I have just returned from my third fantastic week with HCPT Group 216 in Lourdes and the energy, joy and kindness that radiates from helpers and children alike never ceases to amaze me.
This week I have danced and sang my heart out to songs about frogs, been a tiny part of a procession made up of thousands of candles, plaited a lot of hair, hugged baby goats and most importantly, helped to give 8 young people the time of their lives.
It’s hard to describe the Lourdes experience to people who haven’t been there. Jade and I describe it as a bubble, where your troubles and anxieties from home are filtered out and all that matters is making sure that the young people in your care are having a good time. It is a time for contemplation, but equally so for fun and laughter. It is one of the most exhausting, busiest weeks of my calendar year but I love every minute!
To help to visualise some of the things we do, I thought I would write a little diary explaining what we do while we’re in Lourdes. If nothing else, it will help me to remember the experience in years to come!
Early morning! We meet as a group to head to the airport, give out hats, eat sandwiches at ridiculous hours of the morning and colour in. We jump on the plane which is chartered and so full of HCPT groups, and have a tasty aeroplane breakfast. When we arrive we have a little time to unpack then walk down to the grotto, and say our three Hail Mary’s to start off our pilgrimage.
Easter Sunday means the Easter bunny has visited the children! Chocolate eggs, uniforms, party invites and cards are left outside their rooms which all goes towards making the trip more memorable and exciting. We then walk through the grotto for the first time and have our first cafe stop. A cafe stop is where your group goes to a cafe, often with other groups, to sing and dance to songs and chants and getting a milkshake or soft drink.
Also on Sunday is the Easter Sunday mass which is run by HCPT which the groups that have already arrived get the opportunity to go to. On Sunday night this year, we had our fancy dress party. I dressed as Mickey Mouse!
This year on Monday we went to Hosanna House, which is a HCPT owned building not far from Lourdes. This is where we got to cuddle baby goats and little bunnies! We had a lovely picnic in the glorious sun while members of our group played the guitar. After we’d spent the morning there, we went on a walking tour of Lourdes where we got to see the underground basilica (huge!), as well as the places Bernadette lived and the museum. We then had another cafe stop (you will soon see these are a key part of the Lourdes experience!) and had mass with another group on the prairie as the weather was so lovely. We played with the parachute and some of us played football and skipped.
We were very lucky on this day to have mass in a beautiful church called the Crypt. During mass, musicians from our groups play different instruments, as well as the children who have maracas and tambourines, and it’s a really lovely experience that we can all share. As the weather was still lovely (yay!) so we spent the afternoon on the prairie again, playing music and taking part in games. That evening, we all lit our candles and took part in the torchlight procession, one of my favourite parts of the week. It is a deeply moving and magical experience, and one that you really begin to feel a part of something big in.
Trip to Gavarnie – a little town in the mountains. Singing our hearts out on the coach on the way there, but snoozing on the way back. Heading to Gavarnie means a really chilled out day with mass, music and bubbles!
On Thursday we start the day with the Trust mass, which is an exciting and fun experience. We all paint each others faces and watch performances from central services groups. In the evening we go to a different hotel for a party with the other groups from the region.
Friday is usually the day where the pilgrimage begins to be wrapped up. We throw our worry stones, along with the worries of home, in the water, collect our holy water and enjoy our final few hours with our group! We walk through the grotto one final time, to light our group candle that we have previously decorated with ribbon and stickers, as well as pictures of people who have joined us in 216 before, those we’ve lost, our friends from home and drawings about the things we are thankful for. We then light our own candles and take a moment to think about our fantastic week, and round off our pilgrimage with another trio of our Hail Mary’s to ensure our return.
Flying home is always an emotional experience, full of very mixed feelings. After being in the ‘Lourdes bubble’ it is often so hard to adapt back to every day life, where no-one randomly bursts into song and random bags of sweets aren’t offered to you at every opportunity. Despite this (and the tears!), I think deep (deep) down (down), we’re all grateful to be able to hop into bed and return to our real families.
I am so grateful for all of the opportunities being in Group 216 has given to me.
Bring on 2018!
You can find more information about HCPT Manchester Region here, and HCPT here. If you are in a position where you can, please consider donating to help towards giving more young people this opportunity.
It really can change lives.