Memories of Lourdes

Pilgrims past and present are invited to contribute memories and photos to a book and blog which will celebrate the life of the Arundel & Brighton Lourdes Diocesan Pilgrimage.

Contribute by commenting on this page or emailing Adam Simon



My memories of Lourdes

I first went to Lourdes on the diocesan pilgrimage as a Redshirt in 2012. On our way to Lourdes, our coach broke down and we spent our first night together in a school gym in a town called St Saen. This experience enabled us to bond together well as a group creating some of our closest friendships.

I returned to Lourdes on the diocesan pilgrimage this year as a helper. Being a helper is very different from being a Redshirt but it was a really enjoyable experience. One of the great parts of being a helper is walking down the red carpet with my pilgrim and the Redshirt's smiling and waving to us as we walk. It's great to have memories of creating the red carpet as a Redshirt but also being able to experience it as a helper too.

My memories

My own experience of Lourdes- I first started going in 2007 as a Redshirt, when I returned from Lourdes, it had changed me as a person, I started going to Church on a regular basis, the second year was in 2008 as a Redshirt this year it was the Jubliee Year. I have been a helper since 2009, each year is a different experience with different memories, making new friends every year as well as keeping in contact with old friends. I come back each year feeling motivated to do my best until Lourdes the following year as well as coming back spiritually recharged.

Memories of Lourdes

Gosh, which memory to choose?! Maybe one of the times umbrellas were needed to shelter pilgrims from burning sunshine during Mass at the Grotto. Or the time they were needed to keep rain off people at a slightly wetter Grotto! The anointing of the sick in the underground basilica is always a highly charged and spiritually healing experience for everyone attending it and the feelings of strength, love and acceptance are overwhelming. And visiting the grotto in the small hours of the morning when it is finally quiet and peaceful allows each one of us to concentrate on our own particular needs.
But the appeal of the Lourdes pilgrimage isn't just about what it has to offer on a spiritual level. Buying presents for family and friends at home, eating ice cream, going for drinks at The Little Flower, making new friends, chatting with friends old and new and just enjoying a change from normal all combine to make the week an unforgettable experience. So it is hard to condense the Lourdes experience into just one little memory. It is so much more than that!
Hilary Oakshott

So difficult to choose!

So difficult to choose! Lourdes is a precious place for a holiday in the full and true sense of the word. As a wheelchair user it's a place if true acceptance, and enabled me to have my first break from hospital. Lourdes pilgrimage is something that continues year round, throughout our diocese - we are blessed to have pilgrimage at the heart of a&b

Treasured Memories

I first went to Lourdes with A&B in 1990, it was 15 laters that I would return, this time with my late husband Ian, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and who was visually impaired because of it. We both came in 2005 & 2006, and although Ian could not see the "physical" Lourdes, he felt the awesome presence of God and Our Lady, he heard the amazing music, masses, and prayers, taking part in the torchlight procession lifting up the candle each time we sang "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria, carrying one of the banners in the Blessed Sacrament Procession, only for the photo to appear on the 2006 poster, and experiencing the baths. I will always treasure those times in Lourdes, Ian was cared for by our amazing helpers, he was loved, many people felt and saw the presence of God within him and radiate from him.

Now 8 years on since Ian passed away, I have created a new life for myself, Ian being my inspiration to become a Nurse. I continued to go to Lourdes after Ian died, as a helper, as a student nurse, and this year as a fully qualified nurse, dressed in a blue dress, and receiving my Credo badge, yes it was emotional.

Lourdes is very much part of my life, and always will be. I feel very priviledged to part of an amazing pilgrimage.

Lourdes memories

I remember...

The last night on the Lourdes pilgrimage used to always ended with 'Eagles Wings'It was a bit like the last night of the proms! I used to think of that when I climbed Beaut not sure of the spelling when I watched the eagles flying over the mountain ( beaut is the mountain opposite the pic de Jer.) Some of us got caught in a thunder storm once when coming down it and went in a cafe where we were given bin bags to wear as we had no rain gear.

The first year that the Bishop came to Lourdes when he gave his homily at the grotto starting with 'here we are from East Anglia '

On the same pilgrimage he was walking with one of our catering team and asked her what she did in Lourdes and she replied that she was in the diets team to which he replied 'the darts team I didn't know Lourdes had a darts team'

When I first went on the A and B pilgrimage I was in one of the hotel groups and found the work too easy! and told Fr Wymes after which I stayed in the catering team which in those days was divided into the diets team and the tea makers I was with the latter

Lourdes Memories

The Arundel and Brighton Pilgrimage to Lourdes has been a HUGE part of my life. The magical experience of community spirit is unlike any other.

For me, I have two favourite memories. The first occurred back in 2001 when the Bishop was leading us for the first time. It was at the closing mass, at St Bernadette's Esplanade, right at the end. The Bishop in all his robes produced his tiny silver scooter and rode off the altar and into the sacristy. The congregation were stunned but there was a very joyful atmosphere. I'm so glad he is our bishop!

My second memory occurred in 2012. I was in the baths changing area waiting to go through the waters when, into the cubicle, a lady was carried in on a stretcher. She was vocalising loudly and her movements suggested she was very agitated. It was not just the fact 8 helpers protected her dignity whilst they unclothed her, which struck me, but the sound of silence which resonated whilst the lady bathed. It was wonderful to see her when she came out as she had an enormous smile across her face and was so peaceful. It looked like she had completely submitted herself to the Virgin Mary. I felt so privileged to see that. It was heavenly - something that I will never leave forget!

Lourdes Pilgrimage Personal Experience of a lady (2012)

A Personal Experience of a pilgrim lady in A&B Lourdes Pilgrimage (2012)

I would like to share with you the most beautiful experience I had in Lourdes!
In Lourdes, I found the answer to one of my prayers. The Holy place was so meaningful and special to me.
Before I knew it, the Lord had prepared a place for me there. Every day was full of love, joy, healing and blessing.
My experience was absolutely beautiful, powerful, uplifting and spiritually nourishing and very emotional…
I was greatly moved! It was about my spiritual journey---it was about my prayers, reflections, my desire for healing and blessing.
It was about my communion with God. It is only Him who knows my innermost being and my deepest feeling.
It was about changing of heart …it was to that change of heart that I was being called. It was a decision to change and a constant willingness to go on trying and success was a gift from God.
It all started when I asked the Lord in my prayers many times for so many years…” My Lord, what is it like to be in love?…
Pls let me experience the power of love and to fall in love.”
Since it was my fervent prayer, my desire and longing, God allowed me to experience it in a unique way…in a very intense and strong admiration and attraction…. who was my first awareness of the morning; my first energy and strength to carry on the day; the first impulse of my mind and my heart; a food for my heart and soul; my dream day and night and my inspiration!
It was something I have never experienced in my life… It was full of excitement, sadness, tears and joy in my heart.
My heart was jumping and letting out my breath. I asked the Lord, “ My Lord, what does this mean?” I prayed, “ Please quiet the pounding of my heart..” Even in my sleep, I was disturbed. My mind and my heart were telling me different things.
I begged the Lord, “ Help me to hear Your voice…to hear Your direction. I know it is You…You are showing me a different direction.”
I came to the point that I was feeling inadequate, disappointed, in despair, sad and in tears.
It took me a lot of time, courage and self-discipline to let go of my feeling. I sincerely sought God concerning my feeling and I begged Him. I was speaking to God more often than I used to…8 times day and night!..
Alone with God, I said ”Lord, I asked and you gave it to me. I know it would not be forever. I am very happy
You let me experience and feel that kind of love I longed for. May Your will in this matter be done…
I don’t know what to do anymore...but You do. Please take control of myself. I place all my trust in You..”
I was fully aware of my boundaries and limitations…and the Lord is with me all the time.
If I came to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation, It was God who directed me.
At that moment, I smelt the fragrance of His Love and compassion. He gave me a definite answer in Lourdes.
I thank the Lord for allowing me to experience it…which is unique and special to me.
God alone could satisfy the deepest craving of my heart. I am whole again…
“The Lord hears the cry of every soul who sincerely seeks Him.”
In the Grotto, I left my heart. Lourdes will remain forever special to me.
I will always say, “ I know what is special in Lourdes...”
And all I know, I am special to our Lord Jesus Christ…He called me... He loves me very much!
Since then, my love for God grows sweeter,bigger and bigger everyday.
The joy and grace of serving God is always there.

