On Thursday morning it was an exodus out of Lourdes and up to the Cite Saint Pierre for Mass in the Cathedral of the Trees. Despite the coaches ferrying the pilgrims most of the way, there is still an uphill climb from the coach park to the cathedral. Those who were able, made their way up the hill. The Red Caps were on hand to assist those who needed a little more help, all with a cheerful manner despite the physical demands of pushing a wheelchair up a hill on uncertain terrain. At the top of the hill, we were rewarded with a spectacular venue for Mass among the trees.
Bishop Paul presided at Mass and Cardinal Cormac preached the homily. Beginning with his usual humorous annecdotes which had the pilgrims laughing, the Cardinal's homily had a very serious point. Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple, he said 'it was all about family'. He spoke about the joys and trials of family life, and the strength of the Holy Spirit which binds them together.
He said too that it's about the family of the Church, and the faith which sustains and strengthens each of us. He explained that, when we return home from Lourdes, we must 'defend the citadel of our hearts' through the joy that comes to us in the Gospel, the joy that comes from serving one another. He mentioned those in society who lack faith or who have lost hope. He reminded the pilgrims that it is 'our witness to Christ which brings hope to others' and that 'it is the Church that is the sign of hope in this world'.
Watch Bishop Paul as he reflects on the morning's Mass:
Returning to Lourdes, the clergy gathered for their annual lunch, while Bishop John Wilson joined the students from Gumley House who are volunteer Red Caps. He spent time with them asking them about their individual journeys and answering all manner of questions they had for him.
In the afternoon, Bishops John Sherrington, John Wilson and Paul McAleenan went to St Frai to visit the malades. They spent time with each of them, getting to know them, providing words of encouragement and comfort and blessing them. And, of course, they spent time with the medical staff and volunteers. We found out today that several of the nursing staff were parishioners of Bishop Paul when he was Parish Priest at Stevenage, and they took this opportunity to take photos with him to share with fellow parishioners.
At the same time, the youth were invited to Adoration and a talk on vocations at Ss Cosmas and Damian Chapel. After a time of Adoration and a reading, Deacon Mike Maguire shared his faith journey and how he came to discern his vocation to the priesthood.
Later that afternoon, the pilgrims joined the Blessed Sacrament Procession, another highlight of the annual visit to Lourdes. Mary leads us to her Son, and it is only fitting that we walk with him just as he always walks with us. The medical team were especially privileged to walk behind the Blessed Sacrament and two of them were right behind the bishops as Benediction was given in the underground basilica. Deacon Mike who was a member of the Lourdes medical team prior to his ordination was one of the deacons accompanying the Blessed Sacrament.
This evening the pilgrims are invited to join the traditional sing-along at the Solitude, while the St Frai community have their own entertainment, with malades, staff and volunteers showcasing their musical, acting and comedic talents.