HCPT Thank you letter

This year has been called a ‘Year of Faith’ by the pope. A year when we ask God to deepen our love for him and one another. I have always it takes a lot of faith to take our young people to Lourdes but we manage it with God’s help and yours too, our good readers. We had our first ‘party meeting’ back in September 2012 and it was a fabulous afternoon. “What a wonderful group of children” one of our experienced helpers commented. How true that was! Meetings were enjoyed and the trips to Blackpool Tower and the pantomime in Colne were great fun. The weather was bright on sunny on both occasions which is more than can be said for the weather awaiting us in Lourdes!!
I have given up trying to work out how many years we have been going to Lourdes with Group 72, certainly more than 25 years, but I remember reading tiny ‘flyer’ about HCPT and the words ‘Fun and Laughter’ leapt off the page at me. My only knowledge of Lourdes before that were tales from my mother and I don’t recall much about ‘fun & laughter’ from her. It was ‘all night prayer vigils’ at the grotto and doing the high stations ‘bare foot’ in her days. She certainly put into practice one of Bernadette’s speeches on “PENANCE” !! So the ‘fun and laughter’ phrase caught my eye and this last year, like all the others was filled with ‘fun and laughter’.
The coach set off from St Alban’s just after 4.00 am on Easter Monday and within minutes there was so much banter, noise and even singing. I recall saying if this is what we are all like at 4.30 in the morning heaven knows what it will be like at 4.30 in the afternoon. The answer was ‘ even louder and more noisy’! We sailed through the airport in regimental fashion though the Security people did have a word with Louise about the amount of money in her hand luggage. Apparently the X-Ray machines can count the Euros in your bag! The man at the machine realised she was in charge of the Group purse strings for over 30 people and gave her an escort till her bag reappeared on the conveyor belt!! Big Brother watches!!
While Father Jude organised all the other groups through ‘check-in’ sipping from a bottle of by now warm water, Group 72 headed for the café and games room ‘air-side’. Full English breakfast, sausage butties and Costa Coffee were enjoyed by children and helpers. Slot machines and table football matches were played on. It was even better than Blackpool Tower. Not that I am grumbling … much … but I knew that I would be fed on the plane and Louise always says it is important to feed the children, and as it turned out, that was a good idea. Well…. we were flying out on Lithuanian Airline, and when I mentioned food to one of our helpers he reckoned that vodka and beetroot was a good bet!! As it turned out we got a sandwich, a ‘just in date’ tasteless cheese sandwich. I think I was the only person in Group 72 who ate one. Bernadette’s word ‘penance’ had started, at least for the group chaplain. Penance for all of us came when we arrived in Lourdes… RAIN… yeas it was pouring down and was colder that Manchester! Lourdes Water.
We had an unscheduled tour of Lourdes on the way to the Hotel. This was because we had lots of people, mainly priests, from other groups on our coach. The coach driver went all over Lourdes and dropped them off at their own hotels! When we finally arrived lunch was waiting for us. Father Jude was a very happy man! Ham and chips, something we often had! Our luggage men were hard at work shifting over 50 cases and trunks around the rooms. Vast amounts of sweets & drinks; medical supplies, song & prayer books, birthday & communion cakes, games, brollies etc… we don’t travel light!
After lunch everyone unpacked and with photos on the bedrooms doors we all soon worked out who was where. Barely stopping for breath we strolled down to our favourite chapel for our Easter mass. The brollies received their first of many baptisms! The youngsters helped at mass by holding up large letters which first spelt the word.. TEARS as we thought about Good Friday. The second set of letters then appeared spelling the word .. EASTER… nearly an anagram of ‘tears’ as we shared thoughts about the happy day of the Lord’s resurrection. We did have a ‘practise run’ at this in St Alban’s on Easter Sunday. Father Jude had the children all in a row with the letters -- sadly he had the children lined up in a mirror image and they spelt the word .. SRAET… instead of TEARS. I was never any use at spelling! After the shared dialogue sermon it was time for the Bidding Prayers. I asked if anyone had anything or anyone whom they wished to pray for. Well……….. there were no shortage of volunteers!! In fact some of the children shouted out two or three. It was the longest time ever for bidding prayers in the history of Group 72 at mass!! But what a start at the first mass. No inhibitions with the group this year, young or older!
