15 October 2014
The early start was a killer! Up at 4.30 ... am to make it to the airport and straight into work the second we got there! Well, work is a big word; I was chatting to a woman called Margaret from the inner city. The stories she had were amazing; I was enchanted! She had to be in a wheelchair because she found it hard to walk. We went to get a 'sambo and a cuppa tea', as she said it. Once on the plane though we both fell asleep, we were so tired! We arrived in Lourdes at around 12pm and got all the pilgrims onto the bus.
Lourdes is a wonderful place you see, we were all taken aback when we got there. Lunch then, checking in our room and off we went, to find out what exactly we'd have to do over the next few days. Dean, Jason and I would be stewarding, which involves pushing voitures, parking them in certain locations, securing areas ... quite amazing! At first it was quite difficult but it got easier after a while. Dinnertime then and after we headed back down to give a hand to the nurses to take care of the pilgrims.
That night we also had our first prairie: all blue-shirts gather to have a reflection together and each school has to perform in front of the rest; it was quite funny and everyone had a good time. Ice-cream was in order after that while on our way to the hotel but we unfortunately lost Ms Mazzucato on the way - needless to say, she was not impressed! But we all managed to make it back to the hotel together, and I just collapsed on my bed and fell asleep immediately!
The pleasure of waking up to a warm, still Lourdes morning was slightly dampened by the tiredness we all felt after the previous day's travelling and work. The breakfast table was quite a bit more energetic than would have been expected, everyone was being fuelled by enthusiasm and some nerves, and we still had no real idea of the week ahead of us.
Although we had some contact with the pilgrims, or VIPs, and had met our coordinators, Monday morning was our first 'real' day of the pilgrimage. After a quick breakfast we had to report to our duties. As a steward that meant being told where we'd be directing people, parking people or stopping people from going that day. First on the agenda was the Grotto, where the Archbishop was to celebrate a welcome mass for the pilgrimage. This was a bit of a steep learning curve but it was good to be able to look to the 'whiteshirts', the more experienced helpers, for guidance and advice during the day of work.
Tuesday was a day of significance for me in terms of what i saw and done. The day began with me and Aidan going on our daily morning jog around the Lourdes area. When we finished our jog i was quite tired, but refreshed and looking forward to the exciting day ahead.
The underground Basilica was next on our radar. As i was part of the flag group we commenced very early in entering the Basilica to take up our positions. I have to say i have never seen anything like it. It was enourmous! The architecture was just a different class! Our cordinator (Kevin Furlong) constantly kept whispering my name to follow his instructions as i persistently got lost while viewing the state-of-the-art underground Basilica.
Later that day we had the mass for the sick; a very important and moving mass. Being on flag duty we were on the right side of the altar. In view of everyone i could see what this mass meant to a lot of the pilgrims - it was a touching moment.
The day seemed to stroll past very fast, and before i knew it i was witnessing the first Torchlight Procession of the pilgrimage and of course my first as well. Words cant explain how marvelous the scene was. Pitch black, nothing but thousands of people with there torchlights walking around the pilgramage. They really lit up the place; it was remarkable and something i will never forget.
Later that night we had our Prairie, which was when four schools per night would perform (sing, read, or dance) a meaningful story or parable related to the theme 'the joy of conversion'. But Prairie that night finished off with confession which i found most rewarding. Clearing my conscience of my sins left me in a joyful mood.
Right before we went to bed we set out to a local restaurant and had a crepe with two former teachers of the college Paddy Adams and Austin Quirke. It was a night of enjoyment and hilarity. All of us talking about how our day went and what we saw and learnt. And of course the topic of schools' rugby will allways come up with Mr Quirke in attendance.
We had a nice afternoon, we got to chat to the pilgrims while they had afternoon tea and getting a chance to take a look at the town, and see the seizure-inducing commercialisation of the place. A truly amazing amount of knick-knacks, bits-and-bobs and overpriced statuettes of Our Lady could be seen in all the shops that heavily line the tourist-packed streets.
