Lourdes Pilgrimage 2017

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The Sun glistened over the snow-capped Pyrenees as the Raphoe Pilgrims made their way as part of the Eucharistic Procession. It was 31 degrees Centigrade but despite the heat the pilgrims were relishing the occasion and enjoying their pilgrimage walk with Jesus. The 329 pilgrims consisting of 40 Assisted Pilgrims, 50 Youth from the Second- level schools of the diocese, 3 Doctors, 18 Nurses, 22 Brancardiers, 23 Handmaidens and 10 priests.

The theme chosen for this year by Bishop Nicolas Brouwet was from the great prayer of Our Lady, The Magnificat; The Almighty has done great things for me. As ever there were those who were in Lourdes to give thanks for favours granted and there were thiose seeking help in so many ways. When one sees a group of pilgrims praying one often wonders what are they praying for? Some intentions are very personal and private, others are fairly obvious and there are those that are shared with others in a moment of conversation. One never knows what is going on in any person’s life and those who might appear fit and strong could be among the most ill on the pilgrimage. There are tears shed by many as they participate in the various Masses and Liturgies but it is true to say that washing in the waters of Lourdes is an experience that few can prepare for. It is an experience that is private to the person and God.

Unusually the pilgrimage began this year at the Grotto with the Dioceses of Wrexham and Ossory (Ireland)   The Bishop of Wrexham Peter Brignall was main celebrant and Mgr. Michael Ryan VG Ossory delivered the homily. We were encouraged to be thankful to God for what we have and we shouild take nothing for granted. Mgr. Ryan said the the Blessed Virgin Mary was extremely humble and continually gave glory and praise to God for everything.

Mr. Francois Labadie made a formal presentation to Mr. Donal Boyle Head of Hospitalitie to mark the fact that the new Accueuil Notre Dame was opened 20 years this year and the Raphoe Diocese has brought the Assisted Pilgrims ( Sick ) to the Accueuil every year since it opened. In fact the Raphoe diocese has been bringing the Assisted Pilgrims to Lourdes since the mid sixties. It is a recognition that is merited and appreciated by all associated with the pilgrimage over the years.

It was a first for Mirela Klanfar from Croatia as she was the first non Irish person to volunteer to help on the pilgrimage. When Mirela told her Parish priest she was going to Lourdes he said ‘ it is the nearest you will ever be to heaven on this earth. A small child on this year’s pilgrimage asked her Mum, ‘ Is this heaven? This child along with the other small children loved Lourdes and many of them did not want to go home. This sentiment was not confined solely to children and young people.

The 50 young people conducted themselves so well in every respect that they were congratulated by many outsiders from othe diocese. One priest said publicly the Youth of Raphoe were a credit to their families, their schools and their diocese.

At the closing Mass Mgr. Daniel Carr VG in his homily reflected on the changing face of Ireland. It was no longer considered acceptable by many to be a practicing Roman Catholic. The Irish media and certain sections of politicians in their endeavours to secularise society were decidedly anti Catholic and he encouraged pilgrims not be put off by this continuous barrage but to stand up for their faith and hold on to what has served the Irish people for centuries.

This tied in very well with the reflections given by Fr. Eddie Gallagher PP Kilcar who looked back on the visit to Ireland St. Pope John Paul II in 1979. Fr. Eddie who is 40 years ordained a priest this year quoted from the homilies of the Pope given at the various litugies. It was a time for looking back on what the Pope said in 1979 but it is also a time for looking forward to the proposed visit to Ireland of Pope Francis next year 2018. It is a very different Ireland but like Our Lady we can be thankful to God that the violence that dominated the Ireland of 1979 is behind us.

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