The rain had stopped when we came out and we happily walked down to the ‘Domain’; the huge area of Lourdes where the place of the apparitions (The Grotto) and many churches and special places associated with Lourdes are situated. We began, as we always do, at the Crowned Statue of Our Lady. The children place flowers in her honour at her feet and after our opening prayers we set off to visit the Grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette. Collecting enough candles for everyone we gathered at the statue of Mary in the Grotto. Fr Jude explained to the children what they would see in the Grotto – especially the spring of water which Bernadette discovered. We were able to go through the Grotto and spend time lighting candles and praying for you, our readers, and everyone back home. It wasn’t long before we realised that as Easter was so early this year, it meant that it was also very quiet. Apart from the 5,000 HCPT pilgrims, very few other visitors were in town. This meant…. NO QUEUES !!!! and when ever we visited the Grotto we were able to walk straight through.
We had an early evening meal, ham and chips were on offer for those who didn’t want chicken and chips. Most of us had both! Especially me, because I was still hungry! The reason for the early meal was that the HCPT Head Quarters had organised a concert based on ‘Joseph & his
dream coat’. This took place in the huge Underground basilica. Actually it was a bit of a let down. They played the tunes over the big sound system as we sat and listened. If Group 72 had run it there would have been a lot more ‘audience participation!! We got back home and ordered vast amounts of hot chocolate.. it wasn’t very warm!!
On Tuesday morning we went on a walking tour of Lourdes. Dressed with out warmest coats and hats we went to the Statue Museum. Many of the children had their photos taken sitting nest to their patron or favourite saints.. and yes… they found the statue of Judas! Next stop was the Cachot. This was the old Lourdes jail where Bernadette’s family lived at the time of the apparitions. The children were fascinated by the old stone sink in the corner of the small room in which all 6 of the family once lived. They couldn’t imagine that they all had to wash in it, along with washing their pots and pans etc ! Count your blessing folks. Steve then took to a place never yet visited by Group 72. This was called ‘the fountain’. Tucked away in a back street where a small river once flowed was a flagged area where the poor women of Lourdes washed their clothes in the days of Bernadette. On we went past the Boly Mill with a hope that a café would provide a hot drink. The weather had other plans as the heavens opened and it was every women, child and wheelchair for them selves as we all scurried back to the hotel as fast as we could. Soaked to the skin with brollies blown inside out it was time for a towelling down and a hot chocolate! When one of the children got back to his room he looked at his helper in amazement and said.. ‘gosh, some one has made my bed’! Clearly, no room service back at his house!
After Tuesday dinner our usual plan is to join al the other HCPT Groups at the torchlight procession. The rain was still bouncing off the pavements so we called upon ‘plan B’; this was to have our own torchlight prayer procession in the lounge of the hotel. Out came our special battery charged candles - ‘health and safety’ - which shone out from the Lourdes prayer lanterns. One of the children only sang one song during the whole week in Lourdes. The song she loved was ‘Happy Birthday’. Well, I think you can guess what happened when we lit up our Lourdes Candles… the Immaculate Mary Lourdes hymn developed a new chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to you’. I’m sure Our Lady loved it! We reminded the children that Jesus told us that we are the light of the world and have to let our ‘little light shine’ with love and happiness. Steve told us a wonderful story about how the parts of the body once didn’t work together and the body nearly died. He reminded us that we will only be happy in Group 72 when we all work together and play our part. Before going to bed we found out that in the morning we would be wearing our best clothes for the group photograph… plus …. Our Yorkshire Ratters!!