It was also a day of performance for us De La Salle lads. Early in the day a group of pilgrims were taken to see the Stations of the Cross, as mimed by the schools groups. For our part, we were assigned the 10th Station; Jesus is stripped and nailed to the cross. This was an uncomplicated station and it went quite well. As the tallest member of the group, I was given the job of being the cross, I was quite a lot of pain staying in that position for so long, but I suppose we all have our crosses to bear.
Then, that night at Prairie it was again time for us to take the stage. Our theme was 'conversion' and even though it was an abstract theme, as themes go, we handled it very well, if I do say so myself. We talked about the parable of the mustard seeds, the writings of Pope Francis, and we even managed to sneak in a rugby reference. It was great to get these things out of the way. All in all Monday was a good start to an even better week.
It was an early start as per usual, so we had to be up for around 6:30/6:45. Once we had breakfast it was off to do our duties, the flag group which myself Joe and Aidan were a part of weren't needed until the 'youth mass' which wasn't for a few hours so we went to the Wards. I personally found the Wards to be very enjoyable, meeting new Pilgrims and Blueshirts alike and having great conversations was far better than my actual duty (flag bearer).
After lunch there was a picnic/singsong for the afternoon's entertainment, we brought all the Pilgrims to a massive tent just outside the Accueil and we had the singsong. Pilgrims got up one by one and did a performance whether it was singing a song, reciting a poem or performing a dance, it was great fun and there were some very entertaining performances, most notably by a big group of Blue-shirt lads led by our very own Joe.
Halfway through the picnic half of the Blue-shirts that came on the Pilgrimage (including us) were brought to 'the baths'. This was quite an experience for all, some enjoyed it, some didn't and some felt indifferent, it's a very hard experience to describe I guess it's just one of those things you have to do yourself. And it seems we were the only ones to come out of the baths wet, which I'm putting down to the fact that we just weren't pious enough.
After dinner we went back up to the Wards and prepared for the candlelight procession, the stewards (Fiachra, Jason and Dean) set up the route we'd take and all that sort of stuff while the flag group had to quite simply bear flags. That night though, I brought a Pilgrim around in a voiture through the procession. The procession is an extraordinary sight to behold, one that is deeply moving and unforgettabl
Prairie was as always entertaining but we didn't perform so there's nothing to report really. After Prairie we went to a hotel beside where we were staying and we had a sing song with some white-shirts for the night's entertainment; it was just us as the Pilgrims were all in bed. This was really fun, we sang for hours and made a ridiculous amount of noise. It was pretty late after the sing song so we called it a night and went to bed.
After an intense first four days, a deserved lie-in was just what most of us needed. After breakfast, most of us decided to do a spot of last minute shopping, before heading off to our duties. I must admit the mood among the blue-shirts was slightly tainted, as we all realised that the same time the following morning, we would be back in rainy owl Dublin again.
After briefly visiting my grandmother in the wards, who ironically accompanied us on the trip, we set with the pilgrims to the grotto, where, as a steward, my main task was to defend us Dubliners from the overwhelming force that was the Italians, who made it their duty to try and skip us in queues.
After a long and somewhat frustrating afternoon, we decided to meet former teachers Paddy Adams and Austin Quirke in a fantastic little restaurant in Lourdes town. Honestly, the meal hit the spot, but unfortunately, before we knew it, our services were needed back at the Accuile, where we had to set up the wards for the leaving party.
I honestly felt this was one of the most emotional parts of the trip, as we were required to say our goodbyes to the pilgrims, whom we all became so attached to during our time in Lourdes. However, we didn't let this get the mood down, as we all danced, sang and for us stewards, cleaned until dawn!
After it became apparent that we would be flying home in less than ten hours, we all headed back to the hotel, for a last minute spot of packing before hitting the hay!
Here we are, last day of a wonderful pilgrimage! After several hours of loading and unloading luggage on and off the plane, the lads have finally been reunited with their families to whom I'm sure they'll have tales to tell.
Once again the De La Salle boys have been extraordinary and I am sure this experience will stay with them forever. Some of them might even return as white-shirts in the near future, who knows ... ?
In the meantime, a big thank you to the six of them and to all who participated in this little adventure, and see you next year!
(Ms E. Mazzucato)