At the start of September, I was one of the many thousands of people at Westminster Cathedral for the visit of the relics of St Bernadette from Lourdes. Being and praying in her presence was a profound and powerful spiritual experience. It was also a chance to meet with some of those I’ve volunteered with in Lourdes, moments that felt like catching up with family or people you’ve known for years.
Lourdes has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager.
Growing up in a Catholic household, you couldn’t help but know the story of St Bernadette; a peasant girl from a small town in France whom the Virgin Mary appeared to in a series of visions. It was a place where those who were sick went to, but I didn’t see how it related to me.
I was 17 when a letter was sent home to my parents which changed everything. It invited us to volunteer on a trip to Lourdes the following summer, as part of the annual Diocesan pilgrimage. My mum was keen to sign me up straight away!
We were to be Red Caps, tasked to assist those pilgrims with mobility issues, as well providing them with some companionship. The idea was a daunting prospect and I approached the week with some apprehension.
But within a day of arriving in Lourdes, I felt my nerves transform into feelings of joy and contentment. Assisting those who otherwise would not have been able to go to Lourdes was an incredible experience. I soon realised we weren’t just volunteering, we were serving.
The first time I properly witnessed faith in action was when I went to Lourdes.
We’re all aware of the commandment to ‘love one another’ but to see it in practice was something completely different. It became tangible that we were living out the Gospel and the teachings of Christ.
Lourdes has become a place of great spiritual nourishment for me: its a place I feel happy and at ease. It was also where I felt a clear call to help people, so I began to explore more faith-based volunteering opportunities and came across the Caritas Volunteer Service. In a funny twist of fate, the first I heard about Caritas Westminster was when one of the Caritas Service Managers sat next to me on the train to Lourdes. I subsequently found a paid role within Caritas and have worked there ever since.
My time at Caritas has allowed me to witness great acts of service, both in the work my colleagues do supporting those on the margins of society, but also across our parishes and schools.
Since the Queen’s death last week, there has been a lot of discussion about how she exemplified a life of dedicated service rooted in faith. Indeed, on her 21st birthday Princess Elizabeth said, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’
As Catholics, we know our service is a vital expression of our faith. It is one of the last commands of Christ, and something which we can learn at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Caitlin is Information Officer for Caritas Westminster, the social action agency for the Diocese of Westminster. She also volunteers for the Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes as a Team Leader and occasionally works with Westminster Youth Ministry. Get in touch with Caitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Caritas Westminster, go to https://www.caritaswestminster.org.uk/.
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