Yippee, Wednesday morning and the sun was out. Group Photograph time, so we carried our massive group candle which was decorated with prayer sheets that everyone had written names of people they were praying for in Lourdes. The Group Banner was unveiled and the Yorkshire Ratters sat on everyone’s heads! This year the Yorkshire region of HCPT had planned the Trust
Mass and had asked for Wednesday to be a special day for them. To celebrate this they wanted everyone in HCPT to wear a ‘flat cap’ or ‘Yorkshire Ratter’ as they are called. God bless e-bay and Amazon who came to our rescue because this request came to us just 5 days before leaving for Lourdes, and there were 2 Bank Holidays in those five days! But we got them and they proved amazingly popular all week. Well, they were warm and the weather was cold! We had 2 group photos this year, one with flat caps and one without. And like on a graduation day we had another when we all whizzed our caps into the air! Walking past the huge Rosary Basilica we passed through the Grotto and left our huge candle at the Grotto with all our prayers for you, our dear readers.
We ambled back to our church for the baptismal ceremony for young Luke and a blessing service for everyone else. Two of the older young people, Alexander and Hope, were Luke’s God parents and Father Mike baptised him with some Lourdes water. He was brilliant. He smiled all the way through and never moved a muscle when Mike poured a lot of water over his head and lots of it trickled down his face. Fr Mike was surprised because Luke usually went crackers when he was asked to have a bath! We all read together a short account of Bernadette digging up the spring of water in the Grotto after which everyone was blessed in church with some of the water of Lourdes. It was all so moving and beautiful and especially wonderful for Luke and his God parents, Hope and Alexander.
After lunch we eventually boarded our coach to the mountain village of Gavarnie. We booked the coach via the Head Quarters of HCPT for half past one and around 1.50 it arrived. The coach driver showed us his ‘booking docket’ and it read half past two for departure!! So we lost an hour off our beautiful trip. The sun kept shining. The buzzards flew overhead and much silly singing went on during the journey. Over 30 verses of ‘You’ll never get to heaven’ were sung. A verse dedicated to each child and helper. The funniest one was about a certain young man’s phone that was smuggled into France in his sock!! Gavarnie was gorgeous. Some of the group went to a meadow high up in the hills with balls and kites. They also enjoyed the snow! I leave this bit to your imagination, dear reader! Others, had a warmer afternoon in a wooden built café with a cosy log fire. Foaming hot chocolate, huge ice-creams, double chocolate crepes and an indoor toilet!! I am glad I was were I was!! Soon, after a quick tour around the souvenir shops for whistling marmots, Pyrenean cuddly dogs and olive oil soap it was time to return to the coach for a sleepy drive back home.
We had to get ready for dinner quickly because a very special guest was coming to join us for the evening meal. It was the founder of HCPT himself, Brother Michael Strode. We are so thankful to him for his love and kindness to our children over the years. Andy went for him and he arrived with a back of gifts for everyone. He gave us all a choice of either a small statue of Our Lady of the good Lord Jesus. He told to the children a lovely story about a ‘holy man’ who could walk on water. Then Brother Michael answered the children’s questions. Off we went to
the dining room and Brother Michael sat at a big table surrounded by all the children. We had mentioned to Jean Michel, the owner of the Hotel, that Brother Michael was coming and that he was soon to celebrate his 90th birthday. Well, say no more. After dinner, the chef appeared carrying an enormous chocolate cake decorated with sparklers and candles shaped into the numbers 90. Erin was in her element and gave another rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’
After the festivities we retired to the lounge for a short blessing service with the oils of the church. We asked Brother Michael to bless everyone which he did with such love and care. We then presented him with some little birthday presents and another Cake. This one had an eight inch teddy bear sitting on top of it. The teddy was all dressed up in the black and white habit of a Cistercian Monk…. Just like the one that Brother Michael was wearing. We asked him to take it back to his Hotel and cut it up and share it with all the guests where he was staying. His final act of kindness was to give Father Jude the story book he had read from to our children. I will treasure this book for ever!
