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Ahead of the debate on the Assisted Dying Bill tabled by Lord Falconer in the House of Lords on Friday 18 July, Cardinal Vincent gave the Pause for Thought on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2. He spoke about his upcoming pilgrimage to Lourdes and how the experience of pilgrimage there can teach us about seeing the face of Christ in the disabled and sick that are encountered.

BBC Radio 2

Pause for thought

17 July 2014.

On Sunday I'm off to the south of France! Not on holiday - that comes later - but to Lourdes, the pilgrim shrine in the Pyrenees. We go at the invitation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who appeared there to Bernadette, a poor sickly child, one of the outcasts of the town. She taught Bernadette how to pray and how to place her trust in God. We go to learn the same lessons.

A thousand people are on the pilgrimage with me, and we join the millions who go there every year. Among them are many who are seriously ill and many others with significant special needs. The journey is tough going, but the pilgrimage is a highlight of the year and a time of lasting grace and deep friendship.

In Lourdes the sick are given pride of place. Traffic gives way to wheelchairs and space is always made for them in the cafés and bars. Young volunteers are ready to help. In Lourdes they learn to see beyond the terrible effects of illness, age and physical deformity to the character and spirit of the person they are caring for. Each day they learn to express the compassionate love of God who never abandons us even when we feel lost and abandoned ourselves.

Here all the lessons about caring for the sick and dying are spelt out boldly: the innate dignity of each person; the exhausting demands and the rewards of caring for them; the horizon of eternity, of heaven, in which we live each day and how through love, care and medical skill we help each other to bear the sufferings that life brings – the real meaning of ‘compassion’.

Here there is no talk of the futility of needless suffering, or that suffering should have the last word on our existence. There are no cruel implications that the terminally ill are a burden on our way of life and our resources. Here no one points to the dark door of suicide, whether assisted or not. Lourdes has far more to teach us about dying well than the killing clinics of Holland or Switzerland. Many of those who come to Lourdes, especially the nurses, the palliative care specialists and the vulnerable, will listen to some voices in this week’s debate with horror and a cold fear invading their bones.

On our pilgrimage, true perspectives will be restored. We’ll come home full of joy in the Lord and in one another. It’s a great week, a powerful lesson for life and one I never want to miss.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Westminster

The Cardinal's broadcast on BBC Radio 2 follows a pastoral letter on assisted dying from Bishop Mark O'Toole of Plymouth and plans to hold holy hours in parishes in the diocese of Portsmouth on the eve of the debate as announced by Bishop Phillip Egan. The Cardinal also signed a joint letter with faith leaders from across the country expressing their concern at Lord Falconer's Bill which was published on Wednesday 16 July.