Every Easter over 1,000 disabled and disadvantaged children and their volunteer helpers enjoy a fun and happy week in Lourdes with the charity HCPT (The Children’s Pilgrimage Trust). The charity exists to help pilgrims answer Mary’s call to come to Lourdes in procession, a request made to us through Bernadette.
This week we will be following HCPT Group 176 from Bristol and their Chaplain and Group Leader Fr Tom Finnegan from St John’s Parish Trowbridge, on their pilgrimage to Lourdes. They hope to share with us their experiences, prayers, thoughts and photographs as they share with each other God’s gift of love, friendship and joy, and reflect on the theme of the Pilgrimage “You are Special”. Please watch this space for daily updates.
You can see the pictures on the right of this page and more will be added daily!
Our Pilgrimage has begun! Today we heard Bernadette’s story and found out why Lourdes is such a special place. We went to see the Cachot – the place where Bernadette lived with her family and were surprised by how small it was. We had our first visit to the Grotto where Bernadette saw Mary 14 times. There was a statue of Mary standing in the place where Our Lady appeared. Fr Tom showed us the hole where Bernadette discovered the spring and we drank Lourdes water from the taps and washed our hands and faces. In the afternoon we attended the HCPT opening liturgy and were reminded that Our Lady invited us to wash in the water, come in procession and pray. We will be praying for you during our week. Please pray for us.
Today we left the busy-ness of Lourdes and headed to Gavarnie, a ski resort high up in the Pyrenees. It’s a beautifully quiet place with spectacular scenery, fresh mountain air and a fast flowing stream. Much of the ground was still covered with snow and Group 176 enjoyed a picnic lunch, a picturesque walk, a snowball fight and some Irish dancing! This evening we’re back in Lourdes and our day has just concluded with the torch light procession.
One of the children tells us “I loved the torchlight procession because there were so many people and hundreds of candles. Everyone was singing Ave Maria and it was very peaceful. We said the Rosary in lots of different languages. At the end, everyone from HCPT started singing and dancing and we all did the actions to Rise and Shine.”
Today we visited the Baths because Mary said to Bernadette “Drink from the spring and wash in the water”.
Ann (aged 11) told us “The water was very cold but it was refreshing too. I prayed for my auntie and afterwards I felt warm inside.”
Sahana (aged 9) said “The cold water helped me to focus and I was thinking about my cousin who has cancer. I am going to fill up a bottle with holy water and take it home at the end of the week. I will put it on my skin when my eczema is bad.”
In the afternoon the other HCPT groups from the South West region joined us for Mass. Fr Tom Finnegan, Fr Kevin Hennessy and Deacon David Wakefield were there with their groups and the chapel was full of people from the Clifton Diocese. At the Mass we prayed for Bishop Declan and all past and present supporters of HCPT. Fr Tom reminded us, with the help of a £20 note, how special we all are and that God loves us very much.
One of the children writes “Today we gathered in the underground Basilica for the Trust Mass. Group 176 joined 5000 other pilgrims for an amazing celebration full of life, colour, music and smiles. There was a great atmosphere and everyone was clapping and dancing. Arabella (aged 8) said “I have never been in such a big church before” and Georgie (aged 11) commented that she had never seen so many priests. There were groups from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Poland, Switzerland, America, the West Indies and Croatia. Bishop Manuel Cruz, the Auxiliary Bishop of Newark presided over the Mass and he talked about the theme of the pilgrimage “You are special”. We were all wearing group colours and the place was alive with flags and banners. We were allowed to wear face paints. Even Fr Tom has paint on his face and looked very joyful!”
On this, our last full day in Lourdes, we visited Hosanna House, an attractive and tranquil home in Bartres – the village where Bernadette spent much of her childhood. Hosanna House was opened by HCPT as a response to young pilgrims who wanted to enjoy the HCPT Lourdes experience as adults. We had Mass together in the garden overlooking the mountains and said thank you for all the special times we’ve shared this week and prayed for sick pilgrims.
Back in Lourdes, Group 176 had their last visit to the Grotto to light candles. One of the children said “We know the candles will still be burning when we leave tomorrow so Mary and Bernadette will keep praying for us even after we’ve left Lourdes”.
Even with all their difficulties, hardships and illnesses, the children have so much to teach us about love and faith and we thank them for all they have given to the group this week and ask God to bless them.
We have come to the end of our Pilgrimage. Later today we will fly back to Bristol.
We came to Lourdes because Our Lady asked us to.
Everywhere we went her son Jesus was with us.
He was with us very specially when we celebrated Mass together and received Holy Communion.
In our games, walks and fun, and in all we did together Jesus was close to us.
Now we must leave Lourdes and go back to our homes, schools and parishes but we will have many special memories to take with us and new friends to pray for.
Thank you Clifton Diocese for journeying with us on our Pilgrimage.
You have been remembered in our prayers and there is a candle burning for you in the Grotto.
Please continue supporting us through your prayers and at our fundraising events. We are truly grateful for your help and will continue praying for you.
If you would like to find out more about a HCPT pilgrimage, please visit www.hcpt.org.uk and search for a group near you.