This Summer I had the great honour of spending a week in Lourdes with other pilgrims from London. I was with the Redcaps, who are young people who help the assisted pilgrims in various ways, such as pushing their wheelchairs.
At the Opening Mass, Cardinal Vincent Nichols welcomed us and encouraged us to take time at the Grotto to pray, to participate wholeheartedly in the Torchlight Procession and to be fully present to the Blessed Sacrament.
In 1858, a young girl called Bernadette was collecting firewood when she saw a beautiful woman near a cave. The woman later identified herself as The Immaculate Conception, that is Mary, mother of Jesus. She asked for a chapel to be built and for people to come there in procession. The cave where Mary appeared to Bernadette is called the Grotto.
The Grotto is a wonderful place to visit and pray quietly in the very place Our Lady appeared. For me, it was particularly special to go there late at night, with hardly anyone around, and reflect on faithfulness. The faithfulness of Mary who said yes to God, the faithfulness of Bernadette who listened to Mary, the faithfulness of the young people who were pushing the wheelchairs of those who needed it, the faithfulness of the assisted pilgrims in their hardships and the faithfulness of God in all things.
One of the times Our Lady appeared to Bernadette, she asked her to leave the candle she had brought with her. In memory of this, pilgrims carrying candles walk in procession behind a large statue of Our Lady. This was particularly special for me as I helped carry the statue along with seven other redcaps. Cardinal Nichols reminded us that it is love, compassion and mercy that we carry with our candles and that many lights together make a great light.
Throughout the week, I was inspired by the generosity of the young people who so cheerfully went about the hard work of caring for the pilgrims they were assisting. It is not easy to push a wheelchair up a hill in the sun or give up your holiday to help someone in need. I was inspired by the assisted pilgrims themselves, who bore their difficulties so well and made the most of the opportunities they had.
I really enjoyed my pilgrimage. Lourdes is a holy place, a healing place, a beautiful place. And I encourage you to go.