On Sunday morning the Crowned Virgin statue in the middle of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes was bathed in glorious sunshine as Carmelites and other Catholic Association pilgrims gathered for the International Mass in the underground basilica of St. Pius X.
The Crowned Virgin statue - a rallying point throughout the C.A. pilgrimage - was even more beautiful than usual in the morning sunshine.
C.A. pilgrims processing to International Mass on Sunday morning.
Down in the basilica itself the Carmelite banner joined those from the other groups and dioceses that make up the C.A. pilgrimage, and hundreds of flags representing Christians from around the world.
The Carmelite and C.A. banners lining up in the underground basilica.
The underground basilica, consecrated in 1958, can hold some 25,000 people,
and is built to look like an upturned boat (a symbol of the Church).
Particularly nice for Carmelites is the fact that the underground basilica's banner display of saints includes the Carmelite nun St. Edith Stein and the prophet Elijah, inspiration for the Carmelite way of life.
Hundreds of priests processing into the International Mass.
Members of the young helpers group waiting to assist priests
at the distribution of Holy Communion at International Mass.
Young helpers preparing to help at Communion time.
Children and young adults raising their hands in prayer at the 'Our Father'.
The International Mass is a very impressive sight, but for those who find the crowd too large there are some alternative celebrations of the Eucharist. One of the most popular is that held by the HCP group. HCP stands for "Helpers' Children's Programme", and this group offers a baby-sitting service for the sons and daughters of volunteer helpers on the pilgrimage. HCP organises activities for the different age groups.
Fr. John Warrington blessing children at the HCP Mass.
On Sunday afternoon the Catholic Association pilgrimage took part in the Blessed Sacrament Procession, one of the two processions that takes place in the Lourdes Sanctuary every day.
Pilgrims lining up on the Rosary Esplanade for the Blessed Sacrament Procession.
Before the pilgrimage every year, pilgrims are encouraged to prepare spiritually by taking part in a Novena (nine days of prayer). The Novena we use is written by a priest-helper on the pilgrimage, Fr. Nicholas King, S.J. His novena reflection on the Blessed Sacrament procession is a good summary of the spirit of the event:
The Church is, of course, something of a shambles. My favourite illustration of that is the Blessed Sacrament Procession. In the old days, an elegantly suited gent, carrying a severe looking rod, used to direct the procession, and, to the nearest inch, everyone knew their place. It was, of course, a great expression then of how we regarded things, a disciplined group marching with its Lord in its midst. Now, however, we have learnt to speak and think of the "pilgrim Church" (or shambles). And look at the Procession now: all sorts and shapes of humans are there, the sick, the sinful, the markedly batty, and the slightly insane. There are those who drift, with mildly curious gaze, and to the helpless fury of some, right through the positions reserved for this or that group. Bishops and priests turn up in all sorts of unexpected places, and the procession seems to change every day. And yet it works; this glorious shambles is a limping, praying, sinning, loving, gathering of the People of God round its Lord, which proclaims the rule of God, and somehow goes from A to B, and puts the sick right there where God wants them, at the top of the list. And it should not alarm us that the Church is a shambles, because the Church is us, and we are fools and sinners, and what else can you expect? But look what God makes of us…
Here are some photos of our own shambles this year!
Carmelite group pilgrims awaiting the start of the Blessed Sacrament Procession: Brother Gerard Walsh, Shell Roca, Fr. Antony Lester.
Carmelite friars Tony O'Donnell and Gerard Walsh in conversation.
The Chief Brancardier (helpers' coordinator) of the Catholic Association is a Carmelite group member, Matthew Betts. His mother Jean Saunders kindly carries the banner for our Carmelite group every year.
The Blessed Sacrament Procession arriving at the Rosary Basilica steps.
The procession begins, led by the nurses of the Catholic Association
Members of the Helpers' Children's Programme (HCP) processing.
The Catholic Association leading the Blessed Sacrament Procession
Carmelite friars among the Catholic Association pilgrims
Members of HCP and Fr. Tony Lester (wearing the cross of a Lourdes 'Chaplain of Honour') in procession.
The procession is a reminder that we are part of a universal, international Church.
Carmelites and Jesuits processing together.
The Blessed Sacrament being carried by Bishop Paul Hendricks,
Chair of the Catholic Association and Auxiliary Bishop in Southwark Archdiocese
Young helpers from the C.A. acted as servers during the procession.
Bishop Paul Hendricks blessing the pilgrims with the Blessed Sacrament.
Bishop Paul blessing all pilgrims at the end of the procession.
On Sunday evening the young helpers on the pilgrimage were invited to a prayer service at the lake on the edge of Lourdes. As the sun set they gathered at the waterside for a short time of reflection.
About 130 people gathered at the Lac de Lourdes for the youth service.
Sophie Morgan (left) and Megan Allen (right) are the two Carmelite members
of the young helpers group in Lourdes this year.
The reflection was led by Carmelite friar Fr. Tony Lester who as well as being
Chaplain to the Sick and Hospitalité is also Chaplain to the Young Helpers.
Bishop Peter Doyle of Northampton spoke a few words
of thanks and encouragement to the young helpers.
Photographs courtesy of: Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C.; Photo Viron