The bags were packed and ready to go on Sunday 26th June 450 excited pilgrims gathered in Shannon Airport with suitcases laden with petitions. This pilgrimage would go down in history as the 60th Anniversary of the first Killaloe Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The opening Mass was celebrated by Fr. Tom Ryan, Pilgrimage Director in Côte Grotto assisted by the twelve priests who travelled on pilgrimage. The Assisted pilgrims, who are most welcome in Lourdes, encircled the altar. The royal blue and white uniforms of the carers and nurses assured us we were in good hands. We were joined again this year by the very able and willing helpers from the Bavarian College, Manchester who worked alongside 46 young people from the Killaloe Diocese. The Knockerra Church Choir, who would enhance the liturgies, looked well in their navy, blue and purple outfits.
In his homily Fr. Tom reminded the pilgrims of Pope Francis’ aspiration in celebrating this year as the Year of Mercy. He spoke of Bernadette’s difficulties when following our Lady’s aspirations.
The Blessed Sacrament Procession took place in the underground Basilica of St. Pius X in the blistering sunshine. The ceremony was a memorable event especially as the pilgrims progressed to the underground basilica led by the assisted pilgrims who took part in the Blessing of the sick.
To fulfil the pilgrim’s requirement for a passport of special indulgence as part of The Year of Mercy, pilgrims passed through the “Door of Mercy” which led the pilgrims to the underground Basilica of Pius X for Mass. Chief Celebrant was Fr. Frank Meehan, Shinrone, assisted by Fr. Harry Brady and Fr. Pat Sexton. Fr. Frank, in typical style, reminded those present in his homily of the very comforting words of our Lord “Come to me all you who labour and who are over-burdened and also the message “not to be afraid”. The sacrament of the anointing of the sick was incorporated into this Mass. Hymns including “the Weaver” with its instrumental accompanying made the healing Mass a very emotional occasion.
The afternoon was a busy one for the pilgrims who found themselves in Côte Grote for the Penitential Rite. Fr. Tom Ryan offered inspirational and thought provoking words on forgiveness. He borrowed the proverb “to err is human but to forgive is divine”. The priests were certainly busy as they took all the time needed by the pilgrims to unburden their worries.
During the nightly torchlight Rosary procession, the Knockerra choir was invited to stand in the place of honour which was on the steps of the Rosary Basilica. The choir felt so privileged to lead the singing for the thirty thousand pilgrims. This poignant moment, was all so rewarding particularly when some members of the choir led the prayers.
Day three began with a Mass at the Grotto, everyone’s favourite place, as it was here that it all began on 11th February 11th. Canon O’ Donoghue was assisted by Bishop Willie Walsh and Canon Michael Mc Laughlin as well as all the priests who travelled on the pilgrimage.
The Eucharistic Hour was celebrated in Côte Carmel. Fr. Michael Geraghty, Nenagh, shared with us one of his own life challenging experiences and how he felt God had abandoned him. It was then he truly realised that we must put our trust in the Lord as He promised “Come to me all you who labour and overburdened and I will give you rest”. The ceremony included singing and soothing instrumental music not only by the choir but by the talented Youth Leaders, the Murray sisters, Tracy & Claire from Coore.
The outdoor Mass was celebrated on the steps of St. Bernadette’s Altar in pleasant sunshine by Fr. Ger Jones Nenagh. Fr. Ger dwelt on Bernadette’s challenge and reminded us that our service to others is essential in fulfilling our service to God. The children’s singing of “A Mhuire Mháthair”, accompanied by adults in the chorus, drew the attention of the passing International pilgrims, who seemed to linger to the end.
While in Lourdes many pilgrims visited the famous baths and were “WASHED”. Others chose the taps to fulfil their need of the Lourdes blessing. Others visited the Grotto or the many chapels for quiet time. Our young people and their Leaders took an Emmaus walk from Lourdes to Bartres where St. Bernadette minded the sheep; this was an opportunity for the young people to reflect as they walked together.
The blessing of the Pilgrimage candle and farewell ceremony took place in the underground Basilica of Pius X. The reflection, prayers and singing, not alone by the choir but by the sisters Julita and Sally Fox from Shannon, enlivened the ceremony. Sally told her story of her experience of sickness and her family’s sojourn which was inspirational. The candle when lit was placed at the shrine in the Grotto for the intentions of the pilgrims and their loved ones at home. The privilege of lighting the candle this year was bestowed on choir members Nora and Michael Madigan, Knockerra, as they, familiar visitors to Lourdes, had suggested to their choir to make the commitment. Fr. Tom thanked all those who made the visit to Lourdes. He thanked the many helpers, some never seen as they cared for the temporal needs of the pilgrims, his fellow priests, Dr. Rita O’Connor, Medical Officer, a team of nurses led by Michael Daly and Teresa Nash, hospitality volunteers led by P.J. Cusack, the youth group under the direction of Fr. Fergal O’Neill, Portroe, and their leaders, the airport staff and Knockerra Church Choir and the Pilgrimage Secretary and Administrator, Mary Freeman. In thanking the choir Fr Tom said he was not just speaking for himself, but for all present. This choir had male and female members from six to eighty years of age – a group of forty-two people who felt privileged to have the opportunity to be part of the pilgrimage. Memories of this visit will for be with them forever. Descriptive words like uplifting, emotional, spirit restored, peaceful were only some of the language the choir members used. When we walked away from the bright twinkling light of the candle shrine by the Grotto, that beautiful lady suspended there seemed to say “Come again”.
The final Mass, celebrated in St. Joseph’s Chapel, was equally uplifting. The celebrant, Fr. Fergal O’ Neill, Portroe, treated us to some thought provoking stories. One particular little boy who asked his father could he buy an hour of his time. This was a striking example of how in this busy world we need to stop and become aware of the really important things.
As the pilgrims prepared to return home they bade farewell to their parting comrades with tears, hugs, kisses and assurances of returning soon again. One thing is sure; it was memorable and worthwhile, even to experience the weather and the scenery! We were on a personal journey which allowed us quiet time, reflective time, prayer time, and a time when people left their worldly troubles and lived in a lovely bubble of peace and contentment for a few days. To see those beautiful young people with a smile and a cheery word one could not but be moved. It’s impossible to put into words what the experience of Lourdes is like, but be assured it never fails to be a marvel and should be experienced by all at least once in a lifetime. The autumn pilgrimage to Lourdes from the Diocese takes place from Shannon Airport on Sunday 2nd October for 5 days returning on Friday 7th October. Details are in every parish.