The organisers of next month’s Middlesbrough Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes are expecting one of their busiest ever weeks at the French shrine after a big surge in bookings.
Each year since 1953, hundreds of people from the Diocese have visited the site where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette in 1858.
They include a large number of sick, disabled and elderly pilgrims, many of whom are looked after by volunteer helpers in a hostel known as the Accueil, which is designated for supported pilgrims who need 24-hour care.
This year 63 supported pilgrims will be in the Accueil, with a further 22 staying with family and carers in some of the many hotels dotted around the small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
There will also be around 200 young people travelling with local schools and colleges, more than 160 helpers, including doctors, nurses, handmaids (female helpers) and brancardiers (male helpers), around 15 clergy and up to 300 pilgrims.
“The numbers are very encouraging and it looks as if our pilgrimage this year will be busier than ever,” said the pilgrimage’s executive director, Keith Tillotson.
“Bookings are well up on previous years and we expect around 800 people to be with us in Lourdes, travelling by plane, train, coach and car.
“A large number of our supported pilgrims are new to our pilgrimage and we also have some who have accompanied us for a number of years and are looking forward to returning to Lourdes.
“We have currently two flights, a Titan Airways B757 with 202 seats and a Denim Air Fokker 100 with 100 seats. Both are due to depart Durham Tees Valley Airport on the morning of Friday May 22, with flight times to be confirmed as soon as possible.
“Our use of Durham Tees Valley Airport as a departure point is important for us. We have a very good working relationship with them and hope this continues.”
The helpers – who give up their holidays and pay their own flight and accommodation costs to be part of the pilgrimage – must attend training sessions, as well as obtaining DBS clearance.
A total of 93 helpers attended the first training day held this year, with a similar number expected on the two remaining days.
Sessions include lifting and handling, personal care and personal reflection on why they go to Lourdes and sharing their own personal stories about what it means to them.
The Bishop of Middlesbrough, the Right Reverend Terence Patrick Drainey, will lead the pilgrimage.
It is based around processions in the Rosary Basilica and a programme of daily church services, with hymns led by a thriving music group. There is also an enjoyable social side to the pilgrimage.
This year’s pilgrimage has the theme ‘The Joy of Mission’ and takes place from Friday May 22 to Friday May 29.
The Diocese stretches from Middlesbrough in the north to Hull in the south, encompassing towns including Whitby, Scarborough and York.
Photos:‘Courtesy of Photo Lacaze, Lourdes’