Following on his feature in the latest edition of the Kinsale & District Newsletter on the Kinsale Carmelite Pilgrimage to Lourdes, Leo McMahon reports on the effect that the trip to Lourdes has on pilgrims of all ages.
Kinsale Community School students Sarah McCarthy and Niamh Twomey were in the youth section of the pilgrimage.
‘I went to Lourdes three years ago with my mum (Mary) saw all the youth there and decided I would come back to help and push the wheelchairs,’ said Sarah. Niamh said she decided to go with Sarah. ‘My mum (Theresa) who is a nurse and went to Lourdes as a trainee, was all for me going.’
Both teenagers said the experience was really good. ‘It’s really special’ said Sarah while Niamh added: ‘when you go through the gates, it’s just stunning and completely different from when you’re near the shops. I didn’t know what to expect but it was just so nice.’
The best part, they stated, was meeting all the new people and going at night time to the grotto and nearby candles area later. Both said they felt the better for the pilgrimage, would go again and paid tribute to youth leader Denise O’Leary (along with Sean Lynch) and all the organisers.
Denise O’Leary, aged 18, who is a ‘blue tie’ (official helper) was on her third pilgrimage, having previously gone as a youth herself on the recommendation of her cousin Joan. ‘It’s very hard to put into words what Lourdes means to me but when I go to the grotto late at night where it’s quiet, I’m completely overwhelmed.
She said there was a great buzz at the meetings and youth Mass in Lourdes and when helping out with the wheelchairs etc. but also in the free time between duties. She paid tribute to Kinsale youth members Sarah and Niamh.
In an age when fewer people of her age practice their religion, Denise, a CIT student, said that on speaking about the pilgrimage with her colleagues, she actually found most of them open minded and interested in the spiritual aspect.
Denise added that in keeping with tradition by placing her rose into the railing by the Crowned Virgin statue in the basilica square, she would have to come back to Lourdes.
One of the ‘blue ties’ and wheelchairs co-ordinator Mark Eaton, aged 22, is already a veteran having made 16 pilgrimages to Lourdes even during Leaving Cert and college terms. ‘Every year is different and carrying the statue with my dad (Paul) in the torchlight procession three years ago and this year doing the High Stations with him and helping others along the way who found it difficult were very special. The older people really appreciate it.’
Mark wrote an excellent article about the pilgrimage in the newsletter of Kinsale Community School (of which he is a past pupil) and there were also further comments from pupils Sarah McCarthy and Niamh Twomey mentioned above.
Fellow Blue tie Eva Wright, aged 21, who was on her third pilgrimage, said it was very rewarding to be of help but also great fun and agreed with Mark that there was a great mix among the different group members and the making of many new friends. Her message for young people was: ‘You just have come out to Lourdes and experience it for yourself.’
Twenty seven years old ‘blue tie’ Christina Broderick, who was on her fourth trip to Lourdes and taking a break from studying for a masters degree in philosophy at UCC, said: ‘It’s nice to be involved in a group and help, the place is lovely and there are lots of things to do. Overall, it’s an enjoyable experience and I feel more relaxed and peaceful.
‘It’s the peace, quiet and relaxation and especially going down to the grotto late at night. You just can’t beat that,’ said Jane O’Donovan from Bandon in explaining why she has visited Lourdes seven times. Her comments were echoed by Mary White from Ballinspittle on her sixth pilgrimage. ‘You get drawn back and I would recommend it to anyone.’
‘The baths are also a great experience. You can’t explain it but I would encourage everyone to do it. You travel with lovely people, it’s very well organised and overall it’s a great experience’, Jane added.
Mercy Sr Mary McAuliffe said she had been to Lourdes 15 times since 2001. “I get great peace here and find the spirit of community, friendship and help wonderful. I’m also inspired by the young people who are so caring. There’s also the spirit of prayer, especially at the grotto well away from the commercialised area by the shops and the stalls.’. Sr Mary also spoke about the excellent organisation of the Carmelite pilgrimage which is the result of months of hard work and preparation.
‘It’s absolutely brilliant altogether’ said Una McCarthy who was on her third pilgrimage and only decided to go a few days before. ‘It’s very spiritual and it brings you down to earth. Lourdes is just so peaceful and prayerful. Everyone is so pleasant and nice and chat to one another. When you come here it just takes your troubles away.’
Fellow Kinsale pilgrim Eileen O’Connell, who has been to Lourdes eight times, said; ‘You just feel there is something calling you. I just get great peace of mind and the minute you go through those gates it’s a different world, it really is.
At the end of the pilgrimage, said Una and Eileen, one felt very refreshed.
‘Lourdes means a lot to me’, said Silvana Pannica (Fiorini) who runs a popular Italian food store at Kinsale Farmer’s Market. ‘I’ve been on other pilgrimages but I always get healing when I come to Lourdes.’ Having suffered in the past from kidney infections and anaemia,, she said she definitely felt the benefit and recovered from both as a result of visits to Lourdes. ‘I find peace here and something in my heart that makes me always want to go back’.
‘I cry to Our Lady when I go to the baths in Lourdes and I always pray to her’, said Sylvia who added she felt fortunate to be residing so close to the famous and beautiful grotto at Ballinspittle where she prays and bring flowers.
All I spoke to at Lourdes Airport prior to the flight home were high in praise of pilgrimage leader Paul Eaton and fellow organising committee members for their care and professionalism, all voluntary.