Lourdes Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage - September 2019
Lourdes is a town in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southwest France. It’s known worldwide for the Sanctuaries Notre-Dame de Lourdes, or the Domain, a major Catholic pilgrimage site. Every year, millions visit the Grotto of Massabielle where, in 1858, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. Lourdes is many things. It is a place of encounter, where so many pilgrims have discovered Christ walking with them, bringing peace and consolation. It is a place of prayers, where countless lips have spoken to God in the different languages of the world, pouring out their troubles and their needs, in turn hearing God speak to them in the depth of their hearts. It is also a place of healing, where many people have found peace, acceptance, and new life. Finally, Lourdes is the place of Our Lady, speaking to her people, embracing them, and leading them to her Son.
The Dublin Diocese takes two pilgrimages to Lourdes each year. The pilgrimage in September is one of the biggest events in the Diocese calendar and is lead by the Archbishop. About 2,000 pilgrims travel from all over the Diocese. Of these, 180 are sick pilgrims staying at the Accueil Notre Dame which is ‘a place of welcome’ close to the Grotto and with many of the facilities of a modern hospital. Another 550 of the pilgrims are voluntary helpers, made up of nurses and doctors, male and female helpers, known as handmaids and brancardiers, and a team of chaplains. A further 200 young people assist as well in the care of the sick pilgrims and many of these are from secondary schools and colleges from around the Diocese.
Gonzaga College SJ once again joined the Pilgrimage to Lourdes this year. Five 6th Year students accompanied by Ms McNamara made the journey to Lourdes on 4 September to volunteer for the week until their return on 9 September. The students were a credit to the school and the many sick and elderly pilgrims only had good things to say of them. They spent their days in Lourdes talking to the pilgrims, wheeling them from place to place, tending to their needs and most importantly lending a listening ear and a welcoming smile to all whom they met. A number of past pupils were also volunteering on the Pilgrimage. On the last night of the Pilgrimage we lit a candle for all members of our school community and to remember our deceased friends.
Current and past pupils volunteering on the 2019 Pilgrimage
Current and past pupils volunteering on the 2018 Pilgrimage
Current and past pupils volunteering on the 2017 Pilgrimage
The experience of Gonzaga volunteers in 2015
Below is a personal piece written by each student on their return from Lourdes:
Lourdes was an unforgettable experience unlike anything I’ve done before. I was given Flag Duty, which ended up being great craic. We had loads of free time so we could socialise with the Pilgrims and the other volunteers more than most. We had a good squad too, there were three of us from Gonzaga and nine others. It’s tiring, full of long days and short sleeps. The week absolutely flies by unfortunately. The Pilgrims are all such legends with some amazing stories from their lives and some hilarious ones too. I would 100% recommend going if you can it was an unreal week and I’ll definitely be going next year, so see you then hopefully.
This year, I was one of six lucky enough to be chosen to go on the Dublin diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes. I was assigned reception duty, which involved helping pilgrims in and out of wheelchairs, but also bringing them to and from mass, into the town, etc. Through my job, I met almost every pilgrim at one stage or another. Even though the work wasn't particularly difficult, it was very rewarding. In the evenings, there were activities for the schools group. These were really enjoyable, and the 6 of us became much closer as a result. The whole ordeal itself was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Through all the various jobs and events, you really begin to feel close to the pilgrims. I developed particularly close relationships with a number of them, and through these relationships, I learnt a lot about others, and about myself. I would 100% recommend applying to anyone who is even slightly interested in going.
The week in Lourdes was one I will most definitely never forget. It's an exhausting experience, with very long days of hard work, but countless enjoyable moments with both pilgrims and helpers. My job was on reception, which meant helping pilgrims get into 3 wheeled chariots for them to be pulled around the town. It was a busy job, but I got to see every pilgrim several times and the team of helpers I was with were extremely fun to work with. While on the pilgrimage, I also did the baths, a unique experience. While it does take you out if your comfort zone, it is 100% worth doing. You don't get a towel to dry yourself but are dry within minutes of emerging from the water. One of the things that stood out for me during the week was the candlelight procession. Several thousand people with candles processing in the night really were a sight to behold.
Mr. McNelis passed away while we were there, and it definitely affected our experience. We bought a candle and all Gonzaga members, both past and present, lit it together in his memory. It was an emotional week for all as the Berkeley tragedy was also remembered several times during the week.
Lourdes is a great place. Everyone who goes gets a completely different and unique experience from it. For anyone considering applying, I would say it is 100% worth it. It is an extremely rewarding experience you will never forget. With both stunning scenery and magnificent architecture, Lourdes really is a special place.
I was on reception duty in Lourdes, which mostly involved helping the pilgrims into chariots when they were leaving the Accueil (hospital), and assisting them in getting out of the chariots when they returned, although we were often called on to accompany the pilgrims to masses or processions over the course of the week.
The pilgrims themselves truly are the heart of the pilgrimage in Lourdes, and by speaking to them throughout the week, by discovering what Lourdes means to them, you feel privileged with the opportunity to learn both about others and about yourself.
Lourdes was a fantastic experience, and I would strongly recommend it to anybody who is considering signing up. It is a hugely atmospheric place – from events such as the candlelit procession to central locations such as the Grotto, the baths and the underground basilica, but it is the community on the pilgrimage that makes the experience so utterly unforgettable, and the atmosphere that they create. There is a reason why so many volunteers on the pilgrimage return year after year, and I certainly hope to be a part of the pilgrimage again when it returns to Lourdes next year.
It is difficult to sum up the Lourdes experience. There is so much to see and do and looking back on it I can’t believe that it was all crammed into just one week. As you may be aware each student is assigned a duty in Lourdes, some work in the kitchens, others help nursing staff on wards. I was a flagbearer…..I know right, not your first choice. As it turned out I thought it was one of the best duties, it clearly meant a lot to the pilgrims to be able to see the Archbishop and his entourage on procession and I hope that we helped make that procession that little bit more special.
I should warn any considering Lourdes that it is not easy. The work is long and physically hard, but there is something special about Lourdes, apart from the stunning scenery and basilica, and I will remember some of the pilgrims (such as one of the original Gonzaga students from the 1960’s) not as infirm people needing help but as friends. The Lourdes experience is one that I would recommend to anybody prepared to put their heart and soul into it for a week, you will get back tenfold.
To get any misconceptions cleared up Lourdes is a wonderful place for anyone looking to help or be helped. As a helper all you are asked to do is be a man for others, an ethos we are all familiar with, be a gentleman and be sociable with pilgrims, get some of them talking and they could talk for hours. On reflection I wish I could have been more useful, some duties may or may not put you in contact with many pilgrims but do go out of your way to spend time with the pilgrims, its what you are there for. Lourdes is a great chance to do something nice for someone else, get to know the 5 other Gonzaga lads with you and the other schools but most importantly to get unlimited Holy Water and selfies with the Archbishop!
If you are unsure of whether you would like to go I would recommend I but what surprised me when I was there were the countless pilgrims that were returning there for their tenth or so time. Also I was amazed at the amount of past pupils that return each year as voluntary helpers out of their own time and money. Anyone can say that it is great and worth doing but it is testament to the place and the experience you get there when so many people return of their own accord to the point where there are now applications to make the cut. Don’t take it lightly, it was a privilege to go to Lourdes and I plan on returning. Apply, see for yourself and thank me later!