The night was not over because it was time for ‘Team Bingo’. Downstairs into the basement we went. There were five teams this year, all based on Easter. We had a team of Easter Bunnies, Chicks, Eggs, Bonnets and Daffodils. The teams wore their appropriate headgear and sat down to battle it out. Playing in the 5 teams with points for lines and full house.. plus a few Euros… we discovered that some teams can be very bad losers! We also discovered that some teams can be really funny winners. This year, under the captaincy of Ange, a first time helper, the Daffodil team won. They won with more points than all the other 4 put together. And didn’t they rub it in! What fun, and by now it was ridiculously late and time for zzzzzzz BED!!
Thursday morning is our traditional ‘Trust Day’. We set off at just after nine o’clock for the Underground Basilica. Here we always have the massive ‘Trust Mass when all HCPT gather for a wonderful celebration. There must have been over 5,000 people there when it began with a great procession of Group banners and priests & altar servers walking down the aisles. The Yorkshire Region had organised it this year and it began with a DVD played on the huge TV screens showing the ‘best bits’ of the county. Though I am a Red Rose man to the core I have to say that it was a wonderful presentation. I suspect the Yorkshire Tourist Board had a part to play in it’s production! We all were given some Tea Bags to take home, what next, I though? It turned out that they had asked the makers of Yorkshire Tea to sponsor the mass! Yorkshire folk have been heard to say “Tha dayant git brass be spending it and tha never gits, if tha never asks”.
Hymns were sung with great gusto, prayers were said and it was led by Bishop John Rawsthorne (from Yorkshire!). Bishop John has been coming to Lourdes with a group for well over 30 years. His sermon was short, sweet and simple. With two children holding each of his hands he raised up all theirs hands and just said - “Look, we are the ‘Hands of the Lord’ - go and be the Hands of the Lord to everyone when you get home.”
We then left the basilica hoping that the pouring rain that we walked in with would have ceased - but no such luck - so we got wet on the way home!. After yet another super lunch with a starter, main course and dessert it was time for Louise’s Star Chart. The children received ‘Stars’ which they stuck on the charts on their bedroom doors. Here are just a few of the reasons for ‘Stars’ this year.
One child gave up her wheelchair for another who needed it more: another for eating all his dinner; one for helping a ‘helper’ up the stairs: for the boys who did their own diaries: another for his big and huge smile: one for a child who had learnt a new song off by heart: another child who helped the Chairman of the Trust after the big trust mass!! And one special one for a boy who gave up his tambourine to Louise at the trust mass -- she really likes to wave the tambourine!!
After lunch we split up into smaller groups. Some raced up to the Lourdes Castle. Steve took another on his famous tours of domain around the Grotto area. We went to the massive ‘hospital’ across from the grotto. It really is a ‘hotel’ for the sick and can care for 1,000 pilgrims. We walked in the front door and took the lift to the top floor. It wasn’t open to pilgrims yet and no one bothered us! We toured their charming circular chapel where years ago we did have a mass. Then we came out onto the roof top veranda overlooking the Grotto. We had a fantastic view of the Domain and Lourdes. In spite of the rain it was a memorable moment. Cold drove us to our next meeting point, thanks God, it was a café for a warm drink. There we learnt a new song which we had heard the American HCPT group singing… it was about a group that ‘was hotter than hot’.. such fun and laughter. Drinks done and bill paid it was time to revisit the underground basilica for the afternoon Blessed Sacrament Procession. No sooner had we walked out of the café that the heavens opened, oh and I mean ‘Opened’. HCPT’s main song is ‘Rise and Shine’ which is based on Noah and his Arc and a certain flood. We need a change!! The dripping drowned rats of group 72 still managed to get the front seats at the procession. The bonus of this was that when the bishop came around the church with the Good Lord and blessed us, we were right there in pole position. We might have been wet, but we were very much blessed. There is a traditional ‘sing song’ afterwards in the basilica and, as always, the many other pilgrims to Lourdes were treated to an amazing time of singing and dancing which from their faces clearly took their breath away. Well, by now surely the rain had stopped! No such luck and the wind had picked up! So, more hot chocolate and a change of clothes back at the hotel were called for.
