BY Peter Diamond | May 11 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


With all our love from Lourdes

Seasoned pilgrim PETER DIAMOND reveals that, even after years of journeying to Our Lady’s shrine in southern France, he still finds it difficult to put into words the minor miracles that keep him going back

When I signed up to go to Lourdes with the Scottish Youth Group of Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust (HCPT) in 2011, I had some insight into the week’s dynamic thanks to family members who had previously shared their experiences.

It may, therefore, come as a surprise that, six pilgrimages later, I still find it very difficult to put into words what the magic of HCPT is that keeps pulling me back.

What I can reveal is there have been many special moments throughout my six years travelling with HCPT. Those involved would perhaps let it slip that there isn’t a pilgrimage as significant as your first, especially to Lourdes with HCPT at Easter, but there have been many special moments throughout my six years travelling with HCPT.

Since 2011, when I first travelled, there can be moments of doubt throughout Lent in the build-up to the pilgrimage, as you have to attend more meetings, family visits, and training and preparation days. However, when I get to the bus on Easter Sunday morning, these doubts are very quickly extinguished when one of the children cracks a joke out of nowhere, or a moment during Easter week when they let you know, through the squeeze of a hand or a watery eye during a prayer or a hymn, that they are taking it all in.

One of my young friends, whom I met through Scottish Youth Group and who has been travelling for 10 years, readily explained what travelling with HCPT meant to him. He has become a bit of a ‘high-flyer’ through the years that I’ve known him, becoming very successful at an international travel company, which affords him a comfortable life. For him though, Lourdes brings all of the hustle and bustle of his busy life to a halt.

“It’s amazing how I get on the bus on Easter Sunday morning and all of my problems are left behind. I sit next to my child, get talking to him and instantly it hits me,” he admits. “The shock factor is that I’m in charge of this boy for one week, so I better make sure it’s one of the best weeks of his life, and that really makes me feel alive.”

Travelling to Lourdes means something different for each individual pilgrim. But during Easter week, perhaps every Catholic can align themselves with that desire to feel alive.

For me, my pilgrimages to Lourdes started off as a great way to be charitable and give something back in order gain more through Jesus. I have also met some of the best people I will ever meet through HCPT—both helpers and children.

I would say the experience of Lourdes and HCPT has helped me get closer to God and has been the biggest influence in developing my Faith life as a young Catholic living in Scotland in 2018. It’s a week that harvested lifelong memories of God’s work being played out in a sunny French town, memories distilled from moments of perfection.

There was the example this year of two sisters separated in foster care for a number of social reasons. The pilgrimage offered the sisters a precious week together. When we visited one of them at their house before travelling to Lourdes, we asked what she was most looking forward to. She simply replied: “Being able to see my sister every day.”

Moments like this—small miracles some would say—really reinforce the reason I volunteer. Such moments give you a sense of perspective and any doubt you may have had about why or if you should cease going to Lourdes evaporates.

Another special moment came for ‘Big Daniel,’ who turned 17 when in Lourdes, on our final day when shopping for loved ones back home in Scotland—Ayrshire to be precise.

In his thickest Ayrshire accent he informed his helper, also called Dan, that he wished to get his sister ‘wan of them necklaces.’

Now he might not have been taking everything in but he was certainly after Rosary beads. So his helper duly picked out a beautiful floral Rosary, thinking nothing of it.

However, while in the queue waiting to pay, ‘Big Daniel’ was examining his future purchase quite intuitively and, clutching the beads without hesitation, he kissed the Crucifix and exclaimed: “He died for us, because He’s a legend.”

The surrounding helpers and children descended into fits of laughter; some with tears in their eyes. Quite simply such moments make the week—and there are plenty of them. The children can often take those opportunist moments to share something and as a helper you are always on tenterhooks in case something inappropriate lets slip.

Again, on the last day a rather dynamic and energetic girl who had been a joy all week shared another gem. As Group 138 hosted their final prayer service and closing goodbye singsong, young Kelsey, who is partially sighted, stood upright and declared that she wanted to say something about her week in Lourdes—pass the hankies.

“I just want to thank Fr Martin for asking my school if I could come to Lourdes with 138. It’s been one of the best weeks of my life and I have loved every minute with you guys.”

If you could bottle moments like that and sell them the world would be a happier place. HCPT does that for hundreds of pilgrims every year.

Just like Pope Francis comforting a grieving child in recent weeks, we too in Lourdes show a similar compassion for one another. First, we recognise that everyone has frailties and hardships to bear, whether they be physical, mental or social.

Second, we set those frailties free when we come together on pilgrimage by simply ‘being there for someone.’ HCPT has a helper system for that reason; you are there for the children, but in so many more ways the children are there for you.

Our pilgrimage is very youthful, with more than 50 per cent of helpers under 30 years of age. Some would have you believe young people are the best helpers, with similar interests in the youth cultural scene and the energy to play, dance and entertain children. But it is not always the case as there are still people travelling within the Trust who are in their 80s, for instance, Patrick Ferry and James Connelly, two men who have plenty of energy and entertainment still pouring out them.

The week gives me hope, for HCPT is a Church group offering Faith formation and engagement with young people. The pilgrimage holiday shows that worship can be fun and the Church has a positive role to play in today’s world.

And all the young people who set out on the journey to Lourdes in pilgrimage learn the Church’s teaching—underlined by Pope Francis—that love is the only light that can constantly illuminate a world grown dim.

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