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9-LOURDES

Experiencing the motherly love of Mary in Lourdes

KENNETH BLACK explains how pilgrimage to the Marian shrine has shaped his life over 25 years. -By KENNETH BLACK

I first visited Lourdes with Dunkeld Diocese in 1993 as a young 18-year-old and returned this year as a young 42-year-old. I have, in fact, been an ever­present member of our annual pilgrimage for the past 25 years, including my honeymoon!

Many question my sanity as I return to the same holiday destination year on year, but Lourdes is of course much more than a holiday destination to the many visitors that travel from all over the globe—it is a place of pilgrimage. A place of spiritual renewal where we engage with the challenge of repentance whilst building a stronger relationship with God and others.

Much has stayed the same through the years but much has also changed. Our helpers still wear bright yellow T-shirts but the demographic of those who fill them has changed slightly.

We were originally a youth group of teenagers gathered from the schools in the diocese and transported to Lourdes to be helpers. We still have some senior school pupils but these have been supplemented by those in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s.

While the faces have changed, the work stays the same: to serve those pilgrims who stay in the Accueil. These pilgrims make their way from all over the diocese but need a little extra support and their every need is catered for by the combined efforts of our medical team and the ‘Yellow T-shirts.’

Making tea, sweeping floors, pushing wheelchairs and serving meals is part and parcel of the long days.

What is most rewarding, however, is taking time to share stories and our Lourdes experience. Every year I stand in awe and wonder as the barriers of age and illness are swept away as people generations apart laugh and indeed at times cry together. Pope Emeritus ­Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est is made manifest for me in Lourdes every year as I look around and realise once again that God is love.

The Lourdes pilgrimage also welcomes pilgrims from the length and breadth of the diocese. These pilgrims stay in one of the many hotels around Lourdes and join together with Bishop Stephen Robson as a diocese.

As I cast an eye on the group photo, I am filled with pride and optimism for the Church. There are so many good people smiling back at me each trying to live out their vocation and answer the call of God. One reason for optimism has been the increasing number of ­families who help to make our pilgrimage a special one. Our youngest pilgrim this year was making her second pilgrimage but she was only 12 months old. The future of Dunkeld is in safe hands!

One real constant through the years has been the beautiful liturgies. Each celebration led this year by our clergy, Fr Brian McLean, Fr Neil Gallagher, Mgr Aldo Angelosanto, Fr Kenneth O’Brien, Fr Gregory Murphy, Fr Michael Carrie and of course Bishop Stephen Robson, allowed us to reflect prayerfully on this year’s theme, ‘The Almighty has done great things for me.’ These sacred times were given life by the many talented members of the music group, once again under the direction of Margaret Quirie.

As well as the diocesan celebrations, we also have the chance to experience the universal Church as we join Catholics from every nation at the International Mass, the Blessed Sacrament Procession and of course the Marian procession by torchlight.

I am always taken by how these grand expressions of our Faith can still provide grace filled moments of prayer and reflection. I find the sheer numbers of pilgrims at these events support me in my Faith journey as they pray for me just as I pray for them.

My annual pilgrimage gives me the chance to reflect on what is going well in my life and to offer to our Blessed Mother that which I find difficult.

I have been very blessed in that with every major decision I have ever needed to take in my adult life, I have been able to reflect on it while at the Grotto.

The Grotto is where Mary appeared to St Bernadette and where I feel her presence too. It is hard to explain to others but in that special place I have experienced the motherly love of Mary, a mother who not only guides but gives strength to those who seek her intercession. Milestones give us all a chance to reflect and 25 years of Lourdes has allowed me that opportunity.

In Lourdes, I have been given friends who are now more like family; I have met many amazing people who have both formed and inspired me; I have been blessed by the support of not one but two bishops; I met my incredible wife and can now share this special place with our seven children. In Lourdes, ‘the Almighty has done great things for me’ and indeed I am glad.

 

 

Pic: Allan Whyte

 

 

 

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