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Lourdes Pilgrimage – May 2017

During the May half-term, 13 students from Year 12 joined the annual Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes to care for and assist sick and disabled pilgrims. The theme of the pilgrimage was “The Almighty works marvels for me.” Throughout the week we saw God’s love in action through the selfless service of the young people and their generosity of spirit, sharing their talents, energy and time willingly with others. It was a pleasure to share the hotel with the MAC group, who praised our students for their companionship. Many thanks must go to all of the MAC group for their generosity and kindness towards our students throughout the week. Thanks must also go to Monsignor Tim Menezes who led a moving night prayer on the last evening and bought everyone pizza! The week was filled with many blessings and graces and our students were a real credit to the school community and their families. Well done to Nicole, Katie, Meg, Elizabeth, Judyth, Lisa, Chloe, Chloe, Shiera, Luke, Gregory, Adam and Kent. I am incredibly proud of each one of them, for the dedicated service they gave throughout the week in Lourdes.

Mr Miastowski
Head of Year 12

Lourdes Pilgrimage Report

The long journey to Lourdes began very early on a warm Friday morning. Yet our spirits remained high and Mr Miastowski’s quiz kept us entertained on the 6 hour train journey across France. Rolling into Lourdes in the evening though, really started the pilgrimage for me, as we drove by the beautiful torchlight procession which was taking place and seeing this left me excited for the week ahead.

Day one started with a leisurely tour around the domain, seeing the Rosary Basilica, the grotto and the huge Underground Basilica. This was followed by free time spent exploring Lourdes’ vast number of gift shops, selling anything from stuffed animals to glow-in-the-dark Marys. Then we had our first shift in the evening, spent mostly helping to move pilgrims’ luggage. After this physically demanding work, it was lovely to spend an hour or so on the roof of the Accueil hospital with a few of the VIPS, watching the torchlight procession as the sun lowered behind the surrounding Pyrenees mountains, creating a tranquil and calm setting and really signifying the start of the pilgrimage.

On the second day, we had our opening mass with the whole diocese and it was great to see all our fellow pilgrims and to feel the friendly atmosphere as Archbishop Bernard led us in Mass. We then had a Diocesan photo, standing in the blazing heat, applying layer on layer of sun cream before returning the pilgrims to the Accueil Hospital.

Over the following days, the weather may have worsened, but the pilgrimage only got better, with the highly emotional Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, where pilgrims were anointed and blessed by priests from the diocese, which was a truly surreal experience. It was strange to go from this small and personal service to an international mass in the Underground Basilica, with thousands of pilgrims, most of whom were Portuguese.  Even though we understood few words from the mass, the feeling of knowing that all these people were here in God’s name was special.  The shifts continued as we formed new friendships, strengthened old ones and served the sick pilgrims anyway we could (including a beautiful rendition of “Sing it in the valleys”). 

An afternoon off on the Wednesday left us with time to take a trip out of Lourdes, up to the top of Pic de Jur, giving us amazing views of Lourdes, the surrounding scenery and the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees. Even the terrifying, near vertical funicular railway to the top and the lack of ice cream couldn’t stop our afternoon from being a stand out moment on the pilgrimage. In the evening, a concert led by the wonderful Jo Boyce got everyone dancing, even some of the sick pilgrims, and was a fitting end to a great day.

Thursday came along, which we all knew was the last day of our pilgrimage. Some last minute gift shopping was followed by Confession, another incredibly emotional service, leaving us cleansed, with weight off our shoulders ready to leave Lourdes. The day continued with the privilege of a visit from Monsignor Tim Menezes, a former student of St Thomas Aquinas, who joined us for dinner and then led us in night prayer. A time for personal and group reflection, we thought back on our pilgrimage and the experiences we had shared together, with few of us not shedding tears. Pizza, however, meant the tears disappeared, whilst having a (soft) drink with the MAC group, who we had shared our hotel with and who had been a great inspiration to us throughout the pilgrimage.

Waving goodbye to Lourdes, Friday morning marked the beginning of the end as we set out on our journey back home. We were welcomed back to a typically rainy Birmingham and returned home to our family and friends, but leaving behind our new Lourdes Family.

One moment that stood out for me was my visit to the Baths. Even an hour and a half wait didn’t spoil the extraordinary experience of being dunked into the freezing cold spring waters and coming out feeling spiritually renewed and refreshed; it is something that I would highly recommend. Another moment that stood out for me was spending time with the sick pilgrims, in which we learnt many valuable lessons and were inspired by their stories. It was also amazing to see the massive number of people, from across the world who had come to Lourdes, all for the same reason: to serve God and to serve others.

I’d like to thank the diocese for their brilliant organisation of the trip and Mr Miastowski, Mr Smyllie and Mrs Smyllie for making the trip a reality and making it as brilliant as it was. Lourdes has been a humbling, spiritually rewarding and fun experience which I would highly recommend to everyone.

Year 12 student

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