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Laughter and tears on a 2019 Lourdes pilgrimage

Galloway youth pilgrim Kiera Ovens on how Lourdes helped her deal with her grief and deepen her Faith

Lourdes isn’t something that you can read, learn or be told about, you have to experience it for yourself.

As someone who has been to the Marian pilgrimage site twice, it’s easy for me to say this, but it wasn’t really a choice for me to go as much as a family expectation.

My mum travels as a nurse, and my two sisters and my cousin travel as youth volunteers with Galloway Diocese.

It was as a youth that I travelled to Lourdes in 2017 and then again in the July of this year.

 

‘Amazing’ experience

Before I went, I asked my eldest sister, who has been five times, if she ever grows tired of Lourdes.

She simply replied that every experience is different but equally amazing. Having now been twice myself I can wholeheartedly agree with her.

Ahead of my first trip my grandmother had sadly passed away. On the first night my sisters, my cousin and I held hands while we cried in the domain of the Grotto.

I thought the experience was going to be heart-breaking, but it allowed me to heal quicker than I thought possible by exploring and deepening my Faith.

 

Finding comfort in Lourdes

As a teenager following a Faith in a modern society, it is so easy to feel judged, but in Lourdes you are comforted and shown you are not alone and it is incredibly refreshing.

Due to the amount of young people travelling to Lourdes by bus it’s easy to make friends, because when you spend 36 hours on a bus with people it’s pretty hard not to strike up a conversation, or join in a sing-song when watching Sunshine on Leith and Mamma Mia.

It’s not only the group of people we were with, which included people of different faiths, but Lourdes, itself, is a place accepting of different nationalities and races. It’s a place where you can comfortably be yourself. No matter if you’re talking to a pilgrim or the bishop it is such a welcoming atmosphere that you are given a new sense of confidence in who you are.

 

value

Travelling with a small diocese, every person is valued highly and this year that was felt on the first night. There was a mix up at the pilgrims’ hotel and every volunteer played an essential role in helping get pilgrims and their luggage to the correct room. From that moment there was a connection between everyone, volunteer and pilgrim.

One pilgrim that I was assisting to her room took my friend’s hands and mine and told us she was so grateful for the time that we were giving up to help.

That was just the beginning of the week.

On the day we went to the baths I was paired with a certain pilgrim and we got chatting about all sorts of things. There were so many conversations that I had with this lady that have stayed with me so vividly, but one that stood out was after we had come out of the baths, she said to me with a little smile that I ‘was glowing.’ She didn’t know what was going on in my head before I came to Lourdes but now I ‘seemed at peace, and that I looked beautiful.’

 

Gratitude

She spoke to me so confidently of her Faith that it inspired and deepened mine and I will be forever grateful to her for that.

I didn’t know how to reply to her because she had so accurately described my experience when she hardly knew me. She told me at the end of the week that she would never forget who she went to the baths with and that I would forever be in her prayers.

Shortly after that I was put in a wheelchair of my own because I was crying so much, saddened to be leaving such kind people and an amazing place.

One thing that amazed every one of us was the International Mass. Looking around at people of Faith from all over the world was surreal. It was humbling to realise the small part we played in an international and monumental tradition.

 

Family

In Lourdes it is as if you create a different kind of family. I found friends in people I would never have expected and I am humbled to say I have come away from the experience with a group of people I consider my closest friends.

One evening all the pilgrims got together and showed off their talents. We had a couple of pilgrims singing and dancing, a lady helper telling a few stories and the youth performing a series of sketches that had everyone in hysterics. It brought everyone closer together.

It’s a cliche but Lourdes truly is a trip of a lifetime, and as Bishop William Nolan so accurately put it in his final homily, we weren’t on holiday; we were on a pilgrimage.

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