Lourdes 2016

James Murphy shares an account of his time in Lourdes with Coach 5.

The year started off, as all do, with a departure from Saint Joseph’s, being waved off by friends and family. After going to Lourdes for four years now I have become accustomed to something going wrong on the coach journey but whether by divine intervention or luck we managed to get on the early ferry (a rarity for coach 5) and have a smooth trip through France.

We arrived in Lourdes early Friday and went on a scavenger hunt in our groups. It was a good chance to show the first years around Lourdes and snap a few ‘holy selfies’ too. After tea was our welcome mass with the Archbishop and as usual Aileen and Jenny’s group was at hand to provide some top quality music.

The second day was something that I have never done before in Lourdes. After the welcome mass for the assisted pilgrims coaches 1,2,3,5 and 9 met at the City of the Poor, just outside of Lourdes for the first ever ‘Grotto Games’. This was a great chance to meet new people from other coaches and also take part in some fun games including a lime and spoon obstacle course. Although you can’t help but get a little competitive in these things it was a great day and good laugh. The day was rounded off by the youth Torchlight Procession.

Day three was our first day working with the assisted pilgrims, something we were all excited for. We were up early and at the Saint Frai to take the pilgrims down to the grotto mass at 8:30 and then the pilgrimage photograph afterwards. In true Lourdes fashion it looked like it was going to pour down all the way through mass then came into lovely sunshine in time for the photo. The pilgrims then had time to rest or go do some shopping before we took them down for the Blessed Sacrament Procession at 17:00. I was on water duty something I hadn’t done before but really enjoyed, it gave a chance to talk to a lot of the assisted pilgrims both old and new.

The Monday was my favourite day of the week. As an over 18, I get the chance to work in the Saint Frai for the day with the assisted pilgrims. During the day we help get them into the dining room for breakfast and lunch, as well as helping them get ready to go out into Lourdes. But the best part about the hospital day is the time we have to just sit in and talk with the pilgrims, anyone who goes to Lourdes will know Joe P and his jokes (which I got to hear a lot of throughout the day) and I managed to spend a lot of time in the room with him, Phil and John and hearing about Joe’s order of 20 blocks of cheese for his friends back home.

Tuesday was coach 5’s day off and after a Brexit like referendum we decided to go to the beach. It was a great day even with coach leader Ben trying to get across the inflatables in comical fashion, but God loves a trier.
After tea we took the coach back up to the City of the Poor for Reconciliation. It was well rounded off by our Disney theme night and final over 18’s. There was a range of costumes with myself, Alex Ryding and Brendan Sargent going as the toy soldiers from Toy Story which seemed a great idea but turned into a very hot and sweaty affair.

Wednesday was our final full day in Lourdes. We had the International Mass early in the morning with the pilgrims and then had time to take them out to do some shopping or pick up any gifts we needed for family back home. I picked up my brother a very respectable and not at all tacky glow in the dark Mary for all his praying needs. We then went to the upper basilica for Torchfest and finished just in time for the end of the Torchlight Procession. We then had night prayer and ran over to the Café Royal for our final night of the week finishing off with ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams echoing through the streets one last time and then off to the grotto for our own time and a final reflection as a coach.

Thursday was our final day in Lourdes and is always a hectic one. We took the assisted pilgrims down for the Mass of Anointing in the morning then where back again for the farewell service lead by the Archbishop at 14:30. I was on esplanade for that so it was a great chance to say bye to all the pilgrims who I’d seen and spoke to throughout the week. We then had our own youth farewell service and then ran back to the hotel to get on the coach for the journey home.

Every year Lourdes is a busy, hectic experience and you always leave more tired and worn out than when you came but I wouldn’t change it for the world and I look forward to going again next year.