Pilgrimage to Lourdes 1965

Lourdes - 1965

The pilgrimage to Lourdes this year - the third time the School has taken part - was notable for two very important things:

a. We took three handicapped boys with us and made them our special responsibility.
b. Four members of the Sixth Form came on the pilgrimage and helped with the Handicapped Children. Two travelled in the School Party and two with one of the groups sponsored by the Handicapped Children Pilgrimage Trust.

In taking the handicapped boys with us, looking after them and making them feel at home with us, we had completed a task which commenced some months before. The fares for these boys were raised in the School by means of collections, concerts, raffles, donations and a dance. Over £90 was collected in this way and I am most grateful to the boys for their generosity.

Pilgrimage to Lourdes

During the Easter holidays the school joined in the Catholic Schools National Pilgrimage to our Lady's shrine at Lourdes for the third time. Perhaps this was third time lucky, for the school managed to sponsor three boys. Don Cryan and myself were especially honoured when we were given the job of assisting one of the three, David Bush from Slough. I feel that my colleague will join with me in saying that we were only too glad to be of some assistance and we both wish him well in the future.

The pilgrimage began when we assembled at Westminster Cathedral, after which we had high tea and then we set off on the long journey. Although it took quite a time to reach our destination, I think the general feeling on arrival was one of happiness and joy. The atmosphere in Lourdes is quite indescribable, but judging from the faces, both the healthy and the sick, nobody seemed to have a dull moment. There are so many things to do in Lourdes, that I do not really know what to say. However, such things as the first visit to the Grotto, the sick pilgrims, the coldness of the water in the baths, the procession of the Blessed Sacrament and the torchlight procession stand out.

On the day after our arrival, at about 10 a.m., everybody assembled near the statue of the Virgin crowned before the square - a truly remarkable statue to me - for the opening ceremony. We marched to the Grotto praying on our beads and singing hymns. There, we were given a sermon by His Lordship Bishop Grant, the pilgrimage Sponsor, indicating the lines upon which he desired the pilgrimage to proceed. From here on we adapted ourselves to a typical Lourdes day, such as hearing Mass in the morning, taking part in the Blessed Sacrament procession and the torch-light procession, along with the visit to the baths, the trip to Gavarnie and the way of the Cross, squashed in throughout the five days.

At the baths the crowds pray outside while the bathers go in. The pilgrim lies down in the water for an instant, then rises, leaves the bath and dresses. This is a very interesting phenomenon, for all kinds of people suffering from practically every disease enter these baths, yet nobody has even contracted a serious disease from the water.

Every afternoon and evening there is a procession. In the afternoon the procession forms along the bank of the River Gare from the Grotto to the square and travels the whole length of the Esplanade, enters the square at the statue of Our Lady and goes to the steps of the Rosary Church. While they march hymns are sung and litanies recited. The Bishop and his ministers walk slowly down one side of the big square and then the other, stopping every few feet to make the sign of the Cross with the Monstrance over the sick. The invocations said at this time become prayers for mercy and forgiveness. After the blessing of the sick, Benediction is given to all and the multitude disperses quickly and quietly. For one who fears emotionalism and morbid excitement at Lourdes, it is enough to be present just once at this inspiring ceremony. You are impressed by the quiet naturalness of the scene; at the same time you realize that never even in your imagination have you known anything like it.

In the evening at about 8 p.m. the pilgrims gather again, renewed in their joys, for the most loved and last public ceremony of the day. They assemble at the great square before the Grotto with their simple banners, and they march from the Grotto over the hoof-shaped arches which enclose the Square, past the statue of the Virgin crowned and return again to the square to form in front of the Basilica. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the procession is the flickering of the thousands of lighted candles and the singing of the "Ave" hymn in many languages, united by the universal Latin refrain of "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria". The sound is something you will never forget, although you will never be able to explain it adequately to another. The hymn is the keynote of all Lourdes. After everybody has gathered in the square, the Credo is sung and blessings given, after which the great crowd disperses.

The day is over for most people, but if you venture out to the Grotto around midnight the great meaning of Lourdes seems to come alive before you. You begin to realise that there really is something "peculiar" about Lourdes, yet words cannot describe this memorable place.

Lourdes brings out the meaning of suffering, yet the suffering is regarded rather as a means of grace and a method of penance and reparation. However, I think we do not really realise how lucky we are to have good health.

On leaving Lourdes one is quite sad, and there is a general feeling of “1onging to return” even as the train pulls away from Lourdes station. However, one may console oneself with the hope of seeing Our Lady in Heaven and rejoice that others may find in Lourdes the nearest thing to Heaven on Earth.

Perhaps we shall return one day, nevertheless we are grateful for those who made it possible for us to go. Here, I think we owe a great deal to Fr. Louis for the time and work he put into the pilgrimage, and also to our parents and families. Thank you.

J. Madden, 6 M.Sc.

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