Lourdes Pilgrimage 2011 - Saturday 20th August

The first morning of the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes is always a busy one as the Catholic Association (C.A.) and its constituent groups settle in. Always the first priority is the care of our Assisted (sick and disabled) Pilgrims in the Accueil Notre Dame, the 'House of Welcome' that is something between a hotel and a hospital.

The personal care of our Assisted Pilgrims is the responsibility of medical professionals and volunteers helpers. This year one of the 'Core Teams' of volunteers is led by a Carmelite friar, Fr. Antony Lester, and working on his team is fellow friar Bro. Gerard Walsh. Their team had an early start in the Accueil, helping Assisted Pilgrims to wash and dress.

Altogether some 300 volunteers make possible the care of more than 100 Assisted Pilgrims in the Accueil and in the hotels. The coordination of the volunteers is overseen by the 'Heads of Service', consisting of the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Nurse, the Chief Brancardier and Chief Handmaid (the last two coordinating general male and female volunteers). This year the pilgrimage has a new Chief Brancardier, Matthew Betts, and the Carmelites are very proud that he is a member of our group. He and the other Heads of Service welcomed volunteers at a mid-morning briefing.

The new 'Chief Branc'' Matt Betts (left) welcoming the volunteers.

The Chief Branc Matt Betts and Chief Handmaid Anna Jackson (centre) rely on
over 100 young helpers aged 17-25 who assist with pushing wheelchairs
and providing personal care for Assisted Pilgrims.

As well as providing brancardiers and handmaids, the Carmelite group includes a nurse. The nurses met on Saturday morning to discuss the week ahead. Nursing care is provided both in the Acceuil, and to Assisted Pilgrims staying in hotels.

The nursing team's first morning briefing.

After lunch the Carmelite group, which consists of approximately 40 pilgrims, met for some social and spiritual time. The pilgrims were welcomed by the group's Pilgrimage Director, Johan Bergström-Allen, a Lay Carmelite who has been coming to Lourdes for nearly twenty years. One of the friars in the group, Fr. Francis Kemsley, then offered a short reflection on the 'Our Father'. The pastoral theme of this year's pilgrimage is "With Bernadette, Praying the Our Father", and the Lord's Prayer will be an important focus for reflection during the week.

The Carmelite group then processed down to the St. Bernadette Church in the main Sanctuary area for the Catholic Association's Gathering Mass. This is the first occasion when the whole pilgrimage comes together as one group, and it is always a moment of excitement and anticipation as old friendships are renewed and new ones are formed.

Catholic Association pilgrims coming together for the Gathering Mass.

Because of its reputation as a place of healing and compassion,
Assisted Pilgrims are always given pride of place at celebrations in Lourdes.

The Catholic Association banner and pilgrimage candle
led the entrance procession at the Gathering Mass.

During the Mass signing for the deaf was provided by Shell Roca, a member of the Carmelite group. The logistics of all the Catholic Association's ceremonies are coordinated by the Carmelite Pilgrimage Director.

Shell Roca signing for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Shell Roca signing during the Mass.

The principal celebrant at the Mass was Rt. Rev. Paul Hendricks, an auxilliary bishop in Southwark Archdiocese. Bishop Paul is Chair of the Catholic Association. He was joined at the altar by Howard Tripp (auxilliary bishop emeritus of Southwark), and many priests and deacons from the various groups that come together under the Catholic Association banner: the British Province of Carmelites; the Glanfield Children's Group; Stonyhurst College in Lancashire; and the dioceses of Southwark, East Anglia, Northampton, Clifton and Portsmouth.

Members of the Glanfield Children's Group, which brings sick, disabled
and disadvantaged children to Lourdes.

Several bishops were not able to be with their diocesan groups at the Gathering Mass as they were attending World Youth Day in Madrid, but will be arriving in Lourdes on Monday. Sadly since our last pilgrimage Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia has died, and he was among the deceased pilgrims remembered during the homily and bidding prayers.

Servers and Deacons at the Gathering Mass.

After the homily there was an opportunity for helpers to have their hands anointed with oil as a prayer for God's blessing on their work during the week ahead.

Fr. Francis Kemsley blessing the hands of helpers during the Gathering Mass.

Fr. Francis Kemsley blessing the hands of helpers during the Gathering Mass.

Bishop Paul Hendricks blessing helpers' hands.

The clergy gathered at the altar during the Gathering Mass.

At the end of Mass, helpers who have undertaken a commitment to return with the pilgrimage were admitted as ordinary or full members of the Catholic Association Hospitalité, the confraternity that coordinates the volunteers' activities and provides them with social and spiritual support. Congratulations to members of the Carmelite group who made their commitment as Hospitalité members, including Tracey Hemelge, and Hugh and Margaret Parry.

Carmelite group member and Secretary of the C.A. Hospitalité Nimal Hemelge
inviting new members of the Hospitalité to come forward and shake hands
with the Heads of Service behind him.

Tracey Hemelge receiving her Hospitalité insignia from the organisation's President

Hugh Parry being presented with his Hospitalité insignia, the sign of service.

On Saturday evening the Catholic Association took part in the Marian Torchlight Procession. A moving sight for the Carmelites present was Brother Ged Walsh who carried the cross at the head of the procession.

Click here to read about Friday 19th August
Click here to read about Sunday 21st August

Photographs courtesy of: Johan Bergström-Allen; Photo Lacaze; Photo Viron.