Before our evening meal we always sing a ‘grace before meals’ song. We have rewritten the words of well know nursery rhymes and songs and adapted them to the music. We have graces based on ‘Edelweiss’, ‘God save the Queen’, Baa, baa Black Sheep to mention but a few. These are printed and laminated on sheets for all to sing with. Tonight we tried out a new one based on
the ‘Happy Birthday’ tune. Well, Erin, was well up for this one. So, I announced that we would sing the Happy Birthday grace. Before I could start one of the children spoke up ‘I don’t think we have a person called Grace in group 72, Father Jude’. ‘No’ said I, a grace is a prayer not a person, so we are really singing one to Jesus. OK, let’s sing Happy Birthday.’ Persisting with his thoughts the same child spoke again. ‘But it isn’t Jesus’ birthday till Christmas, Father Jude.’ ….. I nearly gave up, but laughter took over !! After evening meal, more ‘stars’ were given out by Louise to the children! One for someone who never stops smiling. Another for a child who was very brave when he fell over. A special one went to the little one who told the HCPT Chairman that Brother Michael came to dinner at our Hotel yesterday! Isn’t it great when the children ‘blow the trumpet’ for Group 72! A final star was given to a ‘Helper’ at the request of one of the children. A ‘wag’ was heard to say.. ‘first time he has got a star in 7 years as a helper’!
After dinner the plan was to go on the Torchlight procession which we had missed on Tuesday because of the rain. The rain continued and we were running out of evenings, so we decided that we would have to wait till Saturday to do this. It was also the middle of the week and people were flagging a bit by now. So Steve put on his ‘story time head’ on and had the children eating out of his hand once more! Now we were all very happy to have a relatively early night. I had a word with the night porter of our hotel about the rain which had stopped us going to the torchlight. He said to me, ‘Father Jude, in Lourdes you need two things, a lot of faith and an umbrella’! I agreed, and asked him to pull me a pint!
Friday morning saw grey clouds, so the coats and brollies came out yet again. We were off to Bartres for a special mass in the local village church of St John the Baptist. The one with the statue of a beheaded John and his head on a dish.. gruesome … and the children love it!! Luke was going to make his first Holy Communion at the mass. We fed the ducks, as usual on the way to the farm / museum where Bernadette lived and worked at around the time of the apparitions. Times must be hard in Bartres now as we saw a sign on the door saying that a charge of one Euro was payable. After 30 people had spent up in his souvenir shop he ‘waved the charge’! Fewer HCPT groups visit Bartres these days, hence the charge, but that is sad as the children see the room she lived in and Bartres was a huge part of her life.
We had a lovely mass. All the children were involved with words and pictures. We heard and saw the story of how Bernadette prepared for her 1st Holy Communion in Bartres. It was special for Luke and for all of us who received Jesus in Holy Communion today. A Chinese nun looked after the church and she joined us for mass. She loved it and thanked us so much. She ran the children’s Sunday School in the church and said she would use our ideas in her work! When we left church the great bells of the chapel peeled out, the kind nun had them ringing for Luke.
Food for the soul was followed by food for the body. We had ordered lunch at a local café. It was snug and warm n the café and all were well fed and watered. For once a sensible price had been agreed and both Louise and the Café proprietor were happy!! The sun nearly appeared and we gathered outside for a few songs before we set off for the zoo. The drizzle stopped as we arrived and the great tour of the zoo began. Challenges were made… ‘spot the owl’ … ‘find the porcupine’ … ‘collect a peacock feather’.. only a few managed them all! The red pandas were out as were the snow leopards this year. I have never seen so many baby wallabies and kangaroos, they were hopping around everywhere. The Uruguayan wolves responded to their annual dose of malteesers with howls and glee and much tail wagging. This behaviour is probably not politically correct but the wolves seem to enjoy it! The owner of the zoo was on hand to open his souvenir shop and collect a fistful of Euros as the children were treated to cuddly soft animal from his shop! Everyone is happy…. As always!!
