Lourdes Pilgrimage - May 2015

Lourdes 2015 

On the Friday before half-term, a group of staff and students from St Thomas Aquinas travelled to Lourdes. This was a special year as it was the 75th anniversary of Birmingham Diocese’s annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady in Southern France. It was also memorable since it was Fr Jan’s last week as chaplain to our school and as parish priest at St Brigid’s. 

Arriving at Lourdes on Friday gave our group time to experience Lourdes before the Diocesan pilgrimage arrived on the Saturday. Lourdes is a place of love and healing, where those who are sick are especially welcomed. The week provided our students with the opportunity to serve those in need in a very special way by using their gifts and talents to act as helpers.  

On Saturday, our group welcomed 38 pilgrims from Birmingham to the Accueil, chatting to them and helping them to settle into their new home for the next week before joining them for Mass in the Accueil chapel. Despite some initial nerves, by the end of the day our students had become well acquainted with the VIPs and marked the beginning of what was to be a fulfilling week.  

The pilgrimage officially began on Sunday, the day of Pentecost, with the opening Mass. It was great to see so many youth and school groups present, alongside many parishes, coming together as a Diocesan family. His Grace, Archbishop Bernard Longley, spoke about the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit and how we would be encouraged to use these during our time in Lourdes. Throughout the week we reflected on the Joy of Mission and how we are called, as followers of Christ, to imitate his example of love. 

Monday saw Birmingham joining pilgrims from the Dioceses of Middlesbrough and Plymouth and the Society of Our Lady of Lourdes for Mass at the grotto. In previous years the outdoor Mass has always been celebrated at the Podium Altar and so to celebrate Mass where Mary appeared to St Bernadette was extra special. This was followed by Holy Hour and Anointing of the Sick at the Rosary Basilica, where we spent moments of quiet reflection in God’s presence and were reminded of God’s power to heal and transform us. 

Tuesday was a very busy day for the Diocese. The day began with the Hospitalite Mass, where medals were distributed in recognition of the helpers who visit Lourdes and the service they give, followed by the Diocesan photograph and visits to the baths. Birmingham also led the Blessed Sacrament and Torchlight processions with Mr James being privileged to be part of the procession crew. At the end of the day, Fr Jan joined us to pray for the school community and a candle was lit at the grotto as a symbol of the intentions we had offered to the intercession of Our Lady. 

On Wednesday, we joined other nationalities from around the world for the International Mass in the Underground Basilica. It is always a pleasure to share our faith as a wider community and remember that we are members of a worldwide Church. After Mass we enjoyed some well-earned down time whilst the VIPs visited Bartres, taking a journey to the beautiful Pic De Jer. We finished the day with an evening of inspirational music led by Jo Boyce, Dan Callow and Andy Ross. 

Thursday was the feast of St Augustine, with Mass being led by the MAC group. We also visited the Stations of the Cross, reflecting on God’s love for us and his journey to Calvary, which was ideal preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation which was to be celebrated later that afternoon. 

On Friday the school group began the journey back to Birmingham after what was a truly amazing and blessed week. It was made even more special by the students who gave so much during their time in Lourdes, fully committing themselves to the service of the VIPs and sharing their talents so generously. I know that their hard work left a lasting impression on so many and I must thank each and every one of them for all that they gave to this pilgrimage. Well done to Alaina, Amelia, Breanne, Caitlin, Chelsey, Chloe, Eilish, Katie, Keisha, Olivia and Theresa, who were excellent ambassadors of our school and a true credit to young people. Hopefully, they will return to school feeling changed by their Lourdes experience, having a deeper understanding of their faith and ready to continue their mission of bringing Christ’s love to others. 

Thanks must go to all those who made this pilgrimage possible. In particular, the Lourdes pilgrimage committee from the Archdiocese of Birmingham, the Birmingham Hospitalite and to the staff from school, Mr James and Mr Smith. A special mention must also go to MrSmyllie for leading the school group and to his wife for accompanying students on the trip. Preparations will soon be underway for Lourdes 2016 and any Year 11 student who is interested in joining the school party next year should speak to MrSmyllie or myself to register their interest. 

Teacher of Religious Education  


My Lourdes Experience 

Lourdes for me was absolutely amazing. I can’t put into words how beautiful it is! I have seen many pictures of Lourdes, especially of the Grotto, but after my experience I can honestly say that no picture can justify the beauty of Lourdes. For me personally,I had never been abroad so I had to get my first passport and I flew on my first plane journey. It was great sharing my first experience on a plane with the Lourdes group. 

The first day we arrived, Mr Miastowski took us on a little tour of the domain including the Basilica and not forgetting the Grotto. I was amazed at how many people were in the domain already and the Birmingham party hadn’t even arrived yet! We were shown the Accueil and even that was a beautiful building. Our hotel was lovely and our hosts made us feel very welcome and the food was lovely! 

Our first shift began on Saturday afternoon and we were all nervous about meeting the Pilgrims and staff around the Accueil, however as soon as we walked in we were greeted with smiles all around. The Pilgrims had not long arrived and were enjoying their first lunch in Lourdes.Our job was to take them back to their allocated rooms and help them unpack and get comfortable. As soon as I walked into the dining room I saw a familiar face; it was a man called John Farrell and he was from my parish back in Birmingham. Seeing him got rid of my nerves completely. The first Pilgrim I came into contact with was a lovely lady called Audrey and unfortunately she was going blind, so I went over and helped her out of her chair and introduced myself and took her to her room. I then helped her unpack her belongings and we then sat and had a lovely chat before mass at 5 o’clock. I loved listening to the stories she was telling me about; after all she is 100 years old this year!  

Every Pilgrim I had the pleasure of meeting had their own stories to tell and it was lovely to just sit and listen to them. Some of them I was able to go into town with later on in the week, which again was lovely. There was a mass/service everyday and I had the privilege to serve at a couple of them alongside the Archbishop and Father Jan. The masses had beautiful music and meeting Jo Boyce was amazing too! 

My favourite service was the Reconciliation service because the atmosphere was beautiful and everyone was so reverent and respectful. I actually got quite emotional after I had been to reconciliation because you could hear a pin drop in the room. It was lovely! 

We took part in several candle lit processions and every one of them was just beautiful. I had never seen so many flames before and even though most of the service was said in a different language I still felt able to take part and I felt welcomed into taking part as well.  

On the Tuesday I had the opportunity to go to the baths. I was very nervous about going in but I was determined to do it because I knew it would be very rewarding. Amelia, Theresa, Eilish, Alaina and Iall went to the baths together and we were all very nervous about going in. I sat next to a lovely lady who put her arm around me and reassured me that everything was going to be ok and that she also felt nervous on her first visit but it was definitely worth it. I was finally called in and I was told what to do. I said a few prayers for my family and friends before I went in. The water was unbelievably cold, it took my breath away but it was so clear and beautiful! After being put into the water and then brought back up again, I was soaked, however, after leaving the bath to put my clothes back on I was amazed because I was stone dry so I didn’t need to dry myself. After leaving the baths we all had a very emotional moment with a couple of the girls even crying, but we were all very glad that we had decided to go in. 

Overall, Lourdes was the best trip I have ever been on and I am definitely hoping I can go again next year. I met so many amazing people who I will definitely be keeping in touch with as well as hopefully being reunited with next year. I would definitely recommend going to Lourdes because I can honestly say it has made me a better person and I have come back refreshed and ready to “Go out on my mission of love”. 

Thank you to everyone who came, including the members of staff. I can’t wait to go again! 


Olivia Young 
Teresa House 2A

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