The first full day of the pilgrimage was off to a great start with the sun smiling on the pilgrims as they assembled by the St Michel gate in order to enter the desmene and thus begin the pilgrimage through the Holy Door.
Despite the difficulties presented by the hours-long tailbacks on the motorway to Dover and the very late arrival of those pilgrims travelling by coach, the day began with great anticipation and a sense of promise. Those who had been on the Lourdes pilgrimage in previous years renewed acquaintances, happy to see friends they had met here. Nor were those joining the pilgrimage for the first time left out, as smiles and greetings were exchanged all round.
With many young people going to Krakow this year for World Youth Day, which runs concurrently, the pilgrimage is smaller than usual, with about 600 pilgrims joining. Yet the sense of energy and anticipation is very much here.
We're graced with the presence of both Cardinal Vincent and Cardinal Cormac, and Bishops John Sherrington and John Wilson, with Bishop Paul McAleenan expected to join us later.
Assembling at the rather unusual and imaginative Holy Door, created in the open air with pillars and a pathway, the Cardinals and Bishops led the procession and were followed by the rest of the pilgrims. Holy water fonts were placed at the end of the pathway, where the priests of the diocese who are with us, stood sprinking holy water on the pilgrims as they processed past.
On towards the grotto and across the River Gave to St Bernadette Cote Grotte where Mass was celebrated. In his homily, Cardinal Vincent reflected on the Hail, Holy Queen, and why it is particularly fitting that we turn to Mary, 'our life, our sweetness and our hope' in this Year of Mercy.
He recalled the atrocities and terrorist attacks that had taken the lives of so many victims and left many more injured and traumatised. As we pray in the Hail, Holy Queen, we refer to this life as a 'vale of tears'. The Cardinal explained that we bring the tears of all those who have suffered in these circumstances to Lourdes where we lay them at the feet of Mary and ask her intercession.
He also alluded to the suffering that is caused by illness, circumstances, and the suffering caused by our sins which lay heavy burdens on us. He invited the pilgrims to seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation, particularly here in Lourdes, as it is the channel through which God's grace can be extended to us.
After Mass, the pilgrims gathered in front of the Upper Basilica for the annual group photo, an opportunity to enjoy the warm sunshine before the heat of the day set in.
In the afternoon, Bishop John Sherrington continued the theme when he delivered a catechesis on mercy. He invited the pilgrims to reflect on the times when they have felt the mercy of God touch their lives. He spoke too about how God mercy had touched Bernadette's life, beginning with her Baptism, for it is through Baptism that God's mercy first touches each of our lives.
With the help of students from Gumley House who enacted three tableaux from the Stations of the Cross, Bishop John explained that they too demonstrated acts of mercy performed along Jesus' journey to the Cross.
Later in the evening, a penitential service with opportunities for pilgrims to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation takes place.
Photos from today can be found here
The full text of Bishop John's catechesis can be found here.