Lourdes 2017

Lourdes Memories 2017

Young people from across the Archdiocese reflect upon what this year’s pilgrimage to Lourdes has meant for them, and how the Lord has done great things for them.

Coach 1, Liverpool – Ciara Mooney, 19

Each July over 450 volunteers, aged between 15 and 21, from the Liverpool Archdiocese, serve sick, elderly and frail people in Lourdes.

I was blessed, at only 15 years old, to have my first experience in Lourdes. At first it was daunting for someone as quiet as me. I felt nervous getting on a coach filled with big characters. Though, this anxious feeling didn’t last long, as the people on coach one instantly made me feel welcome and made sure I was able to get involved by teaching me the coach songs. I am so glad that I had the courage to sign up back in 2014, as I now can’t imagine a year without going to Lourdes.

Each year I experience something different in Lourdes, but the unimaginable sense of faith and unity is always the same. The pivotal difference between the pilgrimages each year, are the themes. This year’s theme was ‘The Almighty has done great things for me’. This was thought provoking, and therefore really encouraged everyone to think about how lucky we are. I was humbled by the pilgrim’s joy and appreciation for life, despite their illnesses and circumstances. I am inspired by their positivity and strength at all times. Each year the pilgrims have a lasting impact on me. Personally, it reminds me about how blessed I am in life and allows me to explore my life, through faith.

The youth are responsible for a range of duties which are centred around the St Frai Hospital and the hotels, where the pilgrims stay.  The youth’s roles vary from; simply keeping the pilgrims company during their free time, by having a chat and a drink with them, to taking them to masses at the domain or taking them shopping. These duties can be hard work and tiring, yet always enriching. They give us a chance to interact and listen to stories of the pilgrim’s fulfilled lives.

I have been entrusted with further duties now that I am over 18. These duties are largely based on the ward in the St Frai. This year, my role involved assisting pilgrims at meal times and preparing them for their day. The over 18’s are also responsible for cleaning the ward environment, from coffee tables to toilets. I also enjoy esplanade duty, which involves the volunteers marking out routes to masses and services, illuminated by our famous yellow t-shirts. This gives us the chance to briefly speak to every pilgrim and see their joy as they embark on their religious experience. It is heart-warming to watch the youth, particularly the newer members, form relationships with the pilgrims. I believe this shows how amazing young people are and gives me a real sense of hope for the future.

This year, one of my favourite moments was when coach one spent a night together. On Sunday night, we met at the Prairie to do prayer stations and light candles. The prayer stations were a series of spiritual activities. They encouraged us to stop and reflect on our own lives, for the first time, since arriving in Lourdes. We shared our thoughts and emotions with members of the group. It is difficult to describe how moved you become in that situation. Lourdes is like a sanctuary, where people feel empowered to open up about their lives. It feels amazing to comfort those who discuss the difficulties that they are facing. I was humbled to listen to people, who I had only known for a short time. That night was particularly overwhelming, as I witnessed God’s presence around me in other people. Our strengthened relationships enabled us to console other pilgrims, who were also struggling.

The thing I look forward to the most each year is the torchlight procession, which the youth take part in alongside the pilgrims. It's truly remarkable to witness thousands of people who are all of different ages, backgrounds and cultures, gathering in one faith. It is really special to listen to prayer spoken in different languages. This confirms religion has no barriers.

This year’s pilgrimage ended for the Liverpool Archdiocese with a moving farewell service, filled with smiles, laughter, and a few tears. There was a display of pictures, showing the volunteers carrying out their duties. This highlighted the difference we had made to people’s Lourdes experience. I can’t convey how fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to make a lasting impact on someone's life.

This pilgrimage has had a massive impact on me personally. Initially I was inspired by my grandparents to have my own experience at Lourdes. Listening to their stories and seeing their strengthened faith when they returned was incredible. I knew it was something I had to do. Consequently, after five years of volunteering in Lourdes, I am eager to begin a career as a Paramedic. For me, helping the vulnerable and sick is a privilege and is profoundly rewarding. This experience has taught me a lot about myself and my own spirituality. I love working with caring and conscientious people. I am so thankful for this experience and believe I have become a more confident and responsible person.

