Colin Gallagher

Lourdes 2014

Lourdes was truly an amazing, magical experience. Although it is hard to describe the experience itself, I'll give it my best shot. Going over to Lourdes, I think nobody could have expected what was ahead. It truly is something you have to experience for yourself. The people I've met are people I will never forget. Each individual is special in a different way, and were easier to get on with than I expected. The bonds you make in the first two days are bonds that you cannot imagine breaking or leaving. Pushing wheelchairs and helping them was only a privilege.

Lourdes itself is a fantastic place. Once entering the grounds of the grotto, there is something spiritual about it. Although there may be thousands of people there at the one time, it is still so peaceful and magical. The grotto itself is just something else! The first time we went to it it was night time, and that made it even better. The feelings you experience can only be felt by the persons themselves as they go to Lourdes. To experience this trip not only with my close friends, but also the people I met, made me never want to leave. I find it so hard to describe this experience, you have to experience it yourself to understand. It is life-changing, and the one quote I had all week inside my head was, "Put the ability before the disability", and that's simply what I did. I will no doubt return sometime in the future.

Conor Lavery

Lourdes 2014

Hello, my name is Conor Lavery, I am seventeen years old and I am a student in St. Colman's College Claremorris, Co . Mayo. This year on the 201h of June myself and seven other fellow students and six adult leaders headed for Lourdes to help with two groups who had people with physical and intellectual disabilities. You think going out there that you will be helping these people, you never think that they will end up helping you as much if not more than you help them. This is what I thought going out to Lourdes. These people that you meet in Lourdes are so kind and they don't judge you - they accept you as you are. I also thought that I wouldn't be having any fun while I was out there, whereas in fact I ended up having more fun out there than I would have had if I was at home. The people I was helping in Lourdes were great fun and they enjoyed being with us and singing songs with us and a lot of different activities. In my opinion, I think these people are closer to God than any of us can ever be, and I think this is because they don't judge anyone and they show how they feel easier than others, which makes them closer to God.

A few of the things I enjoyed most about Lourdes were the visits we had to the grotto late at night. The peace and tranquility that you experience at the grotto late at night is just out of this world, I really can't describe it to you. Another of my favourite things was going to the baths. This was absolutely amazing. You line up outside for twenty to thirty minutes, then you go into the building and you take off your clothes and put a towel around yourself, then you step into the freezing cold water and pray for whatever intentions you have before three people submerge you in the water for a few seconds and when you step out of the water you are completely dry; it is truly amazing. I also enjoyed a visit we had to a village called Gavarnie which is actually across the border into Spain. From there we started our ascent up the Pyrenees mountains. It was truly brilliant, the scenery was fabulous, I can't describe it to you. To sum up, this trip to Lourdes was the best thing I have ever done in my life and to anyone who is half thinking about going to Lourdes I would say to you to book your tickets now, you won't regret it.

David Corless

Lourdes 2014

A truly gratifying and life-changing experience

The great writer Oscar Wilde once said, "We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible."

I rarely find it difficult to express myself or give my opinion on matters, but in the case of my pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, accompanied by a group of 13 other friends and fellow volunteers, I am stumped. The experience was so profound that it is difficult to verbalise it. It is something that must be experienced to appreciate it fully. However, I will try my best to put pen to paper and write about this unique, awe-inspiring experience. Lourdes 2014 was without doubt the most rewarding, inspirational and life-changing experience of my life to date, that 'one great experience' of which Wilde speaks. I have to admit however that before I arrived in the holy town in the south of France, I was quite sceptical. I simply didn't know what to expect. Was it going to be non-stop Mass all week? Would I get along with the people I would be working with? And above all, would I like it? With these questions whirling in my head I boarded flight FR1282 from Dublin Airport on the 20th of June with the added nerves of this being my first time on board an aircraft. As soon as the doors of the aircraft opened in Biarritz, two hours later, we were gratefully welcomed by a mass of continental air, instantly engulfing us in French life. A two hour car journey to Lourdes ensued where food lay waiting for us in Hosanna House, our base for the week. Any previous doubts I had were soon quashed due to the group's warm hospitality and easy going nature. During the course of the week I was working with adults with varying degrees of disability, both physical and intellectual. Admittedly, it was quite difficult to integrate fully with the group on day one as many of us volunteers were out of our comfort zones, but by day two and with each subsequent day the bond between us volunteers and the group increased and soared until we were like a single family unit, helping each other and learning about each individual person. The fact that the group we worked with were from the east coast and us being from the west provided much friendly banter that got everyone involved.

