The annual Liverpool Archdiocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes begins this coming Friday, 22 July. Among the pilgrims will be 450 young people taking part in the Liverpool Youth Pilgrimage travelling by coach from Chorley, Knowsley, the Isle of Man, Leyland, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan. Ten coaches will be leaving from points across the Archdiocese at 7.30 am on Friday morning to begin the twenty-six hour journey. Whilst in Lourdes and immediately following this arduous journey, the young pilgrims have to get up as early as 4:30 am to work in the hospital, while others follow them down in order to push the pilgrims in wheelchairs to the different places of devotion and to Mass.
Mike Meadows has been speaking to some of the young Pilgrims volunteering this year to travel with the Pilgrimage. He wanted to gain an insight into the experiences they will be having during 'Liverpool week' in Lourdes.
Rosie Whalley, 17, has been to Lourdes three times as part of the Sefton Group, and regularly attends the monthly Animate Youth Ministries ‘Youth Alive’ celebrations as part of her preparation for the Pilgrimage. She sees these monthly Masses as a fundamental part of her Pilgrimage journey, ‘The final mass before the Pilgrimage always kicks off the Lourdes experience. There is always a great atmosphere with the increased attendance and it is great with more people singing and getting involved. It really is a sign of things to come when we get to Lourdes.'
The young people will undertake a variety of roles throughout the week, as well as taking part in celebrations, ranging from assisting the sick in getting to Mass, taking them shopping, or simply chatting over cup of tea, to more personal duties within the Saint Frai hospital where they stay, and helping them to bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes. There is an overwhelming sense of community with the young volunteers, who discuss the characteristics and skills they feel are important in the roles they undertake. Matty Fitzhenry, 18, who has been on Pilgrimage four times, mentions, 'We get to know the sick Pilgrims on a personal level over a very short space of time, which is challenging, but challenging on a positive level. You learn to take a different approach with each person as you offer assistance. When dealing with the Pilgrims for the first time, especially those with more serious illnesses, you learn to deal with it accordingly.'
The experience provides opportunities which wouldn't usually be afforded to youngsters throughout the Liverpool Archdiocese. Rosie comments: 'You are given the chance to get to know people who you wouldn't usually have the chance to meet, not just the sick, but the young people on your coach, like yourself. By just being there we have an opportunity to meet new people within our group, and get to know them whilst working towards a common goal.'
One of the fundamental messages from these young volunteers is that each and every one of them seem to gain something on a personal level from the services they offer, 'The sick and elderly pilgrims completely appreciate the work you do. It feels good to know you are doing something which is pleasing someone else', says Rosie. Emmie Gorman, 17, picks up on this, 'you feel really privileged to have what you have. Some of the pilgrims will be really poorly, but they are so happy to see you, and to have what they have. It really makes you appreciate what you have in your own life, back home, and helps you forget the little things.'
The message that comes across is that the Lourdes experience does not stop throughout the year, and that monthly celebrations like the 'Youth Alive' along with Pilgrimage preparation meetings help keep the feeling going continuously, 'When you get home it is a bit of a come down. You sit down on your own for breakfast, and realise that you no longer have that community of friends around you', says Rosie. Matty elaborates, 'you really miss people, you miss the friends you make whilst being there. Lourdes is a really good place. It is great that we have opportunities like this every month to meet up and share our memories and experiences.'
Ten Coaches will set off from around the Liverpool Archdiocese on Friday 22nd July, returning on Saturday 30th. You can track the activity of young volunteers like Rosie, Matty and Emmie, on Twitter, (follow @SeftonPilgrim), on the Liverpool Archdiocese website www.liverpoolcatholic.org.uk and by viewing the images from the Pilgrimage on the Archiocesan Flickr page, http://www.flickr.com/photos/liverpoolcatholic