There were 475 young people who departed on 20 July for this year's Archdiocesan youth pilgrimage to Lourdes. Here pilgrims from the nine youth coaches reflect on the memorable week that followed.
Coach 1, Liverpool – Ciara Mooney, 19
One of my favourite moments was the night when Coach 1 met on the prairie within the domain for the prayer stations. This was an opportunity to stop and reflect on our lives. Lourdes is a place of sanctuary, where people feel empowered to open up. It felt humbling to be able to help comfort fellow pilgrims as they discussed their difficulties. That night was particularly overwhelming, as I witnessed God's presence around me in other people. Overall, Lourdes has had a massive impact on me personally. When I first went, I was only 15 and it was daunting for someone as quiet as me to get on a coach filled with some big characters. Now, though, after five years of volunteering in Lourdes, I'm eager to begin a career as a paramedic. For me, helping the sick and vulnerable is a privilege and profoundly rewarding.
Coach 2, Knowsley – Bethany Holt, 21
Everything you do every day in Lourdes is special. This year was particularly special to me as it was my last as a youth pilgrim. It made me look at each activity in a new light. At every Mass I found myself reminiscing on other Masses I'd been to over the past five years. Every time I was with an assisted pilgrim I found myself thinking of those I had met before. Every time we socialised as a coach, I was reminded of favourite moments – and songs – from previous years. All of this prompted me to speak in the closing liturgy and to highlight the biggest gift I'd been given: my coach family.
Coach 3, St Helens – Frankie Lennon, 18
This was my third year of being a volunteer and, most importantly, a pilgrim in probably my favourite place on earth. The energy we share together is awe-inspiring and a pleasure to be part of. It was my first time as an Over-18 and meeting friends old and new was a lesson in how we can all band together and be inspired by the faith we share. It goes without saying I'll be returning next year!
Coach 4, Wigan and Leigh – Jack Simpson, 21
This was my sixth year and Lourdes remains for me an incredible place to serve people you've never met before, to develop new skills and make new friends. While it is always difficult to pick out a single highlight, my favourite moments came from taking the pilgrims down to Mass and socialising with them on Over-18s duty. I met one woman, in particular, who shared some truly inspirational stories with me and one day we spent some time together in prayer down at the Grotto. It’s amazing for people of different ages and backgrounds to come together like this and share their faith.
Coach 5, Penwortham & Chorley – Gemma Smith, 20
My most touching experiences came from my work in the baths. Everyone who goes to the baths wants to be healed – whether it be physically, mentally or spiritually – and no matter what their language or culture is, you're there to support them. This can be tough, yet the work is immeasurably rewarding. For anyone thinking of trying Lourdes, I advise them to go for it. You might not think you're the type of person to go but send the form in on 7 November and you won't regret it.
Coach 6, Warrington – Emily Nevinson, 20
Lourdes is a place where I have made friends for life, and each year I come back, those bonds are strengthened. Seeing so many young people there makes me realise that the Church has a future, and the kindness and accepting nature of everyone gives me hope for this future and reinforces my faith.
Coach 7, Sefton – Emily Crewe, 17
I often try to explain how much I enjoy Lourdes to others and find myself struggling to put it into words. There's something special about spending time with other members of the Liverpool Youth. This year the theme of our pilgrimage was 'The Almighty has done great things for me'. We were asked to consider where we could find God in our lives, and we found that He was there in everything we appreciated and were thankful for. I personally found God in the bonds I made with people throughout the week and in the smiles on the faces of the assisted pilgrims. It's the simple things like this that mean the most.
Coach 8, Ormskirk & Leyland – Harriet Cunliffe, 17
One of the great things for me is that though you're busy every day in Lourdes, you still feel a sense of peace. You're given the time to sit and reflect, and this is time that you don't really get during the rest of the year. Even the 24-hour coach journey is fun – a chance to make new friends as well as sing our heads off to the film Pitch Perfect! Getting to know people our own age who are Catholics is important. It's uplifting and inspiring to be with so many people who share your beliefs and it shows you're not alone in your faith.
Coach 9, Widnes & Isle of Man – Molly Darracott ,17
My second year at Lourdes has confirmed that it really is the best place in the world. And it's not just Lourdes itself but the people too. Everyone has their own reasons for being there but we all have a common yearning to serve. A highlight for me was definitely the torchlight procession. The rain meant we weren't able to take our assisted pilgrims on the procession but it meant also that several Coach 9 members were asked to be stewards in front of the Rosary Basilica. This involved standing on the steps of the basilica beside the figure of Our Lady and seeing the crowd and the candles below. It was one the most beautiful things I've ever seen. When the crowd raised their torches to 'Ave Maria', the domain lit up and I looked to my friends in disbelief.
Veronica Grayston, assisted pilgrim from Holy Rosary parish, Aintree
It was very humbling to be on the receiving end of the kindness, consideration and friendship of these young volunteers who paid their own expenses and gave freely of their time to assist people like myself who are unable to walk the distances required to take a full part in the pilgrimage.