A pilgrim’s journey to Lourdes with Westminster Diocese in 2012
At my first visit to Lourdes in 2011, where I went as an ordinary pilgrim with the Westminster Diocese, we had rain as our constant companion although this did not deflect from making it a most memorable experience. The sanctuary and especially the Grotto provided the spiritual environment that in my view heals everyone’s soul and it is evident that many people go there to pray deeply to our Lady.There is a peace at the Grotto that has to be experienced,as it cannot be described. on our return, I pencilled the date for 2012 into my diary with the intention of being a St Frai helper this time.
When the brochures for 2012 arrived, I completed the form, taking note of the guidance from the organisers that helpers should aim to book into a hotel near St Frai where the sick and disabled people (called ‘malades’) would stay. There we would be with many other helpers to ensure that we would have a good balance between fun and work. The new helpers were also encouraged to attend a training day before the pilgrimage and I was taught how to feed people, how to assist in dressing them and how to push a wheelchair. There are options at what level you want to help and I decided to be a ‘light duty helper’. There are roles for Red Caps who take the malades to and from events and Helpers who are available for the personal care for the malades at bedtime and during the night.
The roles of a light duty helper are to be available for all the meals for the malades at St Frai, laying the tables,dishing up the food, feeding malades where nesessary, clearing the tables and tiding up.The only times I was expected to push a wheelchair was to take someone back to their room or to the meeting area near the nursing station.
When the big day came to fly to Lourdes( you can go by coach and train as well), I arrived at Stansted and joined the pilgrims that had already gathered there. Our malades were patient and a little nervous as many have this as their once a year opportunity to be with others all the time.At St Frai, they share a room and have attention 24/7. many are much more alert after that week because they have had contact at all times. One malade told me that she has her Lourdes suitcase packed with her favourite clothes she has no opportunity to wear during the rest of the year.She looked lovely in a new set of clothes every day.
I was very lucky to meet a fellow pilgrim from Harpenden(Carole) and we were on the same shifts and immediately knew we would enjoy each other’s company for the week. Our rooms were located next to each other and it turned out that we had a mutual friend in Sister Regina,who had been in Hendon about 15 years ago. It was wonderful to get to know the other light duty helpers who all had very interesting stories to share.We all worked hard and there was no one who let the side down by arriving late or not doing their share.Carole and I even managed to join the choir for a couple of masses and this was something not to be missed, especially when we sang the Ave Verum. The seminarians were helping at mealtimes;doing morning and evening reflections for the ordinary pilgrims. They were wonderful to the sick and disabled and I am already looking forward to seeing those men joining us in our parishes.
Being a helper at Lourdes was the most amazing and humbling experience. There was so much love and laughter.We had music and there was always chatting going on between young and old,sick and well, able bodied and disabled. We had glorious sunshine and the temperature went up to about 38 degrees on occasions! All the helpers looked tired by the end of the week but there was a glow of happiness and fulfilment.The flight back was a bit sad because we had to say farewell to each other.However, we all put down gladly the dates for next year:21st – 27th July 2013.
Do consider joining whether as a malade,helper or normal pilgrim. The organisers are brilliant and are used to taking and returning everyone in one piece! It is wonderful going with the Diocese,as it is a great opportunity to meet new friends from across London and beyond.
Monika Cleaver, August 2012
Some additional photos: