Some Carmelite group pilgrims "on stage" with the HNDL in Lourdes
The Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes
The Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes is the organisation which has particular responsibility for welcoming pilgrims to Our Lady's shrine. The Sanctuary of Lourdes could not function and effectively welcome the six million pilgrims who visit the shrine every year without the support of the members of the HNDL. There are approximately 16,000 members of the HNDL who come from many different nations.
The HNDL is a confraternity of volunteers, founded in 1885. Its mission, entrusted to its members by the Bishop of Tarbes & Lourdes, is:
to welcome pilgrims to Lourdes, especially but not exclusively the sick and disabled, and to help them throughout their pilgrimage
to bring good order to the celebrations of the Sanctuary
to pass on the Message of Lourdes to others, as recounted by Saint Bernadette
Members of the HNDL volunteer one week of their time, each year if possible, at their own expense, to welcome pilgrims in Lourdes. This week is known as doing a 'Stage' (from the French word for a work experience placement). HNDL members are known by the French title of 'Hospitaliers' or 'Stagiaires'.
HNDL Hospitaliers serve in Lourdes in a variety of capacities, including:
- Welcoming pilgrims at the airport and railway station
- Organising the logistics of the daily processions and liturgical ceremonies in the Sanctuary
- Providing emergency medical care (those who are registered doctors and nurses)
- Doing manual work (cleaning and cooking) in the 'Accueil' (House of Welcome) buildings that receive Assisted Pilgrims
- Accompanying people in prayer at the Grotto and in the Baths
- Loaning out wheelchairs and mobility equipment
- Working in the sacristies around the Sanctuary
Four of the Carmelites serving in Lourdes as members of the HNDL in 2012.
Two types of volunteering: Accompanying & Welcoming
Many pilgrimages are keen to encourage their members to volunteer with the HNDL because it gives them a much better understanding of how the Lourdes Sanctuary works. To understand how the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes fits into the broader picture of pilgrimage, it is helpful to know the two ways in which volunteers come to the shrine.
The Service of Accompanying
Many people's first experience of volunteering in Lourdes is with a diocesan or other major pilgrimage such as the Catholic Association. In travelling to Lourdes with a particular group, helping to care for the 'Assisted' (sick and disabled) Pilgrims, helpers (brancardiers, handmaids, nurses, doctors, youth groups, chaplains, etc.) have direct contact with those they are caring for. Working with a particular pilgrimage is often referred to as the 'service of accompanying' as the pilgrimage helper accompanies those on their pilgrimage who need assistance, caring for the same group of people throughout their pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The work of the helpers who travel with a pilgrimage is invaluable and pilgrims who need assistance would not be able to travel to Lourdes without the dedicated help of these volunteers. This service of accompanying is an important part of the work of the Hospitalité's mission, whether the pilgrimage and its helpers are formally affiliated to the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes or not.
The Service of Welcoming
As well as travelling to Lourdes with a pilgrimage many people travel to Lourdes to work as volunteers (stagiaires) with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes. Rather than accompanying a specific group of Assisted Pilgrims, those 'on Stage' with the HNDL work to welcome all pilgrims by maintaining the infrastructure of the Sanctuary. Whilst 'accompanying hospitalités' come to Lourdes for a number of days and then return home, the HNDL is present in Lourdes throughout the pilgrimage season thanks to its volunteers who each contribute a week or two of service.
Volunteers, aged between 18 and 75, male and female, come from all over the world, to work for periods between 7 and 15 days as part of this service of welcome. They work in international teams, and although speaking some French is useful it is not a requirement. The HNDL provides a programme of practical training and spiritual formation. The majority of HNDL members are lay people, but clergy and religious are also very welcome.
Most HNDL volunteers come back to work in Lourdes year after year, establishing life-long friendships with their fellow stagiaires from near and far. Lourdes friends become very special friends. After five years of service and training, members of the HNDL are invited, if they wish, to make a commitment to return every year, circumstances permitting.
The Carmelite Stage Group
The Catholic Association brings together a
number of dioceses and groups - including the British Province of
Carmelites - for a pilgrimage to Lourdes each summer, and traditionally
provides about 50 volunteers who undertake to do an additional week of service in Lourdes "on stage" with the HNDL in either May
or August. They do so in their own time and at their own expense, but
find it to be an immensely rewarding experience.
Some of the members of the Catholic Association Pilgrimage who
volunteered to do a "stage" with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes in 2010.
A small group of pilgrims from the Carmelite group within the Catholic Association pilgrimage volunteer as stagiaires with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes. They travel to Lourdes at the end of May each year, normally in the week before the schools' half-term holiday week in the United Kingdom. Another group of Catholic Association pilgrims comes to Lourdes 'on stage' the week immediately before the C.A. pilgrimage.
For further details about the Carmelite Stage group, please contact the Lourdes Pilgrimage Director for the British Province of Carmelites:
Mr. Johan Bergström-Allen
Carmelite Projects & Publications Office
More House,Heslington, York, YO10 5DX
Carmelite Stage Pilgrimage 2013
The next Carmelite group 'Stage' will take place between 19th and 24th May 2013.
Further sources of information