What began as a relaxing day suddenly changes tempo. Bags have to be prepared, rooms put back in order, goodbyes exchanged with the hotel staff who have nearly become part of the group during the short few days.
After dinner a final visit to the grotto. The group candle has been prepared: decorated with symbols of the group, marked with prayers and intentions that the group wish to leave behind at the sanctuary. The march to the sanctuary with willing hands carrying the symbol of our prayers and hopes and on arrival often becomes hopeful pleading with the attendant worker at the grotto that he might let us light our candle there and then. A final visit to the grotto as we bid adieu to this holy place.
The return to the hotel should mean a restful night as we anticipate the homeward journey. But it's too early. Friday night is party night in Lourdes. Many groups come together to celebrate. We are all friends now. Sure we have known one another for a full week. Fancy dress is the order of the day: priests collars and doctors' stethoscopes are put to good use, bed linen and priests albs become the attire of wealthy oil sheiks. All encouraged to do their party piece, Karaoke and magic, Irish dancing and juggling, poems and jokes, three chords on a guitar, three hands in a reel.
And then there is the realisation that tomorrow does come and that for many it is a long way home. 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.