Towards the end of June this year, I was very privileged to join Fr. Mike Murphy and a fine group of young men representing St. Colman’s College, Claremorris for a pilgrimage of a very different kind as we headed out to Lourdes in association with the Wexford/Waterford branch of the Irish Pilgrimage Trust. For anyone who isn’t aware, The Irish Pilgrimage Trust is a fantastic Irish Charity made up of some of the most caring, selfless and endearing people I have ever had the privilege to meet. For over 40 years now, the Trust has been travelling on pilgrimage to Lourdes with people with special needs, from all over Ireland. Their mission is simple…to invite pilgrims to travel with The Trust on a spiritual journey with a loving family of friends, where all individuals are valued and cherished as they are, with preference given to those who are disadvantaged, ill, disabled or marginalized.
It almost seems foolish to say that Lourdes is such a special place, but for anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves, visiting Lourdes through the eyes of a helper is something quite remarkable. Lourdes is without doubt a very spiritual and moving place. You can’t help but experience it as a place where the air is simply filled with love, helpfulness and friendliness.
Our own group of helpers, nurses and carers who became true companions and friends to those being cared for on our pilgrimage, were nothing short of modern day saints. Nothing of the daily 'mini miracles' would be possible but for the helpers' total willingness to give, to love and to serve. For me, my own heart was melted just observing our own Colman’s boys being completely and totally present to the beautiful people they found themselves caring for on this trip. Whether in conversation or in action, they became Christ like in so many ways that they continuously inspired and challenged me throughout some tiring moments of our week to put into action the words “Christ has no body now but yours”.
The focal point of the pilgrimage for many of our group including our carers and those being cared for was off course the Grotto itself. Here whether at midday or midnight, people made many visits and found great peace, consolation and healing. At the grotto, I felt that everyone became lost in his or her prayerful thoughts, while at the same time, became mindful of the suffering of others all around. Whether for themselves, or those at home, everyone in our group seemed to be praying so hard to our Lady to hear and answer their prayers that they found themselves at the candle shrine numerous times throughout the week.
Our own group’s candle was lit and placed in a prominent position by Liam and Damien and it continued to light long after we had left Lourdes, its flickering flame expressing our heartfelt intentions and sentiments, a feeling that nourished us all as we turned towards home.
The closing Mass, before our return home, marked the end of our very memorable journey together. And as Trish sang so poignantly the words of our closing hymn “Will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same. Will you let my love be shown, Will you let my name be known, Will you use the faith you’ve found, to reshape the world around, Will you let my life be grown, in you and you in me”, as carers, helpers and guests alike, we couldn’t help but realise that we were no longer strangers but family and shedding a joyful tear recognising that although we were preparing to go our separate ways, Our Lourdes experience had been life changing and each one of us had been blessed to have been part of this most moving and uplifting experience.
The Lourdes experience is like no other, from spending time in the company of so many amazing like-minded and kind hearted people, I came home looking for more and more opportunities to help others, looking for more opportunities to be patient and kind, to give generously, to put the needs of others first, to persevere in the face of adversity, to remain humble and appreciate what is given to me and what is taken away, to keep my sense of humour, to quietly bear pain and hardship and to always treat others as I would like to be treated…what a life lesson in just one week, what a life lesson in just one place, and oh what a life changer is Lourdes.
“I will go before you, as well as with you into each day”
Youth Ministry Director – Archdiocese of Tuam