and dancing replaced your traditional prayers and for the children who attended, they absolutely loved it.
At night however we often attended the grotto, and for many it was one of the most personal moments of our time in Lourdes. Many tears were shed, bottles of holy water stocked and candles set alight as the night marked the time for our own personal intentions. As we lit our candles it was incredibly comforting to know that our prayers would linger on after we had gone, as the candles never stop burning at the Grotto, so our prayers will never stop being said.
We did many things over that week, saw all of Lourdes but the highlight of our experience was the bonds we made with the members of our group, from the adults to the children. It was an incredible experience that we will never forget and one that we would love to do again. It was a week filled with fun, laughter, comfort and prayer, and we sincerely thank those who gave us such an opportunity to experience all of this.
By Clodagh Burns and Rebecca McDonnell.