The 30th annual diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes this year was held from 22nd to 27th July. The theme for the pilgrimage, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ was taken from John 2:5 when at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary commands the servants to do as Jesus tells them.
Each morning opened with morning prayers at the chapel in St Frai with a small group of seminarians, pilgrims and clergy. Cardinal Vincent gave a video message each day for pilgrims who were participating in the pilgrimage virtually from their homes.
The first major gathering of the pilgrimage was the Stations of the Cross with groups of people split among the Upper and Lower Stations (the latter being more accessible as they are on the plain). It gave the pilgrims an opportunity to relive the suffering of Christ while meditating on the words of reflection given by the chaplain, leading the Stations. No pilgrimage is complete without the mandatory diocesan photo, which followed lunch. Later that evening, the opening Mass was celebrated at St Pius X Basilica with Bishop John Wilson presiding and 21 other priests including Cardinal Vincent and Bishop Paul McAleenan concelebrating. In his homily, Bishop John’s message to the pilgrims, that ‘this week as we follow Jesus, our shepherd, we become shepherds… of one another’, aided in knitting the pilgrims closer and looking out for each other along the way.
The second day of the pilgrimage began with Mass celebrated by Cardinal Vincent in the esplanade, in front of the Rosary Basilica. Following Mass, pilgrims had time to explore Lourdes and soak in its atmosphere.
In the evening, pilgrims gathered for the penitential service at the Rosary Basilica, presided by Bishop Paul McAleenan. Bishop Paul echoed Christ’s message to the Pharisee: ‘love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Later that evening, Westminster led the Marian torchlight procession, the highlight of the pilgrimage for many. Pilgrims singing ‘Ave Maria’ with a candle in their hand, raised to the heavens, while some others chose to hold a Rosary instead, processing behind the statue of Our Lady, made for a memorable sight, and a witness to the miracles Our Lady has worked in the lives and families of all those gathered.
By the third day, pilgrims were brimming with joy from all they had experienced and looking forward to what’s next in store. The day began with the sacramental grace of the Anointing of the Sick following Bishop Paul McAleenan’s homily on the theme of ‘joy’. Indeed, joy radiated from an emotional congregation.
After lunch, pilgrims made their way to Cité St-Pierre, aka the Cathedral in the Trees. The natural setting of the trees made for a marvelous altar where Mass was offered. Bishop Paul, in his homily spoke the words of prophet Zephaniah, ‘The Lord your God will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.’ On this jubilant note, after Mass, seminarian Francis Thomas shared his journey in the seminary with great humour, inviting all to encourage and support vocations to the priesthood. For those who sought some quiet prayer after three eventful days, an hour of Adoration was held in the evening, in preparation for Adoremus, the Eucharistic Congress taking place in Liverpool from 7th to 9th September.
How often do we get an opportunity to participate in a Mass celebrated in more than four international languages? That is exactly how it was when, on the fourth day, the Underground Basilica was packed with pilgrims attending the International Mass with main celebrant Cardinal Anders Arborelius from Sweden. Simultaneously, the Reds' friends and families were also having their Mass in St Joseph’s Chapel with Bishop John Wilson. The Reds are a group within our pilgrimage comprised of young people up to age 16 years who follow a programme of spiritual teaching and assist in the St Frai during the week.
In the afternoon, pilgrims were split into different groups; all the young people gathered in Le Foret for a picnic and to spend some time together. Most of the young people here are Redcaps who help pilgrims, who require assistance. The pilgrimage also gives them an opportunity to socialise, pray as well as come closer to Christ. They rightly deserve acknowledgement for, without their efforts and cheerful enthusiasm, the pilgrimage would not have been possible for many of our less able pilgrims.
On the evening of the fourth day, there was a Sing-a-Long session, a refreshing break and a reminder, that God wants us to be happy and joyful with our community, just as much as we need prayer.
The final day of the pilgrimage had arrived. Cardinal Vincent presided at the Mass closing the pilgrimage at the Grotto. He explained: ‘We learn in the Gospel today, that Jesus is unable to resist the word of his Mother, so she will take our petitions to him and he will certainly grant all that his Mother asks.'
Due to the hot weather, the Blessed Sacrament Procession which followed was held in the Underground Basilica. In processing, we see different ways, of profession, of our faith and devotion, all united in one God.
The final event of the pilgrimage had arrived with, Cardinal Vincent lighting the diocesan candle, carrying with it all our prayers for family, friends and every member of our diocese. It was symbolic of a prolonging prayer, for as long as the candle burns and even after, the light of faith stays alive in our hearts, as we return to our everyday lives.
For photos from the pilgrimage, please see our Flickr albums.