450 young people from the Archdiocese of Liverpool are currently in Lourdes working with sick pilgrims on the annual Archdiocesan Pilgrimage.
Almost 2,000 people are took part in the pilgrimage which left on Friday, 22 July 2011. The young people travelled overland by coach leaving from ten points in the Archdiocese and whilst in Lourdes worked in the hospitals and with sick pilgrims at the services and devotions taking place at the French shrine.
They reported back on a daily, and often hourly, basis via the Twitter feed: @lpoolcatholic, the Archdiocesan website: www.liverpoolcatholic.org.uk and pictures are at www.flickr.com/photos/liverpoolcatholic
Mike Meadows travelled on Coach 7, the Sefton coach, which left from St Benet’s in Netherton he gives his day by day account of the Pilgrimage:
The journey to Lourdes: Friday/Saturday 22/23 July 2011
As soon as our journey began our ‘live’ feed on Twitter took shape, with our young people telling pilgrimage stories and posting pictures. To follow the Liverpool Lourdes Pilgrimage on Twitter go to @lpoolcatholic, the Archdiocesan website: www.liverpoolcatholic.org.uk and pictures are at www.flickr.com/photos/liverpoolcatholic
Throughout the 23 hour coach journey we were easing into the Pilgrimage through simply getting to know those with us. Our coach quiz made for friendship and friendly competition. The Ferry journey gave us the first chance to get together with young people from other coaches also on the Pilgrimage, which again provided an opportunity for easing back into our pilgrimage community life, and a chance to get to know people with us for the first time.
After the ferry crossing we were back on to the coach for more games: a chance to recharge our batteries before reaching Lourdes, or to acquaint ourselves better with those around us. Films were on in the background, allowing the young people opportunity to relax in a laid back and friendly atmosphere.
Arriving in Lourdes in record time, we grabbed a couple of hours sleep, before meeting for lunch and the first day tour of Lourdes. The evening welcome Mass was a brilliant service, with every coach in good form mixing vocal enthusiasm with poignant prayer.
Pilgrimage Day One: Sunday 24 July
In the Saint Frai, meeting old and new faces on the early duty at 5.30 am. It was a wonderful opportunity to build friendships with both the sick pilgrims and young people. Duties included waking up the sick pilgrims, and serving them breakfast, as well as other tasks as simple as sitting and chatting over a cup of tea. This was followed by the Grotto Mass, which thankfully did not fall foul of the rain, and the traditional first-day group photograph for both sick pilgrims and young people. The afternoon agenda included the Blessed Sacrament procession in glorious sunshine, followed by a moving gathering in the Underground Basilica.
With a free schedule in the evening it was time to relax, with our coach ladies having a pamper session, whilst the gentlemen engaged in games of pool and cricket. Following this, coach seven donned fancy dress for our ‘colours’ night, with characters such as Where’s Wally, Tinky Winky and numerous Smurfs spotted around Lourdes town, and being asked to pose for photographs with the locals. This was a thoroughly enjoyable end to a long day, dominated by smiling faces and enthusiasm.
Pilgrimage Day Two: Monday 25 July
We spent today on our day off in the Pyrenees town of Cauterets in the pouring rain. The original plan had been to attend Cauterets early in the morning, and then hit the Water Park in the afternoon, but we later found out that the latter was not open on a Monday. The unfortunate weather did nothing to dampen the spirits of our young pilgrims, however, as we ate in the restaurant, played air hockey in the arcades and chatted about our experiences so far. This was followed by leaving Cauterets for a small-scale Coach Mass in a tiny chapel in Bartres. Unfortunately, the planned Torchlight procession in the evening was rained off, so we has a 'Service of Light' with all of the youth, staff and chaplains from our Pilgrimage, talking about our faith and reasons for going to Lourdes, and singing the roof off. The night was ended by social time in Lourdes town with our Coach, and a good old sing-song.
Pilgrimage Day Three: Tuesday 26 July
My own agenda for Tuesday was largely different to the majority of my Coach, as I was participating in helping to lead the Liverpool Youth Catechesis sessions. These are basically faith workshops which address the themes of the Pilgrimage, this year in relation to the Lord's prayer. My role in these sessions was initially summarising an 'ice breaker', by discussing the importance of our own names, and their link to God's name through the 'Our Father'. I then later delivered a testimony, discussing my own faith story and reasons for coming to Lourdes, linking in with the story of Samuel, and an occasion where we are presented with a barrier which prevents us from succeeding in our faith. The sessions were very well received by young people and staff alike, and were something I was very proud to be a part of. The evening concluded with Coach Seven's Got Talent Night, in which each group had to perform a 'talent' before each other. This was so much fun! We then went out in fancy dress, under the theme of choosing 'any word from the Lord's prayer' and dressing up as something along the lines of that particular word or phrase, I personally chose the word 'Kingdom' and dressed as Prince Philip, with my friend Hannah going as the Queen.
