Lourdes Pilgrimage 2011 - Thursday 25th August

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.

Archbishop Peter preaching at the Mass with Anointing of the Sick.

After Archbishop Peter's homily prayers were offered for the sick, and the Holy Spirit was invoked as priests laid their hands upon those to be anointed. The Bible speaks of oil being used for the comfort and healing of those who are suffering, and jars of blessed oil were carried by helpers who accompanied the bishops and priests of the various groups that make up the Catholic Association.

The Carmelite Provincial, Fr. Wilfrid McGreal, anointing an Assisted Pilgrim
who came on pilgrimage as part of the Carmelite group.

The oils were carried for Fr. Wilfrid by Carmelite group young helpers
Karisha George and David Monteith.

The Mass took place in the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X. Around the walls of the basilica were translations and adaptations of the Lord's Prayer, written by different pilgrimages as their response to the pastoral theme of the year proposed by the Lourdes Sanctuary, "With Bernadette, Praying the Our Father". The Catholic Association's adaptation of the Our Father was written by Fr. Nicholas King, S.J., a brancardier (helper) on the pilgrimage who is Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Oxford. After Mass pilgrims stopped to read the text that Fr. Nick had offered on behalf of the pilgrimage.

The adapted text of the Our Father was mounted on the wall of the basilica
and will remain there throughout the rest of this pastoral year.

After the Mass with Anointing, pilgrims had a little spare time to do as they wished. Some attended the talk on the medical aspects of Lourdes given by the pilgrimage's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Adam Farmer. A small group of Carmelite pilgrims working in the Accueil Notre Dame took the opportunity to visit the Carmel, that is the monastery of Carmelite nuns that overlooks the Grotto from the spot where St. Bernadette saw the Blessed Virgin for the last time, on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (16th July 1858).

The Grotto as seen from the Carmel.

Carmelite group young helpers David Monteith and Karisha George
were given a tour of the Carmel by Lay Carmelite Angela Bergström-Allen (centre).

Whilst at the Carmel the visitors were able to purchase some of the chocolates and other gifts that the nuns produce to support their enclosed way of life. The support of the sisters' prayers is greatly appreciated by the volunteers working in the service of Assisted Pilgrims in the Accueil Notre Dame (Our Lady's House of Welcome) that adjoins the Carmel.

The sisters were delighted to welcome fellow members of the Carmelite Family.

After lunch the Catholic Association gathered in the St. Bernadette Church below the Carmel for a Thanksgiving Service. This was led by Rt. Rev. Crispian Hollis who is retiring as Bishop of Portsmouth later this year. Bishop Crispian spoke movingly of his long involvement with the Catholic Association, and how his recent diagnosis of cancer has changed his experience of Lourdes. He spoke movingly and very personally about being given "the gift of sickness" by God, and said that he would very simply place himself in God's hands in the months ahead. Having always come to Lourdes as a helper or pastoral leader, he said he now felt blessed that in future he would come as someone in need of help himself, which would give him a new perspective on life and hopefully a deeper understanding of God's love and compassion. He spoke about having received the Sacrament of the Sick for the first time that morning at the Anointing Mass, and of the great support he had received from many friends and fellow pilgrims.

Bishop Crispian's powerful and deeply personal reflection at the
Thanksgiving Service received a prolonged round of applause from the congregation.

As well as giving thanks to God for the graces received during the pilgrimage, the Thanksgiving Service is an opportunity to express gratitude to those organisers who are stepping down from office. Deep thanks were expressed to Tina Walker who has led the Young Helpers' Group for nine years, and to Fr. Simon Blakesley who is handing over the role of Chaplain to the Sick to Carmelite friar Fr. Tony Lester.

Tina Walker (centre) being thanked for her long service by Bishop Paul Hendricks.

Bishop Crispian was thanked for his many years of service as Patron of the Catholic Association Hospitalité (helpers' organisation), and a gift was presented to him by the Hospitalité President Chris Buller.

Chris Buller presenting a gift of thanks to Bishop Crispian.

After the Thanksgiving Service, Assisted Pilgrims processed directly over the bridge for a passage through the Grotto. They were led by the pilgrimage banners and Catholic Association candle which had been decorated during the week by the Helpers' Children's Programme.

Children of the helpers decorated the pilgrimage candle and carried it to the Grotto.

The candle and banner bearers formed a "guard of honour" as Assisted Pilgrims and their helpers passed through the Grotto, taking a moment for prayer and to leave their intention slips; the Carmelite pilgrimage director deposited at the Grotto a large number of petitions that had been sent from different Carmelite individuals and communities in Britain.

The Catholic Association banners and candle at the Grotto.

Carmelites and friends at prayer in front of the Grotto.

Carmelite Assisted Pilgrim Madge Bedwell being taken through the Grotto.

Once all had passed through the Grotto, the pilgrimage candle was taken down to the large stands nearby. The Lord's Prayer was said, and then the candle - which bears the names of all the groups that participate in the Catholic Association - was placed in the stands where it will burn in the weeks to come as a symbol of our prayer.

Gathering at the candle stand for the placing of the pilgrimage candle.

The C.A. candle was decorated by children with the words "Our Father"
and the names of the dioceses and groups which participate in the pilgrimage.

After supper on Thursday evening a last night party was held in the Accueil Notre Dame, Assisted Pilgrims and their helpers performing songs and sketches.

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Photographs courtesy of: Johan Bergström-Allen.