My friend Emma

In 2006 I travelled over with my friend Emma who had been diaganosed with breast cancer a few months before. We prayed and we laughed so much! Emma vowed to return as a helper, but this was not to be. Emma was told in November 2007 that she was terminally ill, she was determined to make it to Lourdes one last time. Three weeks before the pilgrimage was due to leave Emma's condition suddenly deteriorated an she was admitted to hispital. Nobody thought she would be strong enough to survive the journey, but Emma was determined! Sarah pulled out all the stops and arranged for some of Emmas family and friends to travel over to Lourdes to be with her on her final journey, in all there were about 14 of us in the group. What a week was had by all. We started the week by having a party for Fr Seamus 70th birthday, Emma and I sang a song we had written for his special birthday while the wine freely flowed! Emma was able to join us for most meals in the hotel. Although getting weaker by the day, she was determined to play her beloved flute in the music group at one of the masses. On the day of the anointing mass she whispered a consoling message to each of us - SHE was comforting us! The last night in the hotel Emma had us in fits of laughter, telling her mum off as usual. On our departure day, we sat around Emmas bed saying one last Rosary. We waved her off as she boarded the ambulance to take her to the train fr her journey back to Eastbourne, telling her we'd see her the next day,but knowing in our hearts that this was goodbye. Our darilng friend died on the way home. With the help of so many people from A and B Emmas last week on earth was everything she had wanted it to be, thank you all.

