As so often with our diocesan Lourdes pilgrimage, the usual mishaps and mayhem ensued from Saturday, when our school groups left, to Sunday, when the flights departed Teesside Airport.
But despite delays and passport complications, sickness and hold-ups, all was forgotten when we all finally arrived at the little town on the banks of the River Gave.
Yet again, 51 weeks since we left, we were back in our second home to answer the call from Our Lady, with this year’s theme being “…and that people should come in procession”.
Our supported pilgrims settled into both hospital and hotel and, once the military had one last night’s blast on the bridge over the river next to the Brickies’ bar, everything settled into a slightly unusual timetable.
In the spirit of Eric Morecambe’s immortal line, we had all the right events, but not necessarily in the right order! Despite our different timetable, as always, our pilgrimage was an undisputed success. 
Our supported pilgrims had a great time and couldn’t speak highly enough of all the teams who cared for and helped them. From medical staff to our wonderful young people, their praise and enthusiasm were infectious and strong bonds were forged between generations.
Pupils from Catholic schools throughout the diocese played such an important role in our pilgrimage once again. Well over 100 young people took part, some travelling by coach and others flying from Teesside with the main party.  
They included pupils from the six secondary schools from across Teesside and North Yorkshire in Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust (NPCAT) – All Saints in York, Saint Francis Xavier in Richmond, St Patrick’s Catholic College in Thornaby, St Peter’s Catholic College in South Bank, Sacred Heart Catholic Secondary School in Redcar and Trinity Catholic College in Middlesbrough.  
There was also a large group from St Augustine’s Secondary School in Scarborough and St Mary’s College in Hull, both part of St Cuthbert’s Roman Catholic Academy Trust (SCRCAT).
All the pupils and their school group leaders took up the challenge of helping in Lourdes during their school half-term holiday, volunteering to assist our supported pilgrims.
“The experience allowed them to step outside their comfort zones and engage in multiple acts of compassion and selfless giving,” said Naomi Bedworth, from SCRCAT. 
“Their efforts were not only a testament to their character and values but also fostered a deeper sense of empathy and community.
“This unique opportunity to serve others created lasting memories and immeasurable personal growth for these teenagers, who also tackled the High Stations together barefoot.”
NCPAT lay lead chaplain Angela O’Brien added: “Lourdes was a powerful week for many of our young people, filled with joy and compassion.  
“The love between the supported pilgrims and the pupils was clear for everyone to say. It was wonderful to see our young people flourish as the week went on.”
Unfortunately, the only day we had serious rain was the day we were due to lead the Torchlight Marian Procession. But as 9pm neared, the rain eased, and the pilgrims arrived. Candles were lit and the singing rang out.
The procession was smaller than usual, but no less enthusiastic, as we sang in praise of Mary, friend of Bernadette. By the end, even the raincoats were coming off.
A highlight of the week is always the visit to the baths and the water gesture, which has proved to be popular among all pilgrims, irrespective of age. It was a truly moving day and a reminder of why we are here and for so many years have walked the path of the millions who have bathed in these waters.
From processions to parties, services to shopping, our week in the Pyrenees progressed and was over, as it always is, all too early. Before you could blink it was time to pack again.
Rooms were vacated and wards cleaned as the plan for return to the UK cranked up to full speed amid the usual delays and air traffic complications.
Eventually we returned home to dream of 51 weeks’ time, when we can return again, to our second home and answer the call of Mary, our mother.

Micki Coyle