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Carmelites host Lourdes preparation day
30 June 2012

On Saturday 23rd June 2012 a preparation day for helpers volunteering in Lourdes was hosted by the parish of English Martyrs in the south London borough of Walworth, served by a community of Carmelite friars. Well over 100 new and experienced helpers took part in the day organised by The Catholic Association, which with its various partners - including the British Province of Carmelites - takes sick and disabled pilgrims to Lourdes every August.

This year a record number of registered helpers - over 280 people including doctors, nurses, general carers, chaplains, musicians, child-minders, pharmacists, administrators and others - will enable the pilgrimage to take about 150 sick and disabled adults and children to the largest Marian shrine in France.

The preparation day took place in the parish hall at English Martyrs for the last time before it is knocked down for a replacement hall to be built.

English Marytrs Parish Hall makes a very convenient place for the preparation day
which has now been hosted by the Carmelites at Walworth for a number of years.

The day began with a session for new helpers, more of whom attended the event than ever before.

Over 100 new volunteers gathered to learn and reflect about Lourdes.

The new volunteers - most of them young helpers aged between 17 and 25 - were welcomed by the organisers of the day, which began with prayer led by Bishop Paul Hendricks (an auxiliary bishop in Southwark Archdiocese who is Chair of the Catholic Association) and Fr. Antony Lester (a Carmelite friar who is the Catholic Association's Chaplain to the Sick)

Bishop Paul Henricks & Fr. Antony Lester, O.Carm., began the gathering with prayer.

Anna Jackson the pilgrimage Chief Handmaid (coordinator of women volunteers)
and Matt Betts the Chief Brancardier (coordinator of male volunteers)
welcomed all those present.

As an ice-breaker activity, participants were invited to remove one shoe, throw it into the middle of the hall, pick-up someone else's shoe, and then seek out its owner.

A moment of hilarious chaos as bishops, priests and people swap shoes!

The ice-breaker was a great way to diffuse the nervousness
that is natural for dozens of young people meeting for the first time.

The new volunteers were given practical information about the Catholic Association pilgrimage, and shown a DVD about the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

A video presentation about the history of the apparitions
and the development of Lourdes into Europe's largest site of Marian pilgrimage.

In discussion groups facilitated by experienced helpers, the new volunteers were encouraged to reflect on why they are coming to Lourdes for the first time, and shared their fears, thoughts and expectations about the shrine and the work involved in accompanying sick and disabled people.

Most Lourdes pilgrims with reduced mobility use wheelchairs, and so the Director of the Carmelite pilgrimage to Lourdes, Johan Bergström-Allen, gave a demonstration of how they work. Volunteers were then given hands-on experience in how to use a wheelchair, and what it feels like to sit in one.

Fr. Antony Lester supervises as new helpers learn what it is like
to handle and to sit in a wheelchair.

The preparation day gives new helpers practical training in key skills, as well as an introduction to the spirituality of Lourdes, and a chance to meet one another.

The final part of preparation given to new helpers was a reflection by Jesuit priest Fr. Nicholas King on the pastoral theme proposed by the Lourdes Sanctuary in 2012 which is 'With Bernadette, Praying the Rosary'.

The Union of Catholic Mothers in Walworth provided a delicious buffet lunch; the UCM has been raising money for the Carmelite pilgrimage to Lourdes throughout the year, for which the Province is extremely grateful.

After lunch the focus was on preparing experienced volunteers for this year's pilgrimage, updating them on practical details of the programme, giving them some spiritual input, and offering them the opportunity for discussion and ideas-sharing.

Matt Betts and Fr. Tony in conversation with experienced helpers.

In order that helpers with children can contribute to the pilgrimage, the Catholic Association has a group called HCP (Helpers' Children's Programme); one of the group's members, Tom, spoke about the experience of coming to Lourdes as a child and the opportunities children have of helping in certain appropriate ways.

Tom spoke about the helpers' children's programme.

After reflecting on the pastoral theme of the year, experienced helpers met in small discussion groups to reflect on ways to improve the pilgrimage for pilgrims, especially the sick and disabled.

Experienced helpers in small group discussion.

The preparation day closed with prayer, and words of thanks to the Carmelite friars and parishioners of Walworth for their customary warm welcome to the Catholic Association.

For more information about the Carmelite pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Catholic Association, please click here.