HISTORY OF GROUP 149
The group started in 1995 under the leadership of Fr David Williamson, then parish priest at St Bartholomew’s, who, having led a group for 20 years during his time at Allen Hall Seminary, had withdrawal symptoms! He initially approached sixth formers in the parish, hoping that the project would attract those with a gap between Confirmation and going off to university at 18. The first group travelled at Easter in 1996, with Fr David as group leader, and parishoners Judy and Nick Makin as deputies. Although small by succeeding standards, the young adult helpers that made up that happy band of pilgrims and guests really caught the Lourdes bug. Going again the following year was a no-brainer. Soon we were annually taking up to double the original number of guests and helpers, with regular pleas from sixth form pupils from the parish wishing to be included in our group.
Once he was sure that the group was on a sure footing, Fr David passed on the management baton to the then – very experienced – young adult helpers. Having been going to Lourdes since 1997, Terry Wall became the second group leader, handing over his responsibilities to Dave Keiley in 2005. Since 1996, we have taken seventeen groups to Lourdes ranging in size from 17+ to 40+ in total. Although we never forget the fun aspects, we are always aware that the main focus of the week is to experience the spirituality of Lourdes, and make sure that our activities constantly reflect this.
HCPT – THE PILGRIMAGE TRUST
HCPT was formed in 1956 after a young doctor, Michael Strode, first took children with many types of disability and special needs on an annual holiday to Lourdes. His idea was to revolutionise the way these special children could experience a trip to this famous shrine in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. However, he wasn’t content to let them stay in the usual hospitals and hospices. He wanted them to experience the luxury of hotels; to be treated as honoured guests, to be helped to gain as much out of their holiday as other children – outings to cafes, ice-creams, trips to the seaside and the mountains. He also wanted them to feel enveloped in warmth, affection and individual attention and so the idea of small family groups was born.
From those small beginnings some fifty years ago, Dr Michael’s vision has grown enormously. Nowadays, during Easter week, HCPT and the Irish Trust (IHCPT) take around 2000 children and young people aged 7-18 years to Lourdes from all over the UK, Eire and increasingly from other European countries; even the USA and West Indies. The total size of the Easter Pilgrimage is about 5000, and is the largest from the UK and Ireland – and probably the biggest children’s Pilgrimage from anywhere in the world to Lourdes. Family groups are made up of carers, doctors, nurses and chaplains – all of whom are volunteers for the week. Each ‘guest’ has two helper/carers, and their needs are wide ranging – physical, mental, social or emotional – mild and severe.
For all these children and young people, the opportunity to experience – sometimes for the first time – a really stimulating and highly enjoyable group holiday, plus a measure of independence probably not previously experienced, with the reassurance of ‘two to one’ help – can be an enormous step forward in their personal growth.