A life-changing trip to Lourdes
Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage for Christians because the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local girl called Bernadette 18 times, and people visit Lourdes today because it is a place of healing, comfort and forgiveness. As a school we have supported the work of the Glanfield Children’s Group, who accompany sick, disabled, and disadvantaged children, as well as adults with learning difficulties on pilgrimages, in our annual Lourdes fundraising fortnight, which will take place this year on 9 - 20 March. Each year we raise money from a range of fun activities, from bake sales to a dog show, and every summer a group of St Mary's students travels to Lourdes to assist disabled pilgrims who have made the trip.
Some students have shared their experiences of the trip, which they found challenging at times but incredibly rewarding.
We travelled to Lourdes by train this year which is a change from what has happened in the past. By the time we arrived in Lourdes to be met by Miss Fleming and Mr Mallabone, we already knew lots of the other people we would be working alongside and had begun to make friends.
The biggest part of Lourdes for young helpers is something called ‘rolling’. ‘Rolling’ is where you collect a pilgrim from a hotel they are staying at, and ‘roll’ them in their wheelchair to wherever they want to go. Throughout the day there are different things planned, from masses to day trips. But also there was time to just do things such as shopping with the pilgrims.
As well as rolling, you work in the Accueil (the hospital), carrying out daily duties helping people. You help your assisted Pilgrims to get ready in the morning or evening, help them eat their meals and talk to them, take them shopping, help on a day trip to the Lake in Lourdes and generally in the evenings after your shift. These duties help you to get to know another side of life. It helps us to appreciate all that we have been given. It can be a humbling experience spending time with someone who finds life challenging but you also make great friendships which can last a lifetime. It is the relationships with your other workers and pilgrims which make this a trip a week like no other.
People have talked about being slightly overwhelmed at first, however there are nurses all around to help when you need them and the pilgrims are so lovely they make sure you feel as comfortable as possible. The shifts can be long and tiring, some can start as early as 6am and some can end as late as 11pm, however, it is truly one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have.
The assisted pilgrims or APs as we call them really do make the week. I know it's a cliché to say but my AP, Penny, was the sweetest and strongest person I have ever met. She inspired me with her spirit and her strength to carry on despite her illness and never complained. The joy on her face when we came out of any mass made the week worthwhile despite the early mornings and long shifts. Lourdes is a place where people come to rest and ask for healing and peace, however, for the volunteers there, it is one of the most intense weeks. The relationship you form with your AP is indescribable, she texted me over the Christmas holidays to wish me a happy new year and good luck with my exams and that is just a testimony to the strong and special friendship formed during the week in Lourdes. The feeling of pride and satisfaction of helping another person who then becomes your friend is one of the best feelings in the world. It is a week I will never forget.
One of the great things about going to Lourdes is that there is a St Mary’s family made up of past students who look out for us and make sure we know that they went to school here as well. This is one past student’s thoughts about Lourdes:
“My favourite part of Lourdes was the Accueil, which was the hospital where the pilgrims who needed most help stayed. When we got arrived, we were put into groups with helpers from other schools and given our nursing uniforms. We were then escorted to the pilgrims, which is where I first met Teresa. Miss Fleming told us before we went how we would meet people in Lourdes that would stay in our minds even at home, and for me that is Teresa. I was fortunate to help her on many occasions, during some of my shifts in the Accueil […]
Teresa was one of many of the lovely pilgrims we met in the Accueil. She suffered from Parkinson’s meaning she was sometimes unable to eat, drink, wash and go to the toilet alone. I never realized how important, the week of holiday I would be giving up would be, to someone I had never met only a few days before. She helped me to feel comfortable helping her and I got an insight into the challenges and difficulties she faced. It was quite a learning curve but one I will never forget.
If you are considering going to Lourdes, I would say do not hesitate to send in your application. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, even if you are not a person of faith. It gives you the chance to try new things, go out of your comfort zone and know you are making a difference to a person’s life.”