On Wednesday the 7th of September, four Rhetoric students – Conor Galvin, Ben Messayeh, Sean McCrohan and Daniel Lumb (left to right above) – travelled to Lourdes as part of the Dublin Diocesan Annual Pilgrimage. They were accompanied by Fr Dermot Murray SJ, Mr Francis Marron, Mrs Eileen Lumb and one of our GAP students Joe Schwager. Sadly, Charlie Coonan was taken ill the previous weekend and was unable to travel. Our embedded correspondent Dan Lumb takes up the story…
When we arrived at Dublin airport after what felt like endless months of preparation it did not take long to be thrown into life as a ‘blue shirt’ on the pilgrimage. Conor, Sean, Ben, Joe and I were each assigned a pilgrim and had to make sure got they through security and onto the plane without any hassle. To add to what could be seen as a daunting first task, the pilgrims we were assigned were either completely or partially deaf. Communication was difficult but by conversing with hand gestures we managed to get on the plane with the only incident being the one-hour delay.
A late night was followed by an early rise as we were awoken for vital voiture training. These voitures are essentially three-wheeled chariots and are the way most of the pilgrims get around the fairly steep town of Lourdes, so being shown how to pull one safely was of paramount importance. We then moved to our respective wards within the Accueil. The Accueil was where all the sick pilgrims were staying and, for the first time in Mr Marron’s memory, we were all assigned to help out working on the wards there. Our duties involved cleaning the room in the morning when the pilgrims were at breakfast, being available to wheel pilgrims to and from Mass and other occasions and just being available to have a chat. For many of the pilgrims this last was one of the best aspects of the pilgrimage, as many of them live at home alone and the social interaction with the hundreds of helpers and other pilgrims was a great change.
Every evening there was a gathering of the school groups for what is known as the ‘prairie’. This is essentially a night prayer with each school doing something on one of the nights we were there. These would be based on a theme that was set for the night and the school groups involved would tell stories, give reflections, sing songs or do anything, which they thought would be able to link to the theme. Deciding that our group was lacking in musical talent, we thought we should tell a story that tied in with the theme we were given, which was mercy. It was about a child who was blinded by a soldier as a child, but when he grew up travelled to find him and forgive him. These prairies were often a nice way to end the day, as it was restful in comparison to the busy days we all experienced.
However, it was pilgrims themselves who made the pilgrimage so special. Within my room in the ward there were so many different people with so many different stories. It was fascinating to be able to hear them all. An example of this was Eileen, whose husband had four Paralympic gold medals in lawn bowls in the 1980s when she was a fairly handy player herself, winning a large amount of titles before she had to walk with the use of crutches. Many of these people had lived such interesting lives and the great thing was that you could see they enjoyed telling them too.
I believe I speak for all of us, when I say that we took so much from our relatively short time in Lourdes. This can be the extra gratitude we now feel about what we have. Seeing people have such illnesses both of the physical and mental kind and yet not hearing them moan once about it really makes you reflect on what you do have. On top of that there is also the religious element of Lourdes. It is almost impossible to explain to someone why Lourdes is so special if they haven’t been. It’s a place where the Christian ideal of Faith is very much active to which people of every continent, both young and old flock every year for the same cause. It was truly a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of. I think it’s fair to say that none of us will ever forget this pilgrimage. We went over there to make a difference to the pilgrims’ lives, but it must be said that they made a difference to ours as well.
Daniel Lumb, Rhetoric