In true tradition, coach one took the longest to get home out of the nine coaches. Despite it taking us 27 hours to return to Liverpool, I am already looking forward to returning to Lourdes in 2018.

Coach 2, Knowsley – Bethany Holt, 21

Everything you do every day you are in Lourdes is special. Every moment, every second has the ability to become a life changing event. This year in particular has been special to me with it being my last year as youth on coach 2. It has made me look at each activity in a new light and cherish them even more. Every mass I found myself reminiscing on the others I'd been to over the past 5 years, remembering how each one was slightly different, special and unique. Every time I was fortunate enough to push a pilgrim I found myself thinking of all those I had pushed before, remembering their stories, wondering how they are doing now. Every time we socialised as coach, within ourselves and with others, I was reminded of standout moments from previous years, inside jokes I had found so hilarious and goose bump inducing moments such as singing Angels or Hey Jude that one last time. Remembering these moments, experiences and all the things I've learnt encouraged me to speak in the closing liturgy, which I felt was a positive way to round off my time as a yellow and highlight the biggest gift I'd been given, my coach family.

I think that's what I enjoyed most about Lourdes this year. How, despite it being sad, the week really summarised all the amazing experiences I'd had from my time on coach 2, allowing me to realise how much I've grown, how much family I've gained and how the past 5 years have simply changed my life.

Coach 3, St. Helens – Frankie Lennon, 18

This year at Lourdes was my third year of being a volunteer and most importantly a pilgrim in probably my most favourite place on earth. The energy that was shared together on this year’s pilgrimage was awe inspiring and a pleasure to be part of; especially as it was my first year of being an over 18 volunteer and being with other young people of similar belief and faith. Each year on returning to Lourdes is different, but meeting old friends and new shows how together we can all band together and be inspired by the marvels God has done for all of us. It goes without saying I'll be returning next year to continue our archdioceses' good work in Lourdes!

Coach 4, Wigan and Leigh – Jack Simpson, 21

This was my 6th year on the Liverpool archdiocese youth pilgrimage to Lourdes and it is still consistently the highlight of my year every year!

Lourdes is an incredible place to serve people you’ve never met before, develop new skills and to make new friends and this year was no different. The pilgrimage presents a unique opportunity to reflect on our lives and to strengthen our faith to gain a closer relationship with God. This year’s theme of ‘the lord does almighty things for me’ really allowed me to reflect upon my life and appreciate just how lucky I am.

While it is always difficult to pick out a single highlight from such an uplifting week my personal favourite part of this years pilgrimage was taking the pilgrims down to mass and just generally socialising with them on over 18’s duty. It’s amazing to see so many people of different ages and backgrounds come together to share the same faith, it was a week of smiling!

 I met a lovely lady who I got to know throughout the week and she shared some truly inspirational stories with me. On one day we spent some time in prayer together down at the grotto! It was a powerful experience and was made even more moving to share it with the pilgrims in such a special place!

All in all it is impossible to put into words just how good the week was, it is simply life changing!

Coach 5, Penwortham & Chorley – Gemma Smith, 20

In Lourdes, this summer, the Lord truly did great things for me. This was my fifth year going to Lourdes with Coach 5 and yet again it has challenged and developed me as a person. My most touching experiences this year were when I worked in the baths, which included the great opportunity to work with the assisted and youth pilgrims of Liverpool. Everyone who goes to the baths wants to be healed; whether it be physically, mentally or spiritually, and no matter what language they speak or their culture, they can be supported physically and emotionally as they experience the baths. This can be tough however the work is immeasurably rewarding. For anyone who is thinking of trying Lourdes then I would say go for it! You might not think you’re the type of person to go but surprise yourself and send the form in 7th November, you won’t regret it. In my first year I didn’t get the coach I applied for and didn’t know anyone, but 5 years on I still haven’t left Coach 5 and have made some life-long friends, so if none of your friends are applying then don’t worry. Being on the coach is like having an extended family that grows with each year; we laugh together and sing in the cafes, work together with the assisted pilgrims, have some very early mornings and support each other even after Lourdes.

