So, it’s that time of the year: university starts again and before you know it you are thinking about deadlines and missing the summer fun you had. Talking to your friends you hear about everyone’s different versions of their amazing summer holidays – from the full moon beach party in Thailand, to getting wasted in Zante , to interailing around Europe! So, if I added to the list a pilgrimage, I’m sure most of you would be dumbfounded and immediately have many preconceptions in your head. I’m hoping to change that.
This summer I went on my fourth trip to Lourdes and had the most rewarding time. Believe me, before I went for the first time when I began in 2008 ,I was really nervous and honestly I only went because all my friends were going. However, when I came back my parents had to deal with my moody face and sadness of missing everyone I met. It was something I had never experienced before, which is why I think anyone who has the chance should go on a pilgrimage too!
What is Lourdes?
Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage in the South of France where many sick and disabled people flock to be in the presence of the miracle that happened there, and pray to be healed. The group I go with is the BCYS which is the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service. With us we take the diocese of Brentwood who are elderly and disabled, and help them in different ways during the week.
How does it work?
Leaders have to be 18+ and are given a group of young people for a week to look after and help them learn about Lourdes. The leaders are in threes or fours and work alongside each other during the week. There are a number of activities throughout the week around the city and groups are assigned pilgrims to push to masses and help them experience their pilgrimage.
Why would I want to go?
There are so many reasons why I love going and it is hard to describe it to people who haven’t been as you really have to experience it for yourselves, but I will attempt to! You meet some of the loveliest people who genuinely accept you for you. I have made some of my best friends through the BCYS and strengthened my existing friendships. One big thing I loved was when one of my young people became a leader this year – it made me feel like I played a part in them wanting to come back. I almost felt like a proud parent in helping them grow. They then had the confidence as a leader to help the other young people explore their beliefs and ideas.
Is it fun?
You never stop in Lourdes and you are exhausted by the end of the week because the timetable is fully packed! In the evenings when you have finished your duties, there is a quiz night, karaoke, a talent show and a massive party where we have our own DJ and celebrate the week. The BCYS is a social community and everyone is always smiling and having a laugh. I have had some of the best nights out and the best house parties with fellow leaders! One day in the week you also go to a waterpark called Lac Vert and spend your time soaking up the rays, going on all the slides and chilling in the pool. It is so relaxing.
How do you feel?
The week brings up a mixture of feelings from absolute happiness to dealing with deep emotions. This year I went after my granddad had died and it was the best thing for me to do. It helped me think about what I was going through and making sure my group had the best time was what my attention was focused on. Our group this year had the greatest banter and we were all there for each other. And it is not just about looking after your group. You make a difference to other pilgrim’s lives. The gratitude that the pilgrims feel is unforgettable, and they are so touched that you have helped them. The atmosphere of Lourdes is beautiful, everything is still and the devotion that people have to their faith is incredible.
Does it change you?
My confidence has grown completely since I have been involved in the BCYS. Leading a small group gives you the determination to be happy in yourself and want to help others to learn. It brings you out of your shell. Before I started in 2008 I was quite shy but now I am extremely happy and oozing with confidence, which has really helped me at university.
Affirmation Books!!?? What are they??
These are one of the precious gifts you receive from Lourdes. Every person involved in the trip has a book and people are able to write down a small message saying all the things they love and respect about you. I still look at these when I am feeling down, they always make me forget about the bad things and put a smile on my face.
Now I know what most of you are thinking. This is Lauren writing and why hasn’t she mentioned anything about boys? So you knew this was coming! In Lourdes I have met some of the nicest, bubbliest boys who don’t judge you and are always there when you need a cuddle and a chat. And some of them are quite easy on the eye (I’ll save that for another article!).
So I have given you a little insight on Lourdes. Just take a chance and you will not regret it! It was one of the best decisions I made getting involved as otherwise I seriously would not have such wonderful friends and experiences.
For more information visit http://www.bcys.net/