When we arrived home it was time to dress up for our Fancy Dress Party. Down to dinner in our costumes, quite a sight. Soldiers and sinners; A Burnley Father Christmas (not me) an ‘Angry Bird’ and Mario (that was me). Spanish ladies, Knights and Lords; princesses and the Grinch to mention but a few. At the party a group of the children had prepared a play which they acted out with great style in the hotel lounge where the party took place. There was a performance of high kicking ‘Moulin Rouge’ from some of the ‘grown up men’!... not an Oscar performance but it was a hoot. Some of the children sang for us all and we had a few games of ‘pass the parcel’. We had asked the children if they wanted to go out but they just wanted to enjoy themselves in our Hotel and when all was said and done …. It was raining outside… !!! We finished off with another bed-time story and it was definitely time for bed.
On Saturday morning people had a choice of places to visit. Steve’s tour and the castle both drew support. Shopping is always of interest and a visit to the Stations of the Cross for some helpers proved very popular. It stayed fine.. just..cold and fine. After lunch we had booked the Street Train that took us on a 40 minute tour of Lourdes. We had to use the plastic covers as it was tippling down but the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the group as we sang and cheered all the way round. You get to see places in Lourdes that you would never see on foot so it is even more exciting. We ended up at our favourite chapel for our final last mass of thanksgiving. At the end we received a beautiful present of a pair of carved hands inscribed with our names and the year’s theme “You are the Hands of the Lord”. It will be a memento that will be prized for ever. A bouquet of flowers were given by one of the children to the nun you looks after the chapel. Sister Yolanda had moved away and a new sister was in charge. She was a bit distant when we met on the first day but by the end of the week she was singing and dancing with us and smiles all round. We ambled down to the Crown Statue and said our final prayers with Our Lady. The Grotto was quiet and we were able to potter through at our own slow and prayerful speed. Candles were lit for everyone and a few tears were shed as they often are at the end of the week… and the sun began to shine!!
On this particular Saturday evening at dinner there was money to give out… a whole 200 Euros no less. Back at Aintree a certain horse race took place! I have always felt that it is important to introduce the children to responsible betting! So we had a sweep stake on the Grand National. Memory has it that on the last time Lourdes and the race coincided we gave Bernadette and Our Lady a free bet and the BOTH got a place and some money! This year the winnings all stayed on planet earth. Barbara’s horse won, a complete nag, at 66 to one. She did very well because her husband put £2-50p each way on it at home! Questions were asked when Louise’s husband had the 3rd place horse … nepotism I call it…. You might say Fr Jude was jealous! Good fun though.
After dinner Louise and I we were able to take the children to the Torchlight Procession… at last… it was so quiet, there were only a couple of hundred people there which meant that the children saw everything. They waved their candles and sang the hymns. I had taken a really smart brolly this year and it was with me that night. But it didn’t rain and I put it down somewhere and guess what… forgot it! Some one will be grateful for it! By now it was late, but it was the last night, so there is always time for an extra café stop and another hot chocolate and a round of pizzas AND huge Ice Creams. The helpers had done all the packing while we were out because we were getting up early in the morning to catch the coach for the airport.
At the airport we checked on a young boy who had been sick on the flight out to Lourdes. We asked him if he thought he might be sick again. “100% sick” he said, “can I go home by train or maybe in a car?”. Well, you never get unless you ask… but he did fly home and he wasn’t sick either!. Our Lithuanian flight crew were wonderful on the way home. Nice food, drinks and happy smiles.. someone must have had a word! We landed in Manchester and the sun was blazing in contrast to dear old Lourdes. The parents had gathered to collect their children and the tongues started wagging and from what I heard later they never stopped until they fell asleep!! They had many a tale to tell, yet again. It had been a wonderful week. Somehow we went at a slower pace and, as a result, we were all less tired and more able to enjoy Lourdes and the company of the helpers and the children. I was glad about this as my legs aren’t getting any younger!
