As I sat down to start to write my blog post, it occurred to me that my Lourdes experience and my exposure to the world of HCPT began about 5 years before I myself ever travelled with the group. For those 5 years, Lourdes was somewhere that, after the Easter Sunday masses, dad would fly off to for a week and would come home from both exhausted and invigorated. It was very much a place for other people, and when I first went with HCPT that was very much what I expected. How very wrong I was.
The first day of any pilgrimage with HCPT, at least in my experience, is one of organised chaos. With so many places to be and things to do, as a new helper it can feel that Lourdes isn’t really a place to call your own; people that have been for years tell you where you need to be, what you need to do and so on. It is only truly when you have arrived and become settled that you can start to build a relationship with the place. The preparation for the pilgrimage forms the foundation of the relationship and the related experiences and stories of others allows you to understand what to expect, but this is can never be enough.
Lourdes is a liminal space, a space between our world and the divine, and therefore goes beyond any description that anyone can give of it. Lourdes quite simply demands to be felt, to be experienced if you want to get anything out of pilgrimage. The trouble with this is making sure we reach about and touch the divine that is there reaching out to us.
The best way you can make Lourdes feel like home is through Prayer: to find time to go down to the grotto; to go to the basilica’s and simply pray, to pour ourselves out in prayer to the divine and let it hold us fully. This can be done anywhere but the liminal nature of Lourdes makes it easier, not because God is in some way more ‘present’ than He is in other places, but because we are more present; in Lourdes Mary, the Queen of Heaven, appeared to Bernadette forging with her an unbreakable link between Heaven and Earth. Going is the first step, committing the final leap and throwing ourselves fully to God’s mercy.