I walked into Shannon Airport for the eighth year last month, to go on the annual Diocesan Summer Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I had the honour of being there twice as a youth helper, and this was my sixth trip going as a youth leader.
Even though there are different people coming and going each year, I still love to see the familiar sight of 48 young people with eager eyes, excited for the adventure ahead. This year we were lucky to travel with the assisted section on the plane out to Lourdes. It was lovely to be able to connect with some familiar faces in Shannon, that I hadn’t seen since the previous trip. After catching up over some tea and scones, we were ready to embark on the 63rd Pilgrimage.
I return to Lourdes each year as it is simply an amazing experience. It has taught me about what is really important in life, and how we shouldn’t take simple things for granted.
On arrival in Lourdes, the warm air hit us immediately this year. This would become a familiar feeling for us all, as the daily temperature did not go below 34C for the duration of our stay.
While the assisted pilgrims got set up in the Accueil Notre-Dame, the youth section were given a tour of the shrine and a crash course in safely transporting pilgrims in the voitures, more commonly known as the blue buggies.
Other pilgrims that had landed celebrated Mass in the Church of the Seven Dolours, while we awaited the safe arrival of the two other pilgrim-filled planes.
Eleven priests from across the diocese led by Bishop Fintan Monahan came with us, with a mix of veteran priests.
The Mountshannon and Whitegate Choir led all our liturgies in beautiful song each day. They sang their hearts out from beginning to end, with the congregation wholeheartedly joining in.
The opening Mass was celebrated by Fr Brendan Quinlivan, which had everyone in high spirits. He told us a story about him using a satnav on a journey, and how when he didn’t follow the directions given, that it would recalculate its planned route. He made us think about the path we are on in life, and if we might need to recalculate the route we are on. In the afternoon, the assisted section were brought to the Baths. This is always a special time, as so many are looking for a cure; answers to questions; or just peace and tranquillity in their hearts. Everyone has their own unique experience of the baths, some come out revitalised and rejuvenated, while others come out feeling completely cleansed in spirit. In the evening we had the Eucharistic Procession, which was based in the Underground Basilica, due to the heat.
On the second morning in Lourdes, we had the Grotto Mass, which was led by Bishop Fintan. He spoke about the theme of this year’s pilgrimage: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ He went on to praise the youth group highly saying how they are the core of our pilgrimage and how they bring joy to all of us.
Fr Martin Shanahan celebrated the Mass of Anointing the Sick – Sacrament of Healing the next day, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Fr Martin thanked all the people that help the sick, Dr Martin Fitzgerald, all the nurses, carers, helpers and the hospitality volunteers.
That afternoon, we had the Stations of the Cross. It was the first time that I had experienced the whole pilgrimage coming together for it. Due to the immense heat, we were unable to do the high and low stations and instead went back to the underground Basilica of St Pius X. Fr Tom Ryan – Pilgrimage Director, led the service, with the help of Mary Freeman – Pilgrimage Secretary. It was the first time in all my years coming to Lourdes, that I heard the stations being told through Bernadette’s story. I found it interesting to listen to, and it really grabbed my attention.
Youth helpers alongside their leaders, Bishop Fintan and Fr Brendan went out to Bartrès, the little village outside of Lourdes, on the final day of the pilgrimage. This is where Bernadette often stayed as a young girl. We first visited the Church of Saint John the Baptist, and venerated St Bernadette’s relic, after being blessed by Bishop Fintan.
We had the closing ceremony that evening, which was led by Fr Ger Jones, and the blessing and lighting of the pilgrimage candle. Fr Ger enlightened us on the two types of burdens, both physical and mental, which personally I had never really thought about before. When a physical burden gets too much, we just have to let it go.
However, when it come to mental burdens, we carry them around for a long time, because there is no physical weight associated, but it can often weigh us down even more. After this ceremony, Bishop Fintan blessed the pilgrimage candle, which was lit by Daniel and Philomena Smyth, from Roscrea, who are celebrating 50 years of marriage this year. Our diocesan candle will continue to burn in the Sanctuary long after we depart, it holds the many intentions and prayers of not only those present but those back home too.
It amazes me to think that the pilgrimage to Lourdes brings so many from our diocese together – from east to west; young and old; sick and healthy alike.
Even if you were not physically in Lourdes with us, you can still connect with our prayerful pilgrimage, as well as some fun filled aspects on the Killaloe Diocesan website or on the Killaloe Diocese Facebook and Twitter pages. Daily videos were posted, these snippets capture the meaningful journey we undertook over the five days.
Fr Ger Jones’s summarised what Lourdes means to me and many others so perfectly when he said in the closing ceremony: “Lourdes, a little piece of heaven on earth.”
Claire Murray from the Parish of Kilmurry Ibrickane was a Youth Leader on the Killaloe Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes 085-8228626