Driving from my Saturday morning Mass and confessions, I normally catch the tail end of from our own correspondent on radio 4. It’s always an interesting listen, and today was all the more interesting as Kate Adie in her introduction talked about the coming of the warm weather co-inciding with the “Pilgrimage season in Lourdes”. She is right of course, but I’ve never heard it talked about like the start of the cricket season.
Whenever the media talks about Lourdes, they seem to fall into the trap of using phrases like ‘the Catholic faithful go in search of miracles, after the young girl Bernadette allegedly had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. In fairness this correspondent was fairly balanced, with an expected barbed wit about the Virgin Mary water bottles being made in the republic of China, the cinema showing the film song of Bernadette being next to the gym where slimming lessons are advertised, and the intensity of the hotels only being second to the capital Paris.
She spoke about waiting for the bus by the station that never comes (we’ve all been there, and ended up getting a taxi when patience runs out!), and finally the need to get out of Lourdes and into the Pyrenees for some fresh air and much needed relief from the commercialism which hits you when you move out of the sacred space. Again all very true. As Director of our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes we take the entire group to an abbey out of the town for Mass and a much needed break from the crowds, and our young people have a much needed excursion of their own for the same reason.
Lourdes only makes sense when you go as a group and within that group those that are strong give way to the weak.
Individual travellers (Priests included) have relayed stories of how they don’t feel part of the processions, masses or liturgies when they go by themselves, despite the authorities’ valiant attempt to accommodate day pilgrims.
The culture of the Nottingham Pilgrimage like all groups that bring sick pilgrims is counter cultural in that the weak in the group dictate the timetable, and the pace of the pilgrimage. They are given priority in all areas. Many is the time when the planned schedule has been altered, re-arranged and even cancelled if the scheduled activities are not meeting the needs of the sick. There is no hurrying or rushing. If people want to chat, then they chat. If they want to go shopping, have an ice cream or a nice cup of coffee then that’s what we do. It’s not rocket science. It’s just trying to make the sick and vulnerable amongst us feel valued, special and full of worth. Lourdes is not just a place of religious pilgrimage, it is quite frankly a place where the elderly and sick can feel safe on a European holiday, and these days their options are somewhat limited. It’s not easy to get medical healthcare and insurance to go away on a foreign holiday these days if you are not fit, young and well. With the Diocesan pilgrimage every base is covered by our agent, and the quality of the carers young and old who travel with us.
It is humbling year after year to see the strong take care of the weak with such tenderness love and compassion. Able bodied men and women who will never tire or doing what needs to be done, and do it without a word of complaint.
Young people in particular are exemplary in their selfless behaviour. They bring joy hope and love by the bucketful to Lourdes, and seemingly enjoy doing it. They go home shattered, but do so in the knowledge that they have done a lot of good, and made a lot of weak and needy people very happy.
In contrast those who are weak have fed the strong in ways that they often do not realise, with their examples of courage in the face of pain, discomfort and distress.
These are the miracles of Lourdes. You only see them if you are part of a group, and with every pilgrimage that arrives it is for all concerned a time of mercy.
-Fr Greg Tobin, Parish Priest, All Saints, Glossop and Director of the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes