A report, with photos, on being a volunteer helper with HCPT, taking a group of disabled adults to Lourdes.
My trip to Lourdes July 2015 was an incredible journey. Four of us from the Aberdeen diocese travelled to Edinburgh to meet the rest of the group from East Kilbride. With good organisation we got all the people with disabilities into wheelchairs and then onto the plane. Thanks to the airport staff and the HCPT volunteers it all went smoothly and quicker than I previously thought it would.
When we arrived we all got settled in our rooms and got ready for the week ahead. Fr John joined us on the Saturday and we had Mass every day, it was lovely and was a very bonding experience. HCPT Mass however was not like your regular Mass, we all would get up and give peace to everyone in the room (which took 8 minutes each time) we also did many cheerful hymns with actions which made Mass more enjoyable and interactive for those with learning difficulties as well as the rest of us!
Being around the group for 24/7 was quite tiring and daunting for me, but we all got on and everyone was so loving and supportive – like a big family. We had three people to a room – one disabled/elderly to two helpers.
We made it to the Grotto almost every day and it was quite hectic when walking about with the wheelchairs but there thankfully was a red path on the ground for wheelchairs only that we could use. There were quite a lot of people in the Grotto but it was a wonderfully overwhelming feeling to see people of different cultures, ages and abilities coming to this one place of worship.
On the Saturday we made our way to the Baths. Having the disabled/elderly meant we could all go in first and avoid the queue. People were queued up – sitting on wooden benches in rows. Inside the Baths there were again more benches to sit and wait on and then there was a curtained area where we undressed. We had a blue robe on for before and after the Baths, to change under, and then a white cloth wrapped around us just before stepping into the Baths. Each activity was optional. Fr John talked us through the outdoor marble stations of the cross, there were 17 not 14 of them as they included the resurrection.
On the Tuesday we took a two hour bus trip further into the Pyrenees to Gavarnie. Everyone enjoyed the wonderful views of the waterfalls, cliff edges, the running stream and the mountains surrounding us. When we arrived we had a wonderful outdoor Mass in a garden of a cafe – although we were interrupted a few times by the noise of the nearby mountain rescue helicopters. The Pyrenees were in front of us and behind us were bed sheets hanging out to dry – a very unusual location! After lunch we all browsed around the village and two of us went horse riding – enjoying the beautiful scenery from a different perspective. This was also Bastille Day, and so after the tiring day out a small group decided to go back to the Grotto. Before leaving the Grotto the fireworks for Bastille Day went off which was an amazing colourful 20 minutes.
The facilities at Hosanna house were perfect, the house had two sections the right wing was “St Bernadette” where an Irish group were staying, and the left wing where we were was “Notre Dame”. In the middle was the reception, the chapel and the HCPT gift shop (many bought their gifts there instead of in Lourdes). The house; chapel and dining room and most of the bedrooms looked out onto the Pyrenees mountains, views which we enjoyed every day in Mass, relaxing and when eating, although many of us felt uneasy on Thursday when we could clearly see the lightning storm. There were two buses that both groups could use, they were equipped with a lift for the wheelchairs and some seats were removed to make room for wheelchairs.
Hosanna house is situated in Bartres, a village in the countryside a few miles from Lourdes. This village was where St Bernadette stayed with her wet nurse when she was a baby, and also returned for a couple of years to be a shepherdess. The village was beautiful and quiet and had a lovely cafe and shop. The church there is where St Bernadette’s wet nurse or “foster mother” lays at rest. The sisters there welcomed us and showed us the relic of St Bernadette. They also had a copy of St Bernadette’s handwriting.
During the week we walked in the “torch light procession” we had a banner for HCPT in front us and those in wheelchairs had a solar powered torch to hold. Anyone not pushing had a lit candle to hold. We prayed the rosary whilst walking and the rosary was said in different languages. It really showed that the Catholic Church is universal.
During the week there was a lot of work with the wheelchairs: stacking them in the bus, pushing them up and down hills and also trying to keep them steady for the person to get in and out of.
On the Wednesday we went to the Lake (Lac du Lourdes). It was very hot that day but a few of us went onto some pedallos and enjoyed the water. Then that night we had a party, the theme this year was black and white. We had a big four course meal and then had dancing and songs afterwards. Many of us used the time to sit and chat and relax. We had many great musicians on the pilgrimage who would play for us during Mass with new and old hymns. In the evenings we sang Scottish songs as well as the classics, sometimes sitting out on the terrace as the sun set on the stunning mountain views.
We also had free time around Lourdes and in Bartres. We lit candles at the Grotto, looked around the gift shops and had nice crepes in the cafes. In Bartres many would stay in the house and enjoy the stunning views, a few of us would go on walks to the sheepfold or to the village.
We saw the font in which St Bernadette was baptised, her home at the mill and then the cachot. This was the old police cell that the family lived in when bankrupt: it was a single room.
For all of this I would like to thank the Catenians for their bursary which helped fund my pilgrimage experience. I had such a wonderful time and have so many fantastic memories to look back on. I am even thinking of going back next year!
For more information about HCPT (Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust) visit www.hcpt.org.uk