As the pilgrims gather in Lourdes today, Bishop John Sherrington reflects on what this pilgrimage means to us.
Preparations are almost complete and pilgrims are joining the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, the Shrine of Our Lady where she appeared to St Bernadette in1858. Since that time pilgrims have travelled to this holy place to pray, to find peace and consolation, and to unite their suffering with the Lord on the Cross. Many will have received petitions from family, friends and parishioners, which they carry with them to Lourdes. Some people will have asked for prayers and many pilgrims will have offered to light candles for their loved ones or bring home Lourdes water for protection. Many people who cannot travel unite their prayers with the travelling pilgrims and will use the diocesan website for updates and news.
At the heart of the pilgrimage are the malades, those pilgrims who are living with more serious sickness or disability. The pilgrims from St Joseph's Pastoral Centre, too, always take a central place among the pilgrims. The malades provide the raison d'être for the pilgrimage. The young 'redcaps' from schools, colleges and places of work will travel and discover more deeply the meaning of self-giving and what it means 'to go the extra mile' in service of the most vulnerable amongst us. Although they may not articulate it in this way, they enter into the kenosis (self-emptying) of Christ for the good of others.
This year the central theme of Lourdes is captured in the words of the 13th of the 18 apparitions on 2nd March 1858. On that morning, Our Lady told St Bernadette, 'Go and tell the priests to build a chapel here.'
The various chapels around the shrine point to the fulfilment of the invitation of Our Lady across the years: build a chapel here. They point towards the invitation of Our Lady to St Bernadette, and to us, to come to Lourdes. This is where she welcomes us. They provide a sanctuary for prayer and a privileged place for the encounter with God where we meet Christ Risen from the dead. Jesus is the bread of life who feeds us on the journey of life and who says, 'Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.'
In Lourdes we gather as the Body of Christ, suffering and Risen, to give glory to God. As living stones of Christ's Body, we are the Church of Westminster gathered around Cardinal Vincent as Archbishop, following the command of Our Lady to St Bernadette.
As we pray for you, please pray for those of us on pilgrimage.
Photo: A Redcap accompanies an assisted pilgrim on the 2022 diocesan pilgrimage