It is over 40 years since I last went to Lourdes with the Ampleforth Hospitalite and I look forward with some trepidation to returning this week with Alex, his friends and some two hundred adults from first timers to old hands. In many ways it should be easier today; we have been checked out, briefed, trained and managed in a way that never happened in the ‘70s.
However, this is a journey in the truest sense of the word, one that will move us physically from our normal and secure environments to a new and strange place, as well as a journey in which we as helpers will have to put behind us the routine and comfort of our normal lives and instead spend a week entirely dedicated to the service of those who through injury or illness are unable to help themselves.
I remember little of the detail of my 1972 pilgrimage, only the afterglow of something achieved, possibly the first real achievement of my life. It helped me to add a level of perspective and hope to my life that was not there before. This year, going with eyes open wider I hope that I will be able to truly relinquish my normal life and my fears and be able to give myself solely to the service of others. It will be exhausting, both emotionally and physically and I hope that George Kinder’s meditative practice of ‘letting the thoughts go and letting the feelings be’ combined with my somewhat confused faith will be my props for the week.
I don’t go anticipating miracles of the crutch throwing variety. I hope that in a small way we may all become miracles as we experience the real joy of dedicating ourselves to the service of others for a week. I don’t see Lourdes as hocus locus; I see it as life affirming, profound and good.