In July Notre Dame Students made their traditional pilgrimage to Lourdes as part of the Leeds Diocese. Whilst there, students are assigned a Pilgrim to befriend and look after and also encouraged to explore their faith.
Student Sheree Webster reflects on the experience:
My experience of Lourdes 2013
On Thursday 4th July I climbed into the coach and joined the other five students for the long journey ahead to Lourdes. As we pulled away from the kerb I was nervous but excited about the upcoming experience. After an uncomfortable and tiring twenty four hours we were in Lourdes, France, I was definitely looking forward to checking out my new home for the week and getting freshened up. After lunch we collected our wheelchairs for our pilgrims and then practiced pushing each other in the chair to ensure our pilgrim would be comfortable throughout the week. Later in the day we went to the first faithful session where we discussed what the word FAITHFUL means i.e. fully accepting in trust His free unconditional love. These sessions were fun, uplifting and really brought the youth pilgrimage together. That day I went to my first proper mass, which was an experience in its self with me not being Catholic. This was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Lourdes- not only to offer my assistance but to learn about the religion more.
On the first day Notre Dame Students went for a tour around Lourdes. It was absolutely beautiful and the best part was when we walked up to the roof of the church. The view was amazing and we were able to watch another group from above doing the torchlight procession. This is when a group of people walk in procession carrying candles and pray the rosary.
One of the most amazing nights in Lourdes was when we went to the Grotto. We each got one candle and were given the opportunity to pray for someone that had asked to be prayed for. We got handed a piece of paper that the person had written something on. As a college group we walked around the surroundings quietly, and then lit our candles where the rest had been lit and all did our prayer for the person. We then went to the grotto where St. Bernadette saw Our Lady, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and I walked around the cave touching the piece of paper to the grotto while thinking of the unknown person. Afterwards, we sat by ourselves and prayed or thought quietly. It was a wonderful and emotional experience and I really like to think I helped this person by praying for them. It was a very reflective moment and made me think of all the good things I have in my life and that we need to pray for other people we don’t know not only loved ones as someone else is always worse off than yourself
Another big highlight of the week was when the youth, pilgrims and other groups did the Torchlight procession. Watching it had been great but to be involved in it was even better. The prayers were done in many different languages and it felt as if the world had come as one as we prayed together. I escorted my pilgrim around and when we reached the church I sat down on the steps with the other youth members. Looking behind me I saw a youth holding up banners and crosses and in front of me I saw the procession still going on with the candles still alight. It was a beautiful sight.
On July 8th our college along with other schools got the chance to visit the baths. Mary led St. Bernadette to a spring of water and it came clear that the water had healing properties. You are lifted into the bath covered with a white sheet and while in the water you think of parts of my life that needs emotionally healing. The water is very cold but I’m so glad I did it as it was a very spiritual experience.
I also got the chance to do the Stations of the Cross with my pilgrim which is a way of praying through the last moments of Jesus’ life on earth. There are fourteen stations and at each station we reflect on Jesus choosing to suffer, die and rise again for us. Doing the stations was really interesting for me as I learnt things about the religion and Jesus I didn’t already know, and I also got to understand why Catholics and Christians have so much respect for Jesus and what he did for us.
Overall I feel going to Lourdes was a fantastic experience. Not only did I get to help people and see a new country but I learnt more about the Catholic religion and met wonderful and inspiring people that I will never forget. Even if you are not religious I would recommend going to Lourdes as there were many people in our diocese group, including myself, that were not Catholic. I am hoping to be going again next year and I am sure the experience will open my eyes even more.