Coach 6, Warrington – Emily Nevinson, 20

To me, Lourdes is a really special place. It's somewhere where I have made friends for life, and each year I come back, those bonds are strengthened. Also, seeing how many young people there are still involved with the church makes me realise that the church has a future, and the kindness and accepting nature of everyone gives me hope for this future and reinforces my faith. The experiences I have in Lourdes each year are never quite the same, but it is an experience I hope to have each year for as long as I can.

Coach 7, Sefton – Emily Crewe, 17

It has been nearly two weeks since returning from another amazing week in Lourdes and the blues are still strong. I often try to explain how much I enjoyed my week to others and find myself struggling to put it into words. There’s something special about spending time with other members of the Liverpool youth in a place like Lourdes. It’s truly a pleasure sharing the experience with them, strengthening our faith and making new friendships which are sure to last a lifetime. This year the theme of our pilgrimage was “The Almighty has done great things for me”. On Coach 7 we were asked to think about where we could find God in our lives, and we found that he was there in everything we appreciated and were thankful for. I personally found God in the bonds I made with people throughout the week and in the smiles on the faces of the assisted pilgrims when we took them out and chatted to them. It’s simple things like this that are overlooked, that often mean the most. I am truly grateful for the opportunities and experiences I’ve had from coming to Lourdes for the past 3 years and I can’t wait for memories to continue being made in Lourdes in the future.

Coach 8, Ormskirk & Leyland – Harriet Cunliffe, 17

Going to Lourdes is such a great experience to have. This was my second year going and both times I have had such an amazing time. You make such great friends and even though we are busy every day, you still feel peaceful. You are given the time to sit and reflect and it's time that you don't really get during the rest of the year as we are always so busy. Even the 24-hour coach journey is fun, it gives you the time to make friends with people as we sing our heads off to Pitch Perfect (coach 8 love Pitch Perfect). Singing with other coaches at night is amazing we spend time getting to know people our own age that are Catholics. Being with that many people who share your beliefs is uplifting and inspiring it shows you that are not alone in your faith. The energy we produce as a group is mind blowing, as we sing and dance in our youth masses. Meeting the pilgrims is also great, getting to know them and how many times they have been to Lourdes, who they go with, and talking to them about your journeys to Lourdes shows that at any age you can feel the power and joy of faith.

Coach 9, Wides & Isle of Man – Molly Darracott ,17

My second year at Lourdes has confirmed that it really is the best place in the world. Not just Lourdes itself but the people too. Everyone has their own reasons for being there but we all have a common yearning to serve.

A highlight for me this year was definitely Torchlight. The rain meant that we weren't able to push pilgrims through the procession and as unfortunate as that was, several members of Coach  9 were asked to be stewards in front of the Rosary Basilica. Little did we know that this meant we would be able to stand on the steps of the Basilica beside the figure of Our Lady and see hundreds of people with their candles. It was the most beautiful things I have ever seen. When the crowd raised their torches to 'Ave Maria', the domain lit up and I looked to my friends in disbelief that we were lucky enough to be able to experience such a wonderful night of prayer and worship.

Coach 9 truly is my extended family and it fills me with such joy to see us growing us in faith together as well as working together to help the assisted pilgrims throughout the week.

I can't wait for next year not just to see all of my amazing friends but also to experience the indescribable atmosphere of Lourdes once again.

People always ask me "Why do you love Lourdes so much?" or "What is it like?" and I genuinely never have an answer. I always end up telling them that they just have to go and experience it themselves. So if you are uhming and ahing about going, GO! I promise you won't regret it.