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LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL CELEBRATING 50 YEARS
- A LOOK BACK AT OUR COMMEMORATIVE ISSUE
A pilgrimage to remember
by Simon Hart
This year’s Liverpool Archdiocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes was a landmark occasion. Held between 21 and 28 July, it came 100 years after the first official pilgrimage from this diocese. Equally, 100 years had passed since the miraculous cure of Jack Traynor on that inaugural pilgrimage.
Running like a thread through this centenary pilgrimage was the message that Lourdes remains a special place for assisted pilgrims. ‘The heart of our pilgrimage’ is how Archbishop Malcolm McMahon described them. One assisted pilgrim, David, in one of the reflections published daily on social media during the week in Lourdes, affirmed the significance of this as he said: ‘If everywhere had what Lourdes has got, I think people would love to live.’
Love is the word. During his homily at the Grotto Mass on Sunday 23 July, Archbishop Malcolm spoke of Saint Matthew’s Gospel as ‘a Gospel of encounter and love’ and he added: ‘Lourdes gives us the opportunity to live this Gospel of love and to experience its fruits.
‘We can experience the joy of God’s people in the great liturgies and see the face of the Lord in the assisted pilgrims, in each other and deep in our hearts. We’re all worthy to encounter the Lord. It is not reserved for a few good people.’
According to Father Grant Maddock, a highlight of that Mass was the Archbishop’s blessing of 54 new wheelchairs donated to the Archdiocese for the assisted pilgrims. He said: ‘I was profoundly moved watching him extend his arms over those people and those chairs, dedicated in memory of loved ones or on behalf of loved ones, and seeing the difference those chairs were making because of the generosity of the people who’d donated them.’
Father Grant, whose appointment as the new director of the pilgrimage was confirmed at the week’s end, added: ‘This year’s pilgrimage really celebrated the identity of our assisted pilgrims. Every year does but you could see people were renewed in their service and their love of those who are frail among us.
‘With the additional times of prayer, times to light candles and the trip they made to Hosanna House, it all showed once more that our assisted pilgrims are the jewel in our crown and give us an opportunity to learn what it really means to love by the privilege they give us of serving them.’
This year’s pilgrimage included specific moments to mark the centenary with Jack Traynor remembered at a Mass at the Rosary Basilica on Tuesday 25 July – the 100th anniversary of his
miraculous cure from injuries sustained during World War One.
A centenary party took place on the roof of the Saint-Frai hospital on the last night. Father Grant said he saw ‘people who’d not been able to come to Lourdes for years’. And for all the rain that fell during the week, nothing could dampen the mood. There was even a distant relative of Jack Traynor in Lourdes at the same time, visiting with Lancaster Diocese.
To mark Liverpool’s milestone, BBC Radio 4 included the reflections of several youth pilgrims on its ‘Sunday’ programme on 30 July. John and Kathryn Wilson, staff members on Coach 5, also featured and told the presenter, Ed Stourton, of their first encounters in Lourdes in 1989 and 1991 and how they met again there in 2015 and married nine months later. ‘We really felt we had to keep going to give something back as we’d been so lucky,’ Kathryn said.
Another ‘Lourdes marriage’ is in the making, meanwhile, after Stephen O’Driscoll and Emily Crompton, two members of the Saint-Bernadette team who had first met as youth pilgrims, got engaged after Stephen proposed as they lit candles in the Grotto.
For the youth pilgrims, an online treasure hunt through Lourdes offered the chance to learn about the history of the pilgrimage. Another nod to history came in their final liturgy, as Father Simon Gore, director of the Youth Pilgrimage, explained: ‘Each coach was given a song or hymn going back to the beginning of the Youth Pilgrimage. Coach 1 had the oldest song, ‘Sing it in the Valleys’. We had a medley at the end with everyone stood on benches, doing different actions to the songs.’
There were 350 on the Youth Pilgrimage and on Lourdes’ ongoing lure for young people, Fr Simon added: ‘If it was just about helping the sick and elderly then it would only appeal to the type of person who wants to help people. Likewise if it was only about Masses and prayer time, or about the social time. Instead