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8-HCPT

Living water and lessons of life

AMANDA CONNELLY reflects on a life-changing visit to Lourdes with Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust. —BY AMANDA CONNELLY

In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, ‘Water is the driving force of all nature.’ It’s an interesting thought, and one that’s been playing on my mind as I write this article. Along with the thousands of other pilgrims that travel throughout the year to Lourdes, I made my second journey to the little town where Mary appeared to St Bernadette—my first with the Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust (HCPT).

It’s said we are all called to Lourdes for a reason and, with this year’s pilgrimage theme as ‘Come to the Water,’ it bears thinking about how this ‘living water’ was perhaps a da Vinci-esque driving force for me returning to Lourdes this year.

They say you should always listen to your mum, because mums know everything. So, despite not having specifically laid out a plan to go back to Lourdes again this summer, when I was approached by HCPT Group 541 deputy leader Liz, who was looking for helpers this year, I decided that perhaps I should listen to Our Blessed Mother, and take the chance.

As has been proven time and time again, mothers are always right, and this time was no different. Going back to Lourdes this year proved to be the perfect decision, and taught me so many things that I think are invaluable for any young person properly stepping out into the adult world.

Waking up each morning to the incredible views of the Pyrenees from the bedroom balconies in Hosanna House couldn’t leave you in anything but a good mood—even if our roommate Isla did wake up every morning slightly less than impressed to the sound of myself and Colleen coughing with our inconveniently-timed sore throats!

On the subject of roommates, Colleen, Isla and I were deemed the very firm answer to the question of who had the messiest room in Lourdes this year at our quiz night. Can’t ever imagine why…

Our pilgrimage got off to a busy start as we hopped on the bus down to the Grotto for the official opening of our pilgrimage, gathering at the Crowned Virgin statue stood across Rosary Square as we came together to pray, before walking the short distance to the statue of St Margaret—a fitting nod to back home in Scotland, especially as we wore our red tartan neckies.

Throughout the rest of our week in Lourdes, we took part in a number of different activities—both spiritual and some a little more light-hearted!

Each day saw all of us celebrate Mass together, many times in the beautiful chapel located within Hosanna House. Mass with the group was truly a celebration.

As the French sunshine shone through the colourful stained glass, everyone in the group had the opportunity to participate in some way, while the end of Mass always finished with a ­ sing-song and a dance. The HCPT favourite ‘Rise And Shine’, or ‘We Are Marching in the Light of Christ’, were regular features—and joining in with the hand actions and dancing is a must!

Group 541 made many trips to the Grotto during the course of the week, where we took part in the beautiful evening torchlight processions.

There is little that could match that beautiful sight of hundreds of pilgrims from all over the world holding their candlelight aloft against the backdrop of the dusky night sky—particularly when viewed from the top of the Rosary Basilica in the centre of the Grotto.

The International Mass is always an incredible sight, to see so many pilgrims and helpers from across the world gathered together in the underground basilica. This year however was especially touching for Group 541, as one of their own had a special role to play at the Mass.

The recently ordained Fr John Paul McShane got to join in concelebrating the International Mass for the first time since he first came to Lourdes—an emotional moment for many, including his mum Nina, who was with the group on her first visit. She spoke of how proud she was to see him serving at the altar.

As well as taking a tour of Lourdes to see more of St Bernadette’s life, exploring the shops next to the Grotto, and stopping off for some ice cream and the odd Monaco in Miam Miam’s, we also took the opportunity to explore some of the surrounding area.

We took a day trip to Argelès-Gazost, where we celebrated Mass in the local parish church, and explored the local market, taking in the stunning views of the Pyrenees region from the town, before all of us got back on the coach to take a drive high up the mountains to Lac D’Estaing, where we enjoyed a picnic and paddled in the lake, located at an elevation of 1,163m.

We also enjoyed a meal out to Au Bon Accueil restaurant in the nearby Bartrès, where there was much singing and dancing to be had (the entertainment the restaurant provided for the evening didn’t have a patch on us!), while our cabaret night later in the week was a resounding success, with some very highly anticipated ­performances.

Meanwhile the theme of ‘Come to the Water’ was not forgotten, as a special Mass in Hosanna House allowed us the opportunity to bless ourselves with holy water and everyone received a personal bottle of their own, while a number of the group paid a visit to the Lourdes Baths during the week—a brand new experience for some and a return visit for others.

HCPT in its mission statement looks to ‘share with joy, the gift of God’s love.’ It is this joyfulness that is unmistakable, and that word completely encapsulates the spirit of an HCPT pilgrimage.

Whether it’s from our regular sing-songs and dances every night back at Hosanna House, to praying together, to enjoying each other’s company, the happiness experienced by everyone on pilgrimage is both characteristic, and one of the stand-out features, of HCPT.

The charity’s vision is to ‘change lives through pilgrimage, sharing God’s gifts of love, friendship, and joy.’ In this spirit of happiness and joy then, it must be said that going to Lourdes with HCPT is not something that simply changes the lives of pilgrims. Rather, it changes the lives of everyone who goes —volunteer helpers like myself very much included.

As we headed back to the Grotto once more to light our Group 541 pilgrimage candle to mark the end of our time in Lourdes this year, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness as I knew our week was drawing to a close.

There’s something so special about the bonds formed in Lourdes and the memories you make, that it’s always a wrench to have to return home again.

Reflecting back on our pilgrimage, going to Lourdes with Group 541 was exactly what I, and I believe any other young adult starting out in the world, needs. The friendships you make, the care and compassion you develop for others, and the understanding for the needs of others you learn through an HCPT pilgrimage, are unlike any other.

The joy, and also the lessons you learn by going to Lourdes with one of the trust’s groups, is something I feel sets up young people with some of the most important qualities they need when going forward in life, learning them in a way you could not anywhere else.

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