As part of the Activate team, I wanted to write an article for this new website and at the beginning of a new year, I thought this would be a good time to look ahead and see if there are any new challenges we can take up. My cousin Roy once again travelled with a group to Lourdes and below he writes of his experience and all he learnt. It’s not possible for all of us to travel in order to experience new things or see God at work, but as you read his account, consider what you could do this year that will not only impact your own life, but that of others too.
It might be joining a new creative course at your local college (who knows what a difference it might make to one or more of the other students to have you there), volunteer for a local charity, go along to a local reading group or take up a completely new sport. A look at your local newspaper, notices in the library or leisure centre should give plenty of idea. Then let us all know how you get on.

Lourdes ’08 – A Personal Reflection

This was my second visit to Lourdes, both times as a helper on a Jumbulance. On this occasion I went with a group from Woodley near Reading. We were seen off from the local church, St John Bosco, with the enthusiastic support of schoolchildren from St Dominic Savio Junior School who all seemed to enjoy the experience of being shown around inside the coach and were intrigued by ‘beds in a bus!’ A number of the group travelling to Lourdes came from St John Bosco and there was immediately a good community feel as we were waved goodbye.

The group consisted of ten guests needing care and support (with various serious illnesses and/or disabilities), fourteen helpers, the local priest who was also helping, and two drivers. I was impressed by the love and care of the nurses and helpers, the loving commitment of the drivers and above all the courage of the VIPs. It was a great group of people to be with for these eight days.

The helpers included a core group who organise, fund raise, select and book appropriate hotels and recruit those who will go needing care. It is this group’s dedication that releases individuals to journey to a place that they could not otherwise get to.

It is a modern day pilgrimage with a mixture of people, expectations and faith. The whole trip reminded me of the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. In the story He was hidden for much of the journey but somehow He made Himself known as they shared together. This was how this trip was for me. We experienced God through Lourdes, the grandeur of the Pyrenees and each other.

As before, for me, the experience is difficult to describe as it works at so many different levels. Perhaps, this time, my emphasis was less on the personal challenges of finding my way around a new experience and more about a journey with a group in an experience which touches body, soul and spirit. Dom Antony Sutch speaking on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ just twenty-four hours before we left on our journey described his own experiences of Lourdes. I was glad to be able to share his talk with the group during a Mass in the week. Dom Sutch reflected that Lourdes is:

“…… a place especially for the sick and disabled, but each pilgrim goes for their own reason: some because they are sick or helpers to them, some to pray for spiritual, physical or mental healing, some from curiosity, some for peace of mind, forgiveness, renewal of soul, some possibly not knowing why: one I know because his girlfriend was going. The effect on each is individual: one described it to me as “the most ghastly bazaar of Catholic tat and kitsch”; another as “a place of miracles, seen and unseen”; another as” touched by God where people don’t need to pretend.

…… I come back exhausted yet inspired. Inspired as the people are seen simply as humans, as Sons and Daughters of God: where human life itself is sacred whatever the scars, traumas, diseases and deformities of the body or mind: no distinction of person, even Cardinals are treated as human. The solidarity, mutual support and understanding engendered in Lourdes is to me, miraculous. The compassion and service to others palpable.”
(Thought for the Day, Radio 4, Dom Antony Sutch, 25 September 2008)

For me, this sums up the experience of Lourdes.

As we struggled to push wheelchairs through the crowded streets, with frequent pauses to make sure that the group was all still together, I reflected on how much Lourdes beneficially slows down the pace of life. We just had to ‘wait and be’ allowing God to be with us in the waiting and enjoyment of the place. Sometimes this was lost in the need to get somewhere, or ‘get to the front’. A sort of ‘consumer anxiety’ can take over but the story of Bernadette and her simple obedience to be in a place where God wanted her draws one back to just enjoying the moment. Lourdes and those who are ill can bring us back to that God-given quality of life of ‘just being’.

A day trip outside of the town of Lourdes was a visual aid to God’s presence in His Creation and we were given the gift of a beautiful sunny day. A Mass in the open air on a farm track by a mountain stream was special, somehow made even more so by the respectful walkers taking off their caps as they passed through our gathering and a post office delivery van causing us to quickly rearrange the seating arrangements to allow it to pass through! The improvised altar was the end of a trolley bed shared with a VIP and we just enjoyed God being with us anywhere, anytime.

Lourdes is a place where there are so many ways of being helped to find God. There must be something for everyone including non-Catholics like myself, or others who may possibly rarely or never attend church. There is the traditional expectancy at the Grotto, there are the big processions and groups with banners, there are the masses and benedictions, there is a quiet climb up the hill with the Stations of the Cross. There is water for anointing, the candles little and very large, the beauty of the small and large churches, the sense of a place of pilgrimage and prayer for one hundred and fifty years and, most of all, the people, the people, and the people. All languages, colours, sizes and ages. I found it an inspiration just to wander around and soak in the atmosphere of faith, hope, acceptance and love. A healing process in itself.

I found the daily procession of sick people most moving of all. It could have been only sorrowful and yet there was hope – hope that comes with the recognition that healing can be for the body but it is often more importantly for the soul and spirit.
In the Pope’s recent visit to Lourdes, he summarized this with the words:

“…… that the endurance of suffering can lead people to despair of the value of life. There are struggles we cannot sustain alone, when speech can no longer find the right words, we need a loving presence.”

For more details of the Jumbulance go to New Jumbulance Travel Trust Website http://www.jumbulance.org.uk/

Roy Gregory
October 2008

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