18 September 2015
We had a tough start this morning. Each of us only got a couple of hours' sleep but this did not hold us back and we powered through. We first checked into the airport and then we introduced ourselves to the pilgrims. Most people were tentative at first but we all grew into the role. The flight went smoothly besides the rough landing which caused a few overhead compartments to fly open. We then helped all the pilgrims off the plane, and special attention was paid to the few who needed assistance with walking. We followed this by getting a bus to the hotel and immediately tucking into our well-deserved lunch. We all enjoyed the meal but for one or two; the French pallet wasn't refined enough for their Irish taste buds. Later we met the helpers and a few of the pilgrims in the wards. We then loaded up the voitures and set off for the first mass of the pilgrimage. Everyone was in good spirits but a few heavy eyes were to be seen around the church. After a good three-course meal we proceeded to the prairie to enjoy our fellow volunteers' performances. It was a fitting way to round out an enjoyable first day in Lourdes.
Up early at 7 o'clock! We were expected at the accueil at 8 o'clock, to help clean the rooms with specific buckets. Red, blue and yellow! Pilgrims were expected at the grotto mass at 9:45, we accompanied them! We were joined altogether at the steps of the Rosary Basilica for a group photo! We got the opportunity to go to the baths and it was an interesting, different experience! Some of us didn't feel comfortable taking part in the baths so they went on a adventure around the town of Lourdes! Afterwards we sat in the underground basilica for the Eucharistic procession! It was a beautiful church and the procession was extremely different to anything at home! Back to the hotel for dinner and then a singsong at the accueil with the pilgrims! As a final part of the day we went to prairie, after which we were given the chance to mix amongst the other schools in a table quiz at which Paul and Ronan's team were victorious!
Eoghan had to get up earlier than everyone else because he was selected to represent the school at the international mass. At the mass he did the collection. After lunch we brought the pilgrims to the Mass of the Anointing of the Sick followed by a walk through the grotto. The six of us along with the past-pupils on the pilgrimage, Mr Mac Giolla Rua and some former teachers went out for dinner that evening. Back in the wards there was bingo for the pilgrims as a night-time activity. After prairie it was our turn for a sing-song, this time in the Solitude Hotel, and we then headed back to get a good night's sleep.
Today was our turn to hand out leaflets at mass, we stood outside three different doors in twos. After the mass was over we needed to collect the leaflets back up. Later that day we took a trip to Bartrès, a nearby town and Robert fell asleep on the bus. Paul, Robert and Ronan were part of a group called 'Balloon, Balloon, BALLOON!' However, Cathal and the others joined in later. After we brought our pilgrims back we went to dinner at which Robert did not eat ... again. After dinner we brought our pilgrims to the torchlight procession which took three hours and was spectacular. Then we went to prairie and then to light candles at the grotto. Mr Mac Giolla Rua took us to get crèpes and in conversation it was revealed to all of our surprise that he has many strong opinions on subjects as varied as north-siders and culinary technique, and it took Robert an hour to eat the crèpe which annoyed everyone, and then we finally went to bed.
When we got up this morning it was still dark out which was very discouraging after the bit of a lie-in we had had the day before, but breakfast slowly woke us up. After breakfast the six of us went down to the wards to clean the rooms, and then at 9:30 we had to perform the second station of the cross - in the garden of Gethsemane - for the pilgrims. Ronan acted as Jesus while the rest of us - Eoghan, Paul, Robert, Stephen and Cathal - were the apostles and had to lie on the ground. This was a very tough role for the five of us but we prevailed in a stunning performance, and Ronan did pretty well too. We spent most of the rest of the afternoon in town with the pilgrims, helping them shop for souvenirs and relaxing with them in cafés and restaurants. As this was our last full day, we also made sure to find some time to do some of our own shopping and see all the places in the sanctuary we had not got a chance to experience yet. In the evening we had a party to end the pilgrimage which was a lot of fun for both pilgrims and helpers, with many performers from both entertaining. When the party finally came to a close, we had to say our last goodbyes to the many pilgrims in our rooms who were going on the early flight the next day which was very sad. To finish the day we had our last prairie as well and we were the last school to perform. Unlike each of the other groups that night we did not sing because we have no musical talent between us, but just read our reflections on the theme of thanksgiving. Fr Paul then stopped us before we returned to our places to say some very kind words about our teacher Mr Mac Giolla Rua who was officially retiring the day after we were due to fly home, and to take a photo of us together. Exhausted, but having had an absolutely amazing experience during our time here in Lourdes and ready for one more early rise and day of work, we headed gratefully back to our hotel and to our beds.
Our time in Lourdes was brilliant, if too short. It was something we will always look back on fondly, and each of us were delighted to have gone and hope to return next year and add to the De La Salle alumni who attend the pilgrimage annually. We would like to thank Mr Mac Giolla Rua and Ms Mazzucato for everything they did in organising it in the school and encourage all of this year's Fifth Years to strongly consider applying for next September.