Travels in Lourdes

Talk given by Gill Ness-Collins at Valerie Manor in April 2013
– many thanks to Gill Ness-Collins who kindly gave up her time to give us this wonderful talk earlier this month…

My Name is Gill and I was asked to talk about one of my travel experiences! My latest expedition was to Lourdes in Easter week this year. For those of you who don’t know Lourdes is a small town in France in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was here in 1863 that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette, a young French girl as she gathered sticks for the family fire on the banks of the River Garve.

The apparitions continued over several weeks, and although the adults, family, priest Mayor etc were not convinced they asked Bernadette to ask the “lady” for a sign. She told Bernadette to scrape on the ground for a spring. A small spring started flowing, and has continued to flow ever since. Within a few years miraculous cures were being reported and pilgrims were coming in their thousands to bathe in these waters. Nowadays Lourdes is an internationally renowned pilgrimage centre.

I visited Lourdes once, for a day in my early twenties and decided it was not for me! After retirement I was persuaded to go again and help with a group. Well I was hooked! I have been back every year since, sometimes more than once! Nowadays I go with a group called the ‘Old and the Bold’. All the members have been involved with the HCPT (Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust) and are now retired from running groups etc. We go along and join in with the activities, but without the responsibility of a group – no more pushing wheelchairs for us In fact some of our members are almost ready to be pushed!

We actually go as part of the National HCPT Pilgrimage each year, I suppose I should say ‘International’ as we have groups from England Ireland, Scotland, Wales. West Indies, USA, Croatia – and still more countries are joining! This year the there were 5,000 people at our big celebration Mass. All this has grown from the idea started by Dr. Michael Strode in 1956 when he took four handicapped boys from Chailey Heritage and several adult helpers for a trial Pilgrimage. We had Brother Michael, as he is now, with us this year – he is now 90 years old, but what an inspirational character.

Nowadays the Pilgrimage is billed as a ’Holiday with Mary’. So what did we do? We attended the big Masses (services) – You should hear five thousand people singing and doing action songs together! Wow! We attended the Processions, visited the town and most important of all the handicapped, and those of us who were brave enough in the cold weather went to the Baths! The Spring has been piped into baths, and all those who wish are taken and lowered into the healing waters – it is an amazing experience. We visited the Grotto, and prayed there and followed tradition by lighting candles for our friends and Families. We also attended a beautiful mass there led by the West Indian group, we sat outdoors in the sleet and rain – but it was a wonderful experience with superb singing – no one considered leaving! But afterwards we rushed to the cafes for a restoring Hot Chocolate!

One of the high spots of the week for me is the annual trek up into the mountains to visit the village of Gavarnie. Here the groups come and picnic, indoors when it is cold! Have Mass, go for donkey or horse rides and play games in the meadows. This year it was snowballing! The fit among us walk up into the mountains, this year there was so much snow I only managed two KM!

It was a wonderful experience, even though it was cold and wet the fun and friendship kept us warm. On the last morning we all trooped back to the Domaine (the area in the centre where all the big events happen) and said a prayer at the Crowned Virgin Statue, as tradition demands to ensure we will return again – it certainly works in my case! Roll on Easter 2014! gNc