Since our return we have had a wonderful sponsored walk along the bank of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal near Barrowford organised by the Knights of St. Columba. The sun shone and many children from over the years joined us. We have had a trip to Chester Zoo and nobody missed out on this trip, everyone turned up for this. Though the weather was a bit ‘Lourdes like’ and most of the animals were hiding in the warmth of their burrows or huts! It was a happy finale to the year’s gatherings when all of Group 72 came together. We also had a ‘helper’s night out’. This was to celebrate my 40th anniversary of priestly ordination this year. A huge number of present and ex-helpers enjoyed a top class meal at ‘Healey’s @ Lily Mae’s’ in Accrington.
Old pictures were on up on boards, tales were told and much food and wine shared. Thank you everyone, it was such a happy memorable evening for me and hope for everyone present.
Since then not everything has been so good. I have joked about the Lourdes rain and weather, but we didn’t realise what was coming. Last October there were terrible floods in Lourdes. John Michel, the owner of the Hotel in Lourdes, explained that at that time there had been very heavy rain, but the main cause of the floods was that the automatic sluice gates high up in the mountains near Gavarnie suddenly opened. This created a massive surge of extra water to roar down the River Gave and swamped the Grotto, basilicas and some of the Hotels. This June, Lourdes has been devastated by even worse floods than last October. The rain we had continued after we came home. In fact they have had incessant rain throughout most of April, May and June. Back up in the mountains around Gavarnie they have had over 10 feet of snow. The river Gave was high when we in Lourdes and has risen ever since. It seems that in mid-June the sun did finally come out and, we are speaking about the South of France, with real heat, this melted the snow in hours and was the final straw that caused another surge of water to hit Lourdes once again. The water was so high that it practically filled the Grotto to the top and was only feet from the base of the statue of Mary high up in the rock face. The Underground Basilica, St Joseph’s Chapel and St Bernadette’s Basilica were totally swamped.
Our Hotel was not spared either. The entire basement was filled with water. His laundry facilities, TV lounge and lifts have been ruined. We store much of our Group luggage in his basement so we too have lost many of our supplies that we rely on when we in Lourdes. Mass kits, group banners, bedroom equipment, songbooks, musical instruments… the list is endless.
Our loss is nothing compared with John Michel. We have spoken to him and sent our love and prayers and hope that he can stay in business. In England a ‘flood’ is an Act of God and as such there is no insurance you can claim on! I suspect the same rules apply in France. So, please pray that we have a Hotel to go back to next year.
The last piece of sad news to share is the death of Ellena Gilrane from Oswaldtwistle. Ellena had been to Lourdes with Group 72 in 1992, 1995, 1999 and the final time in 2011 when she was 16 years old. She came at the very last minute on a couple of occasions when sadly another child was too poorly to go. Ellena would have her passport and a suitcase packed ready on Easter Saturday, just in case a phone call came through from Louise offering her a place. She suffered from spinal muscular atrophy. In late June another infection attacked her weak pair of lungs at it proved too much for her. We celebrated her wonderful life in St Mary’s in Oswaldtwistle where I conducted the Requiem Mass. Ellena never grumbled or complained her life once. She was always a happy, cheerful and grateful child and young lady. She received much love and care and bounced it back in double measure. We learn from Ellena that in God’s eyes what truly matters is ‘how you live your live’. In her case, she lived it to the full and will always be an inspiration to us all. God bless you, Ellena.
St. Bernadette was told by Our Lady that she wasn’t guaranteed happiness in this life but she would be in the next. The same will apply to all of us here on earth. Yet, Bernadette has been the source of tremendous happiness to millions of people and pilgrims since 1858. She too was a good, cheerful and happy girl and young woman. Bernadette was caught up in the love Jesus and Our Lady and teaches us to live a good life ourselves. To battle through our pains in our bodies, hearts and souls. HCPT brings all of life together with its joys and sufferings. HCPT gives such fun and laughter; love and support; care and companionship. Cardinal Basil Hulme once called it ‘the Catholic Church’s best kept secret’…. But it isn’t a secret to you, my dear readers, is it?
God bless you all for your love, support and kindness. It couldn’t happen without you and I am sure we will have another amazing year in 2014.
Love and prayers
Fr Jude, Louise and all of Group 72 on earth and in heaven