We returned to Lourdes this spring after a two-year break due to the pandemic. Was it worth the hours of planning, the heartache of “Can we go, can’t we go?” and the final decision to go for it? Well, I can tell you that without question, it was!

From the moment we arrived at Teesside Airport at that unearthly hour of 3.30am on Monday morning thinking we will be first, and being overwhelmed that our youth had beaten us to it, to the time we arrived back at 8.30pm on the Friday, we were one big family. The care, consideration, help and love expressed to each and every pilgrim had to be seen to be believed.

During our week in Lourdes, our young people worked tirelessly caring for our supported pilgrims and growing in stature every day. There were only 28 of them, but I can tell you we had 28 giants. Never underestimate the ability of our young pilgrims. Their understanding, social skills and tired and aching bones were put to the test, but they passed with flying colours.

Our Hospitalité helpers, handmaids, brancardiers and medics were faced with different challenges this year, as we accommodated everyone in the hotels rather than the facilities in the Accueil Notre Dame.
There were no domestic duties for our Hospitalité, and they adapted the care needs to suit the situation. All worked as a team and were kept busy. What a fantastic group of people! It’s a real privilege to work alongside them all.

Bishop Terry and our clergy led us in a highly emotional and spiritual journey through the week.
It was strange to have Lourdes to “ourselves”, the town and the domain being quiet compared to the normal pre-pandemic numbers and we were able to celebrate our services in a more focused way.

The Mass at the Grotto was a particular highlight for us all, as this is normally celebrated with our friends from Birmingham, but again we were flying solo and our musicians did us proud.

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to join us in Lourdes this year and we had to disappoint a couple of pilgrims in the latter days of our preparations, as we could not guarantee the care they required. This was a devastating decision for them and us alike.

For the pilgrims we left behind we arranged to stream a number of services on YouTube. They have been watched by more than 9,000 people and are still available to view.

The following is a little snip of one of our pilgrim’s posts on Facebook that I think sums Lourdes up – I hope the author doesn’t mind me sharing this little insight…

“The cost, the kids, the time off work, no one else I knew was going, Covid might stop it again anyway etc. Yet I kept getting this feeling, ‘You have to go!’ And so yesterday I stepped off the plane at Teesside Airport after spending five days in Lourdes working as a nurse – with the most amazing and inspiring people.

‘How was it?’ people have asked. And I can’t quite find the words – I just know that I have come back so humbled, feeling loved, valued and part of something you really have to experience to understand. I’ve had the most personal and spiritual experiences this week that if anyone else had told me, I would have probably thought they’d made up.”

Thank you to all our clergy, supported pilgrims, pilgrims, hospitalité and youth for journeying with us. It really was a privilege to walk with you this year.

Please consider joining us for next year’s pilgrimage – our 70th – which will be from Friday May 26 to Friday June 2 2023.

Keith Tillotson

Pilgrimage Director