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.
On Tuesday morning the Carmelite group within the Catholic Association gathered in St. Patrick's Chapel to celebrate a Votive Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This was an opportunity to pray in a particular way for the Carmelite Family in the British Province and beyond. The Eucharist was celebrated by the Prior Provincial, Fr. Wilfrid McGreal, who was accompanied at the altar by Frs. Francis Kemsley and Tony Lester. During the bidding prayers members of the British Province - friars, sisters and laity - who have died in the last year were remembered.
Sunday is one of the two days in the week when the Sanctuary authorities encourage all pilgrimages in Lourdes to take part in the International Mass in the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X. It is an impressive sight, some 20,000 pilgrims from around the world gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist. The celebrant, Cardinal Dias (until recently Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples), was able to offer the Eucharistic Prayer in several languages without the use of books!
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.
Today the British Province of Carmelites began its annual pilgrimage to Our Lady's shrine in Lourdes, as part of the Catholic Association. This is the fourth year in which the Carmelites have taken part in the pilgrimage organised by the Association, which first began bringing pilgrims to the Pyrenean shrine in 1901.