A place in France

A place in France, a place in the Heart – A personal journey of Faith, Fun and Friendship
I would like to invite you to join me on a journey and ask you to imagine, if you can, that you are living 150 years ago. The date is Thursday Feb 11th 1858.
A young girl called Bernadette Soubirous has gone down to a cave by a river near where she lived to gather firewood. This was the place where the townspeople would dump their rubbish. As she sat down to take off her shoes and stockings in order to cross the river she twice heard a sound like a gust of wind. As Bernadette looked towards the grotto she noticed “A lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle a yellow rose on each foot, the same colour as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white” Bernadette was aged 14yrs, The Lady in white later revealed herself to be The Immaculate Conception; Our Lady the Mother of God. At that moment of the first apparition (there were to be 17 more ending on the 16th July that same year) Bernadette’s life was changed forever.
Over the following 150 years many more people too would testify to their lives being demonstrably changed forever.
I am one of those people.
I first went to Lourdes in 1962 aged 9. I remember vividly the cave we now call The Grotto where most of the apparitions occurred, with walking sticks and crutches hanging overhead at the Grotto entrance. Another memory is the torchlight procession with what seemed thousands of people all processing with candles lit and singing many hymns.
The next time I went to Lourdes it was 1989 and I was 36, by this time I was married to Sue, we had two children; Gavin aged 10 and Siobhan aged 8.
Our reason for going was as a result of Sue having been diagnosed 10 weeks before with cancer of the bowel and liver. Her surgeon did not think Sue would live longer than 3 months. Now Sue and our children had never been to Lourdes before; Sue was a practising Christian attending our local Church of England parish.
When I was told of Sue’s illness I prayed not for her to be cured but that she would live long enough to get to Lourdes and in the ensuing 10 weeks I prayed the rosary every day that we would all get to Lourdes as a family together.
With prayer and the generosity of the organisers of the Diocesan Pilgrimage we all got to Lourdes. This was particularly significant as for the previous 20 months Sue and I were separated and life for both of us and our children was at very low ebb.
As with my first time to Lourdes the memories of this second visit are vivid. Sue spent the first few days getting around Lourdes in a wheelchair. As the days progressed so did her illness and for her own comfort she went from the wheelchair to a stretcher on wheels. Throughout the week Sue was cared for by the medical team of Drs and Nurses but also by two young boys Chris and Phil, both aged 17yrs. Now usually in Lourdes helpers rotate each day to look after a different pilgrim; however Chris and Phil within the first day had “fallen in love” with Sue and wanted to stay with her for the whole week in Lourdes. The group leaders duly obliged. I can remember one day coming down in the hotel lift from our room. Sue was in a wheelchair. As the doors opened to the lift onto the hotel foyer I could see Chris and Phil standing just a few feet away alongside the stretcher. On the stretcher were a newly washed and puffed up pillow and a blanket which had been neatly laid out the full length of the stretcher. One of the boys called out to Sue “madam your chariot awaits”
One morning we all went down to the Grotto for a private time of prayer. As we walked through the archways leading to the grotto we were approached by a man aged about 60 yrs about 6ft tall with a tanned face. We stopped as the man smiled, first at Sue then at me, he then gently took Sue’s hand in his, and again he smiled and then walked on. The moment had lasted no more than 30 seconds. The man never spoke, I never saw him again and to this day I don’t know his name. After a few moments we continued towards the Grotto when Sue opened her hand to reveal a miraculous medal.
On the last day of the pilgrimage in Lourdes we were at Mass outdoors at St. Bernadette’s altar. By this time Sue was very weak and was prostrate on the stretcher. During the Mass one of the Drs stayed with Sue and me. At the time of communion Fr. Seamus Hester the then Pilgrimage Director asked me if Sue would take the host to which I replied “Yes”. At this moment we were just behind the altar. Bishop Cormac turned around and walked towards Sue. In a moment of complete silence everyone who was standing between us and the Bishop took a couple of steps back to create a pathway for him to walk to Sue. Gently the Dr and I lifted Sue’s upper body from the stretcher so she could receive communion from the Bishop’s hand. We then gently lowered Sue back onto the stretcher. Now earlier in the Mass I looked at the Dr and it was clear that he was very concerned about Sue’s health. After about 10 minutes communion to the pilgrimage was complete, the closing prayer and final blessing had been said and the final hymn had begun. At that moment Sue set up unaided and began to sing and clap to the final hymn.
Later that day on the train journey home I spoke again with Dr Nick. I told him that I noticed his concern for Sue at the Mass that morning. Dr Nick responded by saying “I thought Sue was going to die during the Mass. From the jaws of death to being able to sit up, clap and sing, all unaided within minutes of receiving Christ in communion I can only describe as a miracle.
Throughout the pilgrimage we as a family were treated “like royalty” particularly Sue who very quickly had become the “Belle of the Pilgrimage ball”.
As we returned to England I knew that I had to go back to Lourdes, the entire experience although in many ways unfathomable, had left a profound effect on all of us. I knew I was changing but I did not know where this would all lead. Gavin and Siobhan were also affected and have returned to Lourdes many times since as helpers and group leaders. Sue spent the last two weeks of her life back in England one week at home and her final 6 days at St. Catherine’s Hospice in Crawley. Her sister’s Jill and Carolyn remarked that Sue seemed so peaceful during her final days. Sue died at 6.30am on Wednesday 16th August one day after the feast of The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven.
A couple of days later I took Sue’s sister’s to see her body at the Chapel of rest. Neither Jill nor Carolyn are practicing Christians and very rarely talk about the possibility of the existence of God. On seeing Sue’s body Carolyn remarked “she’s not there”
Throughout her life Sue had positive effects on everybody. Written on her gravestone penned by Carolyn is the poem “A smile, a tear, a tender touch. To whom you met you gave so much. To those of us who remain, we hold your love to ease our pain”
I have come to believe that out of every death, every moment of emotional pain there can be a resurrection. Our family experience in Lourdes was a profound turning point in our lives. As I said earlier I knew that the week in Lourdes could not be the last. I didn’t know where this new journey would take me, I only knew that I had to go back to Lourdes to say thank you to God, to Our Lady and to the Diocesan Pilgrimage for the unconditional love shown to us as a family and preparing Sue for her final journey in this life.
Over the following two years I began to attend prayer services with newly found Lourdes friends. It was at such a service that I spotted an application form for a youth leadership course with the A & B Diocesan Youth Service. I went on the course and this gave me the confidence to work with young people and brought me further along the road in my relationship with God. I spent the following five years as a parish youth leader whilst being a full time Police school liaison officer. It was during this period that I knew that being in youth ministry is what God was asking me to do. This was the way my life was changing. My prayer life was stronger my relationship with God much deeper.
My relationship with Lourdes, in particular my involvement with the A & B Lourdes Pilgrimage was also growing from strength to strength. Year on year I have returned to Lourdes with the diocese, initially as a helper, then as a hotel leader and family group coordinator. Over the last few years I have been able to combine two great loves of my life; young people and Lourdes with the development of The Lourdes Youth Service Group; aka The Redshirts.

For much longer young and not so young people attending Lourdes as helpers in the Hospitalite have been the foundation upon which the Pilgrimage to Lourdes is built. For without the dedication of so many people willing to give their time there would be many sick and disabled who would not be able to go to Lourdes. And without the sick and disabled we would not be drawn into the presence of God in such a beautiful unique way that is Lourdes.

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