Over 450 pilgrims from across the Diocese boarded three aircraft in Shannon Airport on Tuesday 26th June departing for Lourdes airport in the south of France. By late on Tuesday all the pilgrims and their luggage had arrived safely in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains to begin the 62nd annual Killaloe Diocesan Pilgrimage to the International Marian Shrine at Lourdes. Among those travelling were 60 assisted and sick pilgrims as well as almost 50 young people between the ages of 16 and 18 representing schools and parishes from all parts of the Diocese. Since the Virgin Mary appeared here to the young Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, countless pilgrims have made their way to this place from all corners of the world to pray and seek for healing and peace.

Lourdes is particularly associated with the sick and infirm and it has certainly been the experience of the Killaloe sick and assisted pilgrims that they have been treated as VIP’s in these days. Lourdes today is a busy and bustling place, with a myriad of hotels and shops to cater for the many visitors but the Sanctuary and the Grotto remain the very heart of the town. When Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette 160 years ago the Grotto was little more than an abandoned cave that served as the town dump but on Wednesday morning the sky was filled with the beautiful sounds of the choir from the Parish of Kilmaley as they raised their voices in praise of God.

In his homily Bishop Fintan welcomed all of the pilgrims who were part of our Diocesan family and invited them to find a focus for their pilgrimage. He invited us to enter “that space of listening where we might need to unclutter some things, to free ourselves from what often distracts us, to focus on what is deep, what is meaningful, what is spiritual and special in our lives. In doing so our time here in Lourdes will be most fruitful and we will return home better people, bringing a renewed Gospel message to all we meet, love and care for.” During the apparitions a miraculous spring appeared in the Grotto and Mary asked Bernadette to go and bathe in it.

That spring still flows today and fills the baths in which the pilgrims of today still bathe as part of their journey. The Killaloe pilgrims did just that in advance of leading the Eucharistic Procession in the afternoon. Each night of the pilgrimage concluded with a praying of the rosary by candlelight before the grotto. During this restful time many will have recalled those for whom they were asked to pray and the needs that they carried in their hearts. Certainly there were busy and active times on this journey. The day in Lourdes is hinged by two great processions. The procession of the Eucharist in the afternoon and the great Marian Torchlight procession as the shadows of evening fall are attended by many thousands of visitors. We had the opportunity to lead both and carried our banners high. But there are the quiet and reflective moments too when real healing of the spirit can take place.

There’s the solitary moments before the grotto or in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament where the most earnest prayers are whispered. The Eucharistic healing hour led by Fr. Ger Jones of Nenagh and the Penitential service led by Fr. Pat Larkin of Kilmaley will have touched the hearts and spirits of many. A feature of our pilgrimage this year were the lives of two priests of the Diocese. The newly ordained Fr. Martin Shanahan shared the story of his vocations; first to marriage and then to priesthood and all were delighted to receive his First Blessing. Remembered in a special way this year was Fr. Frank Meehan of Shinrone parish who left us unexpectedly last November. He was a devoted servant of the Killaloe Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes as well as being a missionary for it. Many of our pilgrims come again and again having been first encouraged by Fr. Frank. In his memory a portable amplifier and microphone were presented for the leading of the Stations of the Cross, a duty he fulfilled many times. Lux perpetua luceat eis, Domine.

The joyful hearts and generous spirits of our young people was a source of great joy for all of us. No task was too much trouble as they faithfully carried out their roles in supporting our sick and assisted pilgrims. Experience tells us that these days will be a defining moment in the lives, growth and maturity of these young people. Their service in Lourdes will be a constant reminder of not taking for granted the ways in which they have been blessed with health and life. Their participation in the prayers and liturgies will remind them that faith and worship do have a value in a world that has become increasingly deaf to the call of the spirit of God. Later this year Pope Francis has called a Synod to explore how best the Church can minister to young people. The Shrine authorities here in Lourdes invited our young people from Killaloe Diocese to participate in a preparatory meeting for that Synod. Our young people participated with enthusiasm and can have the confidence of knowing that the opinions they expressed will form part of the deliberations of the Synod that will take place in Rome next October. At the closing ceremony on the last night of the pilgrimage baptismal promises were renewed, religious articles were blessed and our pilgrimage candle was blessed and lit.

In a few short weeks Pope Francis will be present at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and Knock. As a prelude to that event the honour of lighting our pilgrimage candle fell to the Murray’s from Sixmilebridge who made the journey to Lourdes as a family group. The very large candle was carried in procession to its place opposite the grotto ensuring that our prayers will continue long after we’ve gone home. The Killaloe Autumn Pilgrimage to Lourdes will depart from Shannon on October 7th this year and you can book your place with Joe Walsh Tours by clicking here. Our thanks to Photo Lacaze and Bishop Fintan for the photos.