By Cian Molloy - 08 September, 2018
Two thousand pilgrims left Dublin Airport on Friday as Ireland’s largest pilgrimage to Lourdes travelled to the shrine in southern France where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette 160 years ago.
The Dublin pilgrims, aboard seven aircraft, include 177 sick people, many with complex medical needs, 45 nurses and eight doctors volunteering their time, and some 300 young people assisting them.
Additionally, there are pilgrims from 20 parishes. This year for the first time there are teenage volunteers – 133 of them from 25 different secondary schools.
The leader of the pilgrimage, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, said he was delighted with the support the pilgrimage receives each year. He said: “We recognise the idealism of our young people who learn in Lourdes the rewards of caring. It is not easy for young people today to grow in faith and generosity. We pray for them as they grow their human and spiritual renewal in a complex world.”
Extraordinary planning and selfless dedication went into ensuring the safety and comfort of the sick during the pilgrimage, said its director, Fr Martin Noone. He added: “We are particularly blessed to be travelling to Lourdes this moment, as the diocese and all of Ireland are coming out of those memorable days of the World Meeting of Families and the short but very significant visit by Pope Francis.”
The chief medical officer for the pilgrimage is Dr Maeve O’Reilly and the director of nursing is Rosaleen O’Malley. There are 35 priests and four deacons looking after pilgrims’ spiritual needs. An advance party of 70 volunteers travelled ahead of the main group to Lourdes to ensure that all necessary arrangements were in place for those making the journey.
This year the pastoral theme for the pilgrimage is “Do whatever He tells you”, which comes from the account in St John’s Gospel of the wedding feast at Cana.
“Lourdes is a special place where we learn so much from the sick, and our young people learn so much about life through the work with the sick,” said the pilgrimage’s spiritual director, Fr John Gilligan. “It is one of the reasons they come back year after year. Every aspect of our pilgrimage is prayer-filled. We ask ourselves: what choices are available to me? What path should I follow in my life and working environment, in my Church and in the world in which I live?”
The Dublin diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes dates back to 1902, when Fr William Ring, OMI, organised a pilgrimage from Inchicore to Lourdes and then to Rome. It was the start of a remarkable and lasting devotion. The first official Dublin diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes was initiated by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and it travelled by boat and train to Lourdes in August 1949. Subsequently, the French authorities agreed to build Tarbes-Lourdes Airport because Aer Lingus was able to guarantee a steady stream of pilgrimage flights from Ireland.