Pilgrimage Day Four: Wednesday 27 July
Today we went back into the Saint Frai hospital for over 18s duties, chatting with the sick and elderly pilgrims, taking them down after their lunch to meet the under 18 young people who would be taking them out to shop, visit cafés and pop down to the Grotto is they wished. I understand that this is a very important aspect of the week for the sick, as the less crafted free time allows for them to spend more social time with the young people, as well as purchase gifts for loved ones back home, and light candles or pray at the site where the Virgin Mary appeared before Bernadette. Following these duties, as over 18s we had some brief free time to attend the Sefton Coach 7 party at Le Versailles bar. This consisted of traditional party games like pass the parcel, musical chairs, and the obligatory face painting. The young people and staff on our coach had a lot of fun during this time, and provided us with another excellent opportunity for community bonding, and generally getting to know the people we were living and working with even better. The over 18s then went back to the Saint Frai Hospital for further duties, assisting the sick and elderly pilgrims in getting to their evening meal, and chatting with them over a cup of tea once they arrived back from their shopping trips. On a personal note, I really enjoyed this duty, as myself and my friend Kathrin were able to meet a sick pilgrim, Sr Rita who was one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure of working with in Lourdes. During the evening we headed up to the Youth Village, to a small chapel for our Coach reconciliation service. This is always an extremely emotional, and reflective service and this year was no different. I felt unbelievably proud to look around and see my peers supporting each other with a kind word, or a hug, particularly given that we largely didn't all know each other at the beginning of the week. This speaks volumes for the sense of community which has been prevalent on the Sefton Coach, my coach, throughout our pilgrimage.
Pilrimage Day Five: Thursday 28 July
Today brought us our final duties for another year, which is always a sad occasion. We took the sick pilgrims to Mass in the Underground Basilica, and then back to the Saint Frai for their meal. After this, I was excused from lunch with my coach in order to participate in a live interview on BBC Radio Merseyside with Roger Phillips. I was lucky enough to have Rachel Atherton, staff from coach Three (St Helens) and and a fellow member of the media team, also participating in this with me. It is fair to say we were both really nervous beforehand, but the interview went brilliantly, and we are both very thankful to Radio Merseyside for taking a keen interest in our work. In the evening we participated in the Torchlight Procession, which is always the highlight of the week for me, personally. The procession sees us walking through the Grotto and the domain at dusk, carrying only a lighted candle. As there are thousands of other pilgrims from around the world who also take part, this is an unbelievable sight. The feeling that we are all as one as Catholics, despite different cultures and language barriers, is completely inescapable. Following the procession we then went out for a social with Coach Nine, from Warrington and then proceeded to head to the Grotto to pray for our own intentions, pass in petitions, and light candles for loved ones. As you can imagine, this can be another emotional occasion for our young people, and that traditional Sefton sense of community and unity was prevalent once again, with everyone looking out for each other.
The Journey home: Friday/Saturday 29/30 July
The day started with our Youth departure Mass, in the Upper Basilica, celebrated by Youth Pilgrimage Director, Father Stephen Pritchard. As always, this was extremely lively and the roof was well and truly raised from this beautiful basilica as we sang our hearts out. Despite the fact that this means our Pilgrimage is coming to an end, the following journey home is always a lively affair, as by this point, the whole coach community is completely thriving, everyone knows each other, and the interaction flows as we all relive our favourite moments from the week, recall particularly poignant occasions and pledge to be back again, at the same time next year. We watched Toy Story 2 and 3, followed by Star Trek on the way home, getting the Ferry back at approximately 2am. This called for a quick catch up with Rachel over a bacon and sausage sandwich, as we prepared for another BBC Radio Merseyside interview on Sunday 30th July, before rejoining our respective coaches to disembark for British soil once again. At this point, the tiredness largely set in, with the majority of our coach enjoying a well earned rest. We arrived back at St Benet's in Netherton at around 9.30 am to be greeted by our family and friends after and absolutely amazing, and spiritually rewarding week. My own personal thanks go out to my Coach leader, Dennis, and staff members Peter, John, Jen, Julia, Noel, Clare and Sarah for providing us with an brilliant, rewarding week in Lourdes. Each and every one of my fellow young people on our coach were inspirational to me, to say the least, and I do not have the words to describe the pride I have felt to be involved in this year's Pilgrimage. Thanks for following my Lourdes journey, 2011,