by Elizabeth Uwalaka, Lourdes Pilgrimage Administrator
The role of Pilgrimage Administrator involves co-ordinating the many parts that go into making a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, as well as other destinations like the Holy Land or Walsingham, work.
The role covers pilgrimage publicity, negotiations with the Lourdes Sanctuary for scheduling, processing the Westminster pilgrims’ payment of the Sanctuary levy and setting up the pilgrimage booklet. I liaise with other dioceses to share knowledge and make agreements with travel companies for flight times, insurance, dates, availability, and emergencies, e.g., if a pilgrim has to return home through illness. The work involves reservations of the baths, considering new Lourdes Sanctuary initiatives, checking the layout and conditions of the St Frai for assisted pilgrims, as well as re-stocking the Lourdes Westminster Permanence with merchandise (designing and ordering badges, wristbands, bags, distribution of Lourdes raffle prizes), plus ensuring bills are settled such as St Frai Laundry costs, medication, sundries,…and more. Being a qualified French and Spanish teacher and fluent speaker has helped me in the negotiations for Westminster pilgrims’ needs with the Sanctuary on the planning days in February.
At the heart of the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes is the carriage of sick and sometimes dying pilgrims to the Grotto. I feel privileged to have met and helped so many pilgrims, and especially those of St Frai. Those who have taken a heavenward route ahead of us are deeply missed and lovingly remembered there. Everyone, frail as they are, comes to the waters in search of healing for visible as well as invisible ailments. The provision of a spiritually meaningful pilgrimage experience for such a large number of pilgrims across the diocese means it has to be delivered correctly and at cost.
It’s difficult to imagine a diocesan pilgrimage happening without volunteers and fundraising which it really needs.
Events such as the Lourdes Carol Concert in Our Lady of Victories Church,Kensington for Christmas or the New Year Panto in support of volunteer Red Caps in Shepperton Parish go towards helping with the costs. A suggested payment of £30 per person goes towards provision for assisted pilgrims, the pilgrimage booklet and the Sanctuary levy.
Pilgrims who make their own way can contact the Pilgrimage Office and register to be counted among the Westminster pilgrimage group getting their ID passes, pilgrimage booklets and other essential Westminster-specific items sent to them.
This summer, the pilgrimage is in its 30th year, and it’s an open invitation for everyone to come along, or support someone who would like to be there. If you are aged 18 or over and you see yourself as a St Frai helper, contact Nick Leonard. If you are aged 16 or over, and you can imagine donning a ‘Westminster red’ Red Caps tabard, just get in touch with Katrina Lavery, the lady who pointed me in the direction of my life-pilgrimage. I made a promise, and here I am today.
If you cannot be there, perhaps you may be able to fundraise or donate a little? I love to sing and to bake and will be helping raise money for the Pilgrimage this year.
Will you walk with me on this important journey too? I look forward to seeing you in Lourdes! Please keep all those involved in the pilgrimage in your prayers.