During the Easter holidays, the Lower Sixth took part in what was a truly memorable and fulfilling pilgrimage to Lourdes. After the 12 hour journey that took us to the South of France, we arrived at what was to be our hotel for the week. A two star hotel with reports of Salmonella poisoning, even a few bugs in the toilets…let’s just say we had our doubts!
However, within a few hours of arriving we soon realised that Lourdes was not about the quality of the hotels or how beautiful the surroundings were. It was about the atmosphere – the atmosphere created by all the people present – this is what makes Lourdes the special place that it is today.
The story of Lourdes began just over 150 years ago when a 14 year old girl, named Bernadette Soubirous, claimed that a beautiful lady appeared to her. In fact, this beautiful lady appeared to Bernadette 18 times in total, and she requested that a Chapel be built and processions take place.
So Bernadette went to her Parish Priest and told him that this lady appeared to her and wanted a Chapel to be built and procession to occur. However, since she was only a young girl and didn’t have any evidence of these appearances, the Priest wanted to know what her name was before taking any action.
Then early on a Monday morning when the beautiful lady appeared once again, Bernadette asked her what her name was. She replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette didn’t know what this meant, but the priest did, and he was left amazed at this news. He knew indeed that it was the Virgin Mary who was calling.
Four years later, it was confirmed by the Bishop that this apparition did occur and since then Lourdes has become a Holy Shrine that attracts many people from all over the world; with claims that miraculous healings have also taken place. So now that the short history lesson is over, let me take you on our journey to Lourdes so that you can hopefully experience what it’s like to truly be there.
Specifically, when the Lower Sixth went to Lourdes at Easter, we were members of HCPT (the Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust). As part of this massive group that totalled more than 7,000 children and helpers, we were there to provide support to the many children that went to Lourdes who have a disability and whom required the loving care and attention of those around them.
A line from a song that was sung during one of our Masses, ‘Be still for the power of the Lord is moving in this place,’ summarises all that was special during our week at Lourdes. Within the souls of everyone present there, the values of compassion, service for others, love, faith and good will shone out in order to light up the lives of those around them and bless Lourdes with the power of the Holy Spirit. I have an extract here from a letter that one of the Lower Sixth (Chris Joseph) wrote; ‘The children made the week for me. I was particularly close with a girl from group 170 from Southampton. I will never forget her smile; she was such a proud and happy child, always smiling and singing. One of her comments to me really moved me. She said to me, “I get bullied at school because I’m different; Joe, would you love me more if I was normal? I know I am different to you…” I was stunned at this comment.’
He continues, ‘A number of events really moved me during the week, but one of the most significant points for me was on the last night, after placing the group candle. I was standing with Oli, Antonio and Tom, and we just watched the candles burning. Then all the Salesians linked arms, and just stood there praying. Nobody spoke a word, but somehow, I think we all knew that we were praying for each other.’
So what then can you take away from the experience of Lourdes? It is important to realise that many of the activities that we did with the children were very basic. Whether it was face painting, talking part in a Mass with them, or simply playing a game of football, actions that may seem very insignificant to us, mean an awful lot to those less fortunate than ourselves. It was remarkable to see the gleaming smiles on the children’s faces as they were kept entertained and treated to a wonderful spiritual experience during their week in Lourdes.
Finally, if you see any of the candles that are burning on the altar here, just use the last few moments to focus upon it. Every evening, there was a torchlight procession where thousands of people would walk together with candles through the darkness of the night, By helping others in any way that you can, this is what you are doing. You are using the candle that burns strongly inside of you, in order to light the candle within someone else. If we all take the opportunity to do this, then candle after candle can be lit, and the view ahead will be lit up even when it may be dark around us. Then we will be able to see what lies ahead of us, and take the path that leads to goodness, happiness and friendship.
Marcus Almeida was a Student at Salesian College, Farnborough