So here it is, quicker than normal, in a desperate attempt to publish this post this afternoon. I won’t keep you too long with introductions, in case you are currently in full flow from part one. So it continues…
Monday’s breakfast dawned, and with it, a particularly early start for my group. I would like, at this point, to issue a personal apology to Joe Gardiner. I had volunteered for us to be up and out at 8am…. After an excellent morning prayer delivered by two of my group and next year’s Walsingham House team (proving of course that they were definitely up to the challenge and also particularly enthusiastic) we set off to make sense of the breakfast bar. Not in the week I was there did I understand why there were no bowls next to the fruit, meaning a walk up and down the dining room a ridiculous number of times before you even sat down. But this was, of course, a minor issue. We were out just after 8 I think and heading towards the Baths. Again, I experienced some trepidation, as I was the only member of my group to have had this opportunity before. Was I going to explain it properly? Thankfully, I have been assured that I did help to prepare the girls for this experience and was even more delighted to discover they really enjoyed it. In fact, many of the Year 13s enjoyed and highly recommended the experience. There were other English speakers in my bath, in fact, an incredible number considering the number of staff on duty. It was pretty busy that day, probably due to the arrival of the French World Youth Day contingent. I can’t have been too bad a baths volunteer (even though I did feel like it was back to the beginning at the start as each bath has different ways of working) as the Madame, lady in charge, had been recommending volunteering in the baths to me on a longer term visit. I was heartened to hear many of the volunteers return many times because it is such an incredible experience. After lunch, we headed off to our next stop, the Basilica for Mass. This was an incredible Mass, when the diocesan pilgrims were presented to Bishop Thomas and giving us all a chance to officially mark the beginning of the pilgrimage. Reconciliation in the evening proved to be another highlight, not least because this was the last service the Walsingham House team 2012-13 would lead together. The Mission Week team shared their incredible testimonies and resources, with opportunities for the young people to experience both reconciliation and a number of prayer stations. When the heat became too much, we headed outside. I have to say, sitting in a circle with my small group praying a decade of the rosary and reflecting on the first 24 hours was a real highlight for me, and being so near to the other groups highlighted the real sense of community shown by the BCYS. After a quick Grotto stop, we moved back to the Shamrock for another gathering. This proved to be another amusing part of the pilgrimage. Peter and Greg from my small group had been asked to complete another duty, with the understanding that the whole group should be at the Shamrock at 11. As if on cue, I looked down the road at exactly 11:00 to see two figures in Brentwood blue sprinting down the road. They must have been aware their athletics had gained a lot of attention from the bar, as they both looked round, stopped running and carried on walking down the road at precisely the same time, careful to look round and see if anyone from the general public had noticed! Greeting them at the bottom of the stairs, I couldn’t speak for laughing to begin with.
Tuesday began with another morning prayer. led expertly by Olivia and Leila, two more Walsingham House new recruits. After breakfast, we began a walk to the Hotel America to pick up equipment needed for Mass. This Mass was outside in the heat, and so my hat was definitely in attendance. This means, of course, that you can’t miss me in any photos taken during the Mass, as I didn’t dare remove it because of the rather high temperatures. A surprise awaited me on arrival, the Walsingham House team were performing a signed song during the Mass. I was delighted, and thankfully this went without a hitch. After Mass, the Easter Lourdes group had a reunion photo by the statue of St John Vianney. Well most of us did, Nick Tisi had disappeared! The diocesan photo followed before everyone returned to the hotels before lunch. The rest of the group were heading to Lac du Lourdes for some time in the sunshine, my group were heading to help Fr Bob’s group. This was another highlight of the pilgrimage for many. Fr Bob’s group were all so friendly, and I admired the enthusiasm shown by Fr Bob and his group leaders. I for one was very excited to share this experience with the group, especially as I had seen a couple of them in passing at Easter. Isaac seemed to certainly be enjoying this visit and cracking jokes left, right and centre! After the lake, we headed to the shops where I helped Mary decide what to buy. Walking round the shops, I was both delighted and proud to see how my group had taken to this role and were providing entertainment and enthusiasm for the pilgrims. This part of the pilgrimage, though rewarding, was exhausting! After a return to the hotel, we headed out to the torchlight procession, another highlight in my week. Having marshalled at Easter, I was familiar with the format, but had never been part of the procession myself. Unfortunately, the weather was sent to try us, with some heavy rain and persistent wind trying to keep candles out and dampen enthusiasm. Whilst candles wouldn’t always light, the enthusiasm of the whole group certainly wasn’t dampened. Being in the centre of a sea of Blue was a real honour, but not perhaps as amazing as Sophie and Tom’s experience. Sophie spent most of the time trading candles with Bishop Thomas, whilst Tom rad the 5th decade of the rosary in English (I wondered why I could hear a familiar voice!) After the procession, we headed to Hotel Solitude, where Stansted quickly swept up all the available places in the quiz. Sophie Horton’s group came in at last place, but with a good hard fight, Year 13s came in 2nd place much to delight, which left group 16, with Tom and Sophie from Stansted scooping 1st prize.
Wednesday dawned, and so did a most welcome lie-in. This was the Year 13 retreat to Gavarnie in the mountains. Sean continued the future Walsingham House team’s run of morning prayers by leading with Pat, another Year 13 with great ideas. We headed up to the mountains, and many of us slept most of the way there. Our retreat began soon after we arrived, a walk through the beautiful scenery and Mass with a difference. At each stop, Fr Dom delivered a different part of the Mass. The end, communion in a circle surrounded by beautiful scenery and in the company of the whole Year 13 group, was truly breathtaking. After Mass, the more seasoned hikers continued towards the waterfall, whilst we headed back down. Thank you again Emily for the company and help with the slightly dubious parts of the descent back down! A particular shout out must, at this point, go to the very brave Beth, who despite her crutches, joined us for all aspects of Mass and somehow managed to get down before Emily and I. This led to an enjoyable afternoon taking in the surroundings and appreciating each other’s company. The diocesan pilgrims appeared mid-afternoon, and once again, many of our young people set off to help them experience the beauty of Gavarnie. I headed with a group up to the small Church, which was incredibly beautiful. Having experienced many Churches, I have to say the smaller ones definitely have a unique feel and atmosphere. That evening was party night for both the youth service and pilgrims. It was great to see Fr Bob’s group enjoying the occasion and also an opportunity to catch up with the rest of the leaders and young people. Some of the Year 13 volunteered, along with some others, to take the diocesan pilgrims to the Grotto at night, and they returned enthusiastic about the profound experience they’d had. What a great 3 days we’d had.
Thursday was the day for the Grotto Mass, the Brentwood tunnel and the Walsingham House team Grotto stop. Many of the youth service formed the famous Brentwood tunnel, allowing the pilgrims to be safely wheeled to the Grotto in time for Mass. Some of us joined with Shrewsbury and Westminster to provide another tunnel, as the Westminster contingent alone was, I’m told, closer to 1,000 people! It was great to speak to some of the pilgrims and discover their experiences, but a challenge trying to stop other enthusiastic pilgrims from using our tunnels as a short cut! Unfortunately, the youth service weren’t situated very near the Grotto for Mass, but it was still a profound and special Lourdes experience. After lunch, some of the year 13s headed off with Fr. Bob’s group, and I joined them, along with Stuart. There was another chance for amazing views, and many took advantage of another walk to see even more. However, my muscles still hadn’t recovered from the previous day, so I sat with the others until it was time for me to leave. I was on a very tight schedule that day, as the team were meeting at the Grotto for one final goodbye. I somehow managed to navigate the public bus to outside the domaine, and this is despite the driver possible thinking I was Italian, having given me the fare in Italian… Fr James accompanied us to the Grotto and led a reflection both before and after we lit our special candle. We, of course, had special prayers for Jon and Aisling who I’ve no doubt were with us in spirit. Our final full day in Lourdes concluded with a wonderful talent show and karaoke opportunity in the Solitude. The Walsingham House team were reunited here for one last task, to begin a leader’s song for Sarah Barber “Everything I Do, I do it in my Blue”. A fitting tribute for the end (well almost) of Sarah’s final pilgrimage in charge. The Year 13s were thanked for their hard work and were given a well deserved treat of another, later gathering in the Shamrock bar.
Friday. The last day in Lourdes, dawned with sunshine and heat to match the other days. After an emotional goodbye to Fr Bob’s group (and a complimentary song) we headed to our final Mass, where Tom represented Stansted by holding the umbrella for Bishop Thomas. The afternoon was the opportunity for a final gathering. The Year 13s performed an excellent signed song to introduce our affirmations service, and everyone cherished this final time in small groups. We then processed over the bridge and down for a final prayer time and to see our candle lit. This was the second time I had been in the centre of a sea of Blue, and it was a truly wonderful sight, watching 250 Brentwood Blues process respectfully over the bridge and down to the Grotto. My group were one of the first to see the candle being lit, and this too was a beautiful moment. Our pilgrimage was officially ended with a piece of Lourdes tradition. We stood in two circles and held hands for a decade of the Rosary round the Crown Virgin statue. A wonderful moment to end an amazing week.
However, Stansted’s work was still not done. Thanks to Joe Beattie, we were able to get the promised Parish photo outside the Basilica, before we made our own pilgrimage to the Grotto. The purpose: to deliver the many prayer intentions of the Parish to Mary and finish our own time with a Hail Mary for Fr. Joe and all the Parish back at home. It was another moment of mixed feelings, walking away from the Grotto and knowing our time in Lourdes was almost done. Soon enough, it was time to board to coaches and set off. Now, if you’re thinking “what could there possibly be to report about a coach journey across France?” you would be very mistaken indeed. Not long into our journey, a storm began. Not just any storm. This storm followed us through France for 500 miles. Lightning was every couple of seconds, thunder was loud and the rain was crazy. Not being a fan of storms myself, I was keen to try and sleep, but to no avail really. Each coach had their own experience. Purple coach was struck by lightning twice (but everyone was OK, don’t worry!) Orange Coach had a slight problem with the air conditioning unit and this caused some standing water, Blue coach had to stop whilst the drivers and Fr. Chris removed a branch from the road in front of us… As far as I know, Green Coach was perhaps the easiest journey, although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
We also all managed to make the same ferry too, which was remarkable considering. The drivers really did an amazing job getting us home.
Back at Brentwood, it was time for a celebration of all we had achieved. Families, friends of the Youth Service and 250 pilgrims straight off a 18 hour coach journey gathered to celebrate together. A wonderful homily from Fr Martin and much singing and celebration was definitely a large part of this Mass. At the end, Sarah presented each leader with a group photo and a BCYS water bottle as a thank you. Year 13s certainly made themselves heard when we were called forward! It was also great to see Isaac again, who had come to celebrate specially with his BCYS friends. Thank you Isaac for coming down :) Then it was more difficult goodbyes to the team and the leaders and young people who had shaped the week, before heading back to Stansted to begin (well for me anyway) a 3 week summer job. This finished on Friday, so that explains, in part, why it has taken me so long to write this.
So I suppose most of you are wondering “what now?”
Well, I’m job hunting again and hoping something comes along. I also passed my first year of the MA, so thinking about next year’s module choices too. I’m still, of course, in contact with the BCYS, and will have attended a couple of celebratory parties in the last few weeks. A wonderful weekend visit from Olivia also helped with the Walsingham House blues! But I suppose I’m still very much in the middle of this transition. If anyone from Lourdes is reading this, 4th September is a date for the diary. Sarah Barber’s celebration Mass and the commissioning of the new 2013-14 team. Definitely a must! Parish wise, we are preparing for our first “Youth Mass” on 8th September. It’s a New Beginnings Mass for anyone starting a new school, sixth form and university. My Walsingham House experience will definitely come in handy :)
But this also means that katharinewalsinghamhouseblog is also coming to an end. Perhaps with the odd update to report on a special BCYS event or future retreat (if they’ll have me back to help of course!) Will I write another blog? I don’t know. I suppose that’s up to you as the loyal readers :)
So to end with a few thank you’s and final wishes, which definitely can’t be done justice in a mere blog post.
Thank you first of all to the wonderful team I was privileged to share a year with on the exotic Canvey Island. Jon, Sara and Aiden, I’m looking forward to visiting your Castle, thank you for all the support. Michael and Leighton, best of luck for the next chapter in Walsingham House history, and in particular to Leighton, I hope you will re-start your blogging. Michael, thanks for your support in community and I’ll definitely be back to visit! Thank you to you all and Olivia for inspiring me to join the team in the first place. Thanks to Olivia for so many wonderful times including an afternoon tea not to be forgotten, Ian for the amazing music and being the best neighbour I could’ve had. Aisling, thanks for your great example devotion to your faith and all the best to these three during their university adventures. Joe, thank you for those pool dates we had, and for letting me win that time! Good Luck at St Vincent’s next year, you’ll be great. Jade, thank you for those crazy times, sharing of giraffe facts and that great Shrek Musical evening. Good Luck with your job and your future decisions about where to go next. To Fr. James, Teresa and Natalie who complete our team, thank you very much for everything you’ve done. I truly appreciate it.
To Team 2013-14. Have a ball. It truly is a wonderful year. You are all on the team for your gifts and talents you can share with each other and with the young people. Enjoy every minute, it goes so fast. I have no doubt you will each be fantastic and make your own mark on the House and the many young people lucky enough to visit. If anyone reading this is maybe considering Walsingham House in the future, definitely go for it. You won’t be disappointed and will gain so much from it.
Of course, a special thank you to Sarah Barber. I did it, I managed to complete this blog post today! Thank you so much for your inspiration, your example and your continued dedication to and faith in both the team and the wider BCYS. Thank you for making me feel welcome, for seeing something in me and encouraging me to develop it throughout the year. I’ve no doubt I speak for the entire youth service when I say it will be incredibly strange without you, but I am looking forward to celebrating with you and keeping up to date with your time at CAFOD, which I’ve no doubt will be amazing. Let’s meet up when you’re settled and I have a college day :)
Finally, thank you to all of you. For bearing with this incredibly long post, for following and sharing my year with me. For the prayers, the encouragement and the support. I have so many memories to take with me, it has truly been amazing. This is definitely not a goodbye to the BCYS, to the team, it’s definitely a see you soon, and for some of you, see you later at Michael’s party!
Take care and thank you again.
Love Katharine xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx