Waiting for the call to go on board
The spring at the grotto that we leave behind.
Bags are tagged and dispatched for Ireland. Boarding cards are received and everyone is ready for the homeward journey.
Goodbyes are said often.
Friday and Saturday are less defined than other days in Lourdes. Some sleep is snatched before the fleet of buses roll back into town for the first leg of the homeward journey. Au revoirs encore to the staff, merci to the madame and off we go. Have we forgotten anything? Well we will all have left a little of ourselves behind but that empty space has been filled seventy seven times seventy-seven.
The airport looks so different now than it did some six days ago: but then maybe it is we are different! We unload the bus, check our passports, take one last look at the snow-capped Pyrenees. Passport holders get our boarding cards, baggage people look after the luggage and through the gates we go.
The planes arrive and with much effort we are loaded and ready for take off. The journey home is often quiet: the flight officer welcomes us on board, one of the chaplains leads us in a prayer and might even bless the last souvenir that was bought in a hurry; some grab a little sleep, others listen to walkmans. All realise that the bonding that has taken place during the past few weeks will soon be challenged by departures at Dublin or Cork, Belfast, Shannon or Knock Airports.
As the words of the flight attendant "Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has switched on the seat belt sign. We have begun our descent..... " is heard some lone pilgrim strikes up the words of Rise and Shine. Here we are on a jumbo jet singing about Noah's ark! The staff look on incredulously as we wave and sign, sign and clap our way through the flood of four thousand years ago. What difference! And then we are back on Irish soil: the singing has kept our mind off the descent and no one noticed the wheels touch the ground. A thunderous applause erupts as we are welcomed back to Ireland.
Flight officers, passport holders and luggage people are swiftly to their tasks. All work together to get everybody inside safely.
Some people bid adeiu at the airport, others share the bus or car journey home, Parting is often tearful but there is also joy because of the return. Thanks are exchanged, dates of reunions re-announced and suddenly this wonderful week of prayer, friendship and fun comes to an end.