I am now ofthe opinion that having worked with these people I am a changed person and a better person. We went out to Lourdes that week to help them and to assist their carers, but they gave us far more than anything we could possibly have ever given them. Their free-spirited, open nature allowed us to get to know each person individually and the love each one possesses knows no bounds. For example, each time we went to Hosanna House we were customarily met with hugs and embraces from all sides, giving us a first-hand glimpse of God's work. I have really learned an immense amount from these wonderful people. One could not meet happier people anywhere. Despite their disability, they are without question the most cheerful, content people you could meet. They are not dictated by the pressures of society and that is what is so beautiful about each of them, we see them as they truly are, as beautiful human beings, blossoming like flowers before our eyes. The whole experience made me view the 'ability' instead of the 'disability'. Of course, many of them have certain limitations, but their amazing gifts and talents outweigh these limitations. I, personally, will never forget them for the amazing and profound experience they gave me. To tell the truth, there are no words to describe the week with justice. It is undoubtedly an inner journey and one that should be experienced by all at some stage in life.

Of course, since the week was in Lourdes, I also grew a great deal spiritually during the week. Daily celebration of the Holy Mass as well as frequent visits to the Baths, the Rosary Basilica, the Underground Basilica, the Church of St. Bernadette and the Chapel of Reconciliation were all extremely worthwhile and meaningful experiences. The candlelight procession was also an amazing sight to behold - seeing thousands of candles lit and held by their owners in the Rosary Square was truly breathtaking. However, nothing could surpass the beauty of the Grotto, the place where the Virgin Mary appeared eighteen times to a poor peasant girl Bernadette some 156 years ago. The peace and tranquility one experiences at this sacred place is indescribable. Seeing the Grotto by night with the candles lit in front of Our Blessed Mother is something that everyone should see in their lifetime. The entire Lourdes experience has left me with a great feeling of peace and joy in my heart. It is a feeling very difficult to describe, but this is my own humble interpretation of it.

As I reflect on my week in Lourdes, it is quite extraordinary the sheer impact it has had on my life, quite an unexpected impact I may add. Despite what anyone says, you don't realise how brilliant the week is until you go out there yourself and witness it first-hand. The one challenge that I have now is to practice at home what I learned in Lourdes and not let the experience become solely a joyous memory. The week was tough and very intense, but you reap what you sow in terms of reward. A massive thank you is due to the Irish Pilgrimage Trust, our group leader Fr. Michael Murphy, my teachers in St. Colman's College, Claremorris, and everyone else who made this pilgrimage possible. Lourdes 2014 was undoubtedly a week where friendships were strengthened and new ones formed and memories were made to last a lifetime.

I would like to conclude by urging everyone, young and old, to give this pilgrimage a go, even if you don't think it would be for you. Believe me, I was one of those people, but the experience I just had was simply phenomenal. You'll receive talents that you thought you never had and you really will be a transformed person. As a wise person once said, "Until you spread your wings you'll have no idea how far you can fly."

by David Corless (17)
St. Colman's College, Claremorris, Co. Mayo

Ethan Jordan

Lourdes 2014: Group 754/513

What can I say about th is experience? It was once in a lifetime and one that I will definitely never fo rget. It started just before the Easter holidays when Fr. Mike Murphy came into our school to talk to us about giving us the chance to go out to Lourdes. He told us about how he was asked to br ing a group of young people, to help another group that were going out to Lourdes during the summer with elderly and also special needs people and that he said he would offer it to the lads for a change instead of the girls. At first I was a bit unsure about it but after I talked to a few of the other lads who were thinking of going I decided that I'd give it a go along with the others.

After a week or so, Fr. Mike came back into the school and informed us that we were going and we began preparing for the day to come. We had a manual handling course and we also had an information session of what it was going to be like and where we'd be staying. We were also told who was going with us. They were Trish, Seam as, three of our own teachers from the college - Peter, Mary and Cathy- along with Fr. Mike. So in total 14 of us were going.

So on an early morning rise on June 20th, we met up at St. Colman's Church Claremorris, said goodbye to our parents and set off on our trip. As a group of lads we knew each other very well so we knew we would work well and have some fun while we were together for the week and it all kicked off straight away. We were even getting on with what I called the OAPs of the group straight away (Fr. Mike, Peter, Seamas, Trish, Cathy and Mary).

Once we got through the airport and we got on the plane we were buzzing with excitement. We landed in Biarritz airport at around 4:00pm. We then got cars and began a 2 hour journey to Hosanna House. At around half six, we were there. We went inside and met up with the group we would be working with for the next week. We sat down and after the day that both the group and ourselves had, we had a deserved dinner. While eating I remember looking around and asking my friend Jamie, "Should we be helping instead of eating? I don't know, I just feel like I should be doing something." For me personally I found it very daunting and unusual. Then it was time for Mass, well what was one of many Masses to come. We sat down and Mass began as normal, but in the middle of Mass, the priest gave the congregation the chance to make the prayers of the faithful instead of him. I found this strange as I had never seen it before, but was nice. Then, out of the blue, one of the group said a prayer for us as he found the Mayo lads to be very quiet and he hoped we'd find our voice . Then later on, as a congregation, we all held hands all around the church and prayed. This was something I had never experienced in church before and found it strange. When it was all over I remember thinking to myself that my faith is nothing compared to the people we were helping. I felt that I may be in the wrong place and remember asking a friend of mine what I had let myself in for.

The next day was when it all started. We went for a walking tour of Lourdes itself and saw the significant religious places such as where Bernadette grew up and learned a bit about her. But what shocked me was the group. Having been there less than 24 hours and barely had chance to meet everyone, a lot of people already knew my name and that shocked me. Also I learned straight away that the group had a really strong faith. This made me sit down a question my own. Not only from this day but overall, this pilgrimage to Lourdes made me question myself as a person. While there you look around and see a group of fantastic people that at the end ofthe day are really no different to you or me.

That evening we sat down as a group and reflected on how the day went and we listened to how everyone felt their experience was, and what they had got out of it and learned from it. This was a great time -you just sat there and thought. You sat there with no pressure and a complete weightlessness around you. We sat on the grounds of the grotto, beside the river in the dark. That for me was one of the best things. You sit there in darkness and listen to the water lapping and flowing away. Peace, something you just cherish.

Then on Sunday was the turnaround for me. I started to get to know the people and sit down with them. We wrote postcards for them to send home and that was something that was nice as they really appreciated it. Then we set off for the grotto with them. They looked around and had a chance to embrace it all. Then we went to a ceremony in the underground basilica. This lasted two hours and let me tell you there were some of us happy when it was over as it was very stuffy and packed with nearly 10,000 people.

I could go on and on of what we did with them each day but there would be no point as I would be here writing this for hours. Each day was different, but there were a few things that really stood out for me. On Monday, after having a chat with some women, I decided it would be a good idea to twist my ankle. I joke. Looking back now it was very silly but I did twist my ankle and unfortunately I was out of action for a portion of the day. It was here that I met a young lad called David from another group. He was a lad who could not speak fully and used sign language. He saw me and decided to sit down beside me. Colin (one of the lads with us) told me about him and how to say hello and some of the ways to converse with him. After playing bingo with him and helping him win he was smiling away and never stopped all that day and even other days when I came to say hello. It was saying goodbye to him later which I found hard and I ended up crying afterwards. But I heard behind me, "Ethan you have barely got in the car and you're already missing us."

But I didn't want it to be looking like I was trying to get out of helping (which I wasn't honestly, ask the doctor), but I felt that I would be letting some people down. So after being bandaged up and once I got walking again I was okay. That evening Sea mas decided that we would put on a entertainment evening to which our exact response was, "Ha ha, very funny," but after 20 minutes of rehearsal and planning dances, songs and jokes it could just go horribly wrong. But it went horribly wrong in great fashion and everyone was laughing, dancing and enjoying themselves.

We made a trip to the Pyrenees mountains and I did something I thought I'd never do, climb a mountain. Sean (who is 79) led us up the climb with myself and 3 other lads (David, Conor, Jamie) and also Peter along with two other women from the group. For me this was not only a fond memory but also an achievement. As one of the lads said half way up, "Jasus Ethan, we didn't think you'd make it this far." And although I may have climbed the Pyrenees, I'm still in no hurry to climb Croagh Patrick.

There are a lot more things I could talk about from candle light processions to Mass to the baths, but for me what I have talked about here are just some of the best short ways to summarise my recent trip to Lourdes. I had 'craic go leor' with both the group and the lads that I went with. It was such a great experience and one I would gladly go on again. Should I never get the chance again to do something like this, it is a once in a lifetime experience that I shall never forget in a hurry. It is something that I encourage other young people to do and something that can change and educate you in so many different ways. Mainly what I would say is embrace everything and everyone around, for who and what they, are as they are in so many ways better than you than you'll ever know. Enjoy the little things and take whatever chance comes your way.

Luke Gibbons

Lourdes 2014: Group 754/514

On the 20th of June 2014 Irish Pilgrimage Trust Group 754 jetted off to the pilgrimage destination of Lourdes. But why did we choose this location? Located in the Pyrenees Mountain region of France, Lourdes is the home of one of the most important shrines in the Catholic Faith: the Grotto of Massabielle. Approximately five million pilgrims, of whom a great number are sick or differently a bled, go to Lourdes each year. It may be through curiosity, through a desire for a physical cure, in a movement towards belief, or to be of service to those who suffer, that they come to drink the water from the Holy Spring.

Between February 11 and July 26, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl, experienced 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the nearby Massabielle grotto. During the 9th vision, an underground spring with healing powers was revealed. The Holy See recognizes 67 miracles attributed to the water that flows from it.

During the 18 Apparitions the Virgin Mary spoke to Bernadette suggesting that we come here. The response of millions of us to that invitation is made in Lourdes each year, a world centre of pilgrimage and a special place of meeting between God and people.

This story and many first hand accounts of great work being done in Lourdes inspired my friends and I to bite the bullet and volunteer. For young people this is a very courageous act to partake in as many are submerging themselves into the unknown. I suppose our attitude was life only comes to each of us once and we might as well do as much good as we possibly can.

Our first day in Lourdes consisted of us being divided into two groups. We were then merged with another group in each case. This group consisted of carers and people who were being cared for. There were many people of different ages each with their own wonderful personality. They truly brightened up everyday that we spent in Lourdes. Our first night consisted of travelling from Hosanna House to Lourdes and partaking in the candlelight procession. This was an amazing experience allowing me to truly note the great faith that still exists among the Catholic religion.

Even though we did some great activities thoughout the week, the real inspirational aspect of Lourdes has to be the people we met. Each one emitted an infectious aura that you could almost become addicted to. I cannot express the heart warming feeling that took over my body each day that I saw these people. Even if they had there own difficulty to overcome, you were so special to them. When they hugged you, said thank you and rubbed your back you knew they were doing it with true compassion. I went out to Lourdes volunteering to help the sick but they helped me in ways that aren't even comprehendible by one who hasn't experienced it for themselves.

Further more each activity on this pilgrimage was of course fantastic and also rewarding. The overall feeling of Lourdes made even the simplest of things sensational. "Love one another as I have loved you" would describe this experience comprehensively. However this article, pictures and interviews are simply not capable of expressing how much this truly amazing experience has changed my outlook on life. When you arrive home you are overwhelmed with memories but you also have a great emptiness. Each day thinking how I wish I could share many experiences with the differently a bled people from Lourdes.

Volunteering requires a lot of self-sacrifice, or thats what you may believe. Volunteering in Lourdes feels tremendously different. You gain an abundance of memories, happiness and compassion whilst immersing yourself in every aspect of what Lourdes is. This great place allows you to not only pray but actively partake in what religion is: Helping one another as you would like to be helped someday. The day will come when we will all need caring for, and Lourdes promotes this in the greatest way possible: to convey true love and happiness to every human being that visits its marvellous beauty!

By Luke Gibbons,

St. Colman's College Claremorris, Co. Mayo

Máirtín Merrick

Lourdes 2014

One word that neatly encapsulates my week in Lourdes? Transformative. I arrived at Hosanna House with my group, in the middle of dinner. All of them together watching us as we came in proved intimidating. I sat down at the table, stared at the food before me and thought, "What on earth have I got myself into?" One week later, we're getting ready to go, and we're all really dreading having to say goodbye to our new friends. We don't think we'll be able to hold back the tears. We weren't. Everyone cried, or at least wiped away a tear.

At first we thought the week would never end, and by the time of our departure we were wondering where the week had gone. We were, at first, awkward around the people we met there. They weren't the least bit awkward though; they were enthusiastic to meet us and warm. So we soon lost any traces of being out of place. What seemed like hoardes of people when we first met them seemed so much smaller as we learned every person in our group's name off by heart.

The people with special abilities there were both humbling and inspiring. Humbling because they were so open and warm, and happy with their lot; it put any self-pity straight out of your head. But, more so than the people who were looked after, the people I remember straight away from Lourdes would be the carers themselves, the people who looked after the specially-a bled. They were so patient, with us especially, and supportive and tireless. 'Saintly' might be the word.

It feels odd trying to find a way of describing the people we met there without inferring that they're somehow defective. They're not really. They're just differently gifted. Father Michael said that I and the person I was helping in Lourdes have the same amount of God in us, it's just easier to see it in the person that I looked after. I don't want to sound muddling, but they have so much love and warmth and affection for others, that it seems so.

If you go to Lourdes I think you will change in two ways: you will stop thinking about yourself, or you will make an effort to, and you will make an effort to be kinder and less judgemental. The story of Lourdes I think tells us not to judge. Loads of people judged Bernadette when Our Lady first appeared to her. They said she was stupid, and a liar. They soon changed their mind. The story of Bernadette tells us God shows his presence through those whom others would think the least of. This is something I learned in Lourdes, and found, I think, to be true.

Mairtin Merrick.