15 August 2022, The Tablet

The pilgrims are back

The pilgrims are back

After two years of interruption due to Covid, young Catholics from the UK are once again on the pilgrim path to Lourdes. Fr Simon Gore writes about a journey that can change lives

As the Archdiocese of Liverpool prepares for a century of pilgrimage to Lourdes next year, the archdiocesan youth pilgrimage is only a few years away from its own significant jubilee of 50 years of service of the sick, elderly and infirm.
Over the years since its inception the youth pilgrimage has had many changes, but the core message of service remains the same. 

For many years we took nine coaches of young people to Lourdes, each leaving from a different geographic area of the diocese. Sadly, this year we are down to seven coaches – as with many things Covid has had an effect on us – but we can hope that next year we will be back to full strength.

Each coach forms its own community over the seven or eight months that young people apply to be part of the pilgrimage. They have regular meetings with their coach staff and get to know each other and learn more about the place of pilgrimage they will visit, the work they will do, and how they will fit into the wider pilgrimage.

This sense of community that each coach forms over this time is a vital part of what we think makes the diocesan youth pilgrimage so special.

Young people meet other young people from their area but not necessarily from the same school; they meet young people a bit older (and maybe wiser?!), and then they in turn will mentor the new youth pilgrims. 

In those meetings they will be told that in Lourdes they will stay in their own coach hotel and have their own coach identity. Each coach does things a little differently. But when they are asked to go on duty, they are representing the youth pilgrimage as a whole to all those in Lourdes. They should wear their yellow t-shirt with pride and make those in Lourdes with us see the best of the diocese.

They will have to take their assisted pilgrims from either the hotels around Lourdes or from the St Frai to the various liturgies and events that take place through the week. In that time they will forge bonds with the assisted pilgrims that can be heart-warming to see.

But we are not just the equivalent of a New York cab – hail someone in yellow to get you to where you want to be – young people on the pilgrimage also lead prayers for the assisted pilgrims as they make their first visit to the Domaine, and they lead the Lower Stations of the Cross for the assisted pilgrims.

And in their own times as a coach community youth pilgrims will have their own coach Mass led by their coach priest chaplain, take part in their own High Stations of the Cross and have their own Night Prayer each night.
It is a full week, and if you leave Lourdes not tired at the end of the week you have done something wrong!

But to come back to where we started, at the heart of the pilgrimage has to be the idea of service.

Staff offer themselves in service to the young people on the coach: many often taking this time as part of their annual leave; young people serve each other on their coach; and then in turn serve the assisted pilgrims. 

And that is not in any way a one-way street as those young people gain so much from their time with the assisted pilgrims. It can be a life changing experience.

Vocations have been found and nurtured through the youth pilgrimage: whether that is vocations to ordained ministry or vocations to married and family life and vocations to a specific call in life.

Fr Simon Gore is the Director of Youth Ministry in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. If you would like to know more about the Liverpool Youth Pilgrimage, or youth ministry in Liverpool in general – including either being part of the pilgrimage or being part of the youth ministry team that helps to co-ordinate the pilgrimage then please visit animateyouth.org.

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