After a wonderful week's pilgrimage in Lourdes, on Friday 31st August it was time for the Catholic Association and its partner groups, including the British Province of Carmelites, to pack-up and head for home. Assisted Pilgrims in the Accueil Notre Dame were woken by helpers at 5am in order to be ready for early flights.
On the morning of Wednesday 29th August the Catholic Association pilgrimage went en masse to the famous baths ('piscines') in the Lourdes Sanctuary to pray and wash in the water as St. Bernadette did in 1858.
Monday morning saw the Catholic Association going to the Grotto, the very heart of the Sanctuary in Lourdes. Since the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared there to Saint Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, the Grotto has attracted millions of pilgrims.
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.
Today the British Province of Carmelites began its annual pilgrimage to Our Lady's shrine in Lourdes, as part of the Catholic Association. Lourdes is the largest site of Marian pilgrimage in Europe. This is the fifth year in which the Carmelites have taken part in the pilgrimage organised by the Catholic Association (C.A. for short) which first began bringing pilgrims to the Pyrenean shrine in 1901.
The final morning of the Catholic Association pilgrimage is always tinged with sadness at having to leave Our Lady's shrine, and the rain which fell made it seem as though Lourdes itself was weeping to see us leave!
Those pilgrims not already in transit gathered in the St. Bernadette Church for the Sending-Forth Mass, presided at by Crispian Hollis, his last liturgy in Lourdes before retiring as Bishop of Portsmouth.
The penultimate day of the pilgrimage began with a celebration of Mass with the Anointing of the Sick. For many this was the most powerful liturgy celebrated during the week. The strong symbolism and sense of dependency on God's grace made the Mass an emotional celebration of God's tenderness and compassion. The presider at the Mass was Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark Archdiocese. He used to take part in the Catholic Association pilgrimage when he was Bishop of East Anglia, and it was good to have him back with us.