This year, a college, we embarked on our first Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. A a year of planning, risk assessments and lots and lots of fundraising lead to 16 fantastic year 10 students setting off with myself and (the equally fantastic) Miss Hickox and Miss Welsh at the beginning of May half term.

Lourdes is a holy site of pilgrimage for Catholics across the world; it is the place where Mary appeared to St Bernadette 18 times in 1858. Around 7 million people now travel to Lourdes each year and there have been 66 recorded miracles at Lourdes, with people travelling there to seek spiritual, emotional or physical healing.

The week was one of a number of firsts. The students met at school at 4am on Saturday morning; for some of the students this was the first time they had realised that there are two 4 o clocks in a day! Thanks to Mr Morgan and a very helpful parent, we made our way down to Stansted airport to jet off to Lourdes. The two hour flight to Lourdes airport was another first for some of the students, and flying brought a mixed response, with some students loving it and others I think disliking it so much they would have preferred to walk to Lourdes!

After arriving in Lourdes by Saturday lunchtime, and having some time to settle in, the rest of the week was one packed with fun, faith, emotion, new friendships and new experiences. Many of the students who decided to come on pilgrimage were not religious, and some openly atheist. All of the students entered into the week with an open mind and a willingness to get stuck in. Students attended Mass every day and took part in processions, reconciliation service and anointing of the sick. However, they didn’t just attend these services, they were involved in all of them and often played very important roles. They represented the school by carrying the brand new school banner at every service, but also represented the whole diocese by carrying the Cross of St Chad or the Diocesan flags, right a the front of processions. Our students showed caring and compassion by giving out blankets and water to the sick and elderly during Mass and worked well as a team when they carried out the Mass collection and ran the office containing all of the banners and flags. On one morning, our students introduced the Mass for the whole Diocese with a reflection on the people who have heard and acted on God’s call in their lives.

Our students got to spend time in the Accueil too (the hospital where the sick and elderly pilgrims stay) where they sang a grace before lunch for the sick pilgrims as well as spending two afternoons with them. In these afternoons the students played games with the sick pilgrims, sat and talked with them, made bracelets and painted their nails. This was definitely a highlight for the students and the level of care and compassion they showed again was a particular highlight for me.

One of the really special things about Lourdes is the sense of community and togetherness. A young person who is religious can sometimes feel very outnumbered in everyday life. In Lourdes, the students were surrounded by other young people who were all there to express or explore their faith. This will have been the first time our students will have seen so many young people at Mass or in services expressing or talking about their faith, and I know this had an impact on our students. They got to spend time with young people from schools across our diocese and got to make lots of new friends.

There was lots of time for socialising and fun – the week wasn’t all praying as I think some of the students we left behind in Chelmsley Wood thought! On Wednesday we took the students up a mountain called the Pic du Jer. We went up train called the funicular railway – it was very steep! At the top the views were obscured ever so slightly (possibly an understatement!) by the low cloud and rain, but the caves we toured at the top were amazing. We spent time together drinking coke and hot chocolate in cafe’s, shopping for our ‘Tacky gift’ competition (I think a Mary cork bottle-top won, with a glow in the dark rosary coming second!) and the students ate copious amounts of crepes! After consuming lots of lemon and sugar crepes they even came up with their own dance; the ‘citrus dance’ – just ask one of them to demonstrate!

We ended our pilgrimage together with a visit to the Grotto. We put the intentions of our families, friends and everyone at College in the box at the Grotto and prayed for everyone when lighting a candle across the river. Then we ended with a final prayer and song together.

When we started our pilgrimage, the students came together in little pockets of friendship groups. During the week they bonded and came together, and by the end we were a little family. I am so proud of everyone in the Lourdes 2018 group, it was a privilege to spend the week with them and I hope they have developed memories which they will treasure for years to come.

Mr Shannon


Student testimonials

Amy: The main things that I enjoyed is spending time together as a group, doing the Marian procession, spending time with the sick and elderly, doing site seeing and lighting the candles for people we prayed for. My highlight from the trip was spending time with the sick and elderly. Also, lighting the candles for a certain person in our prayers. If I do have another opportunity to go again, I would definitely go. I would recommend it to someone else because I really enjoyed the week and everyone else who went enjoyed it too.

Jake: I went to Lourdes to enjoy my time with my friends and, work with people who are there such as the elderly and the sick. I experienced new ways of believing in God. My highlights of Lourdes was spending time with people who I normally am with and getting to help people play games and hold up the flag to represent our school in France. The best thing I did in Lourdes was help Michael and John play games and make them feel like they aren’t alone when they are there. I would recommend this trip to other people as it means that they can experience their religion or help out people and do something good, the views are amazing and Lourdes is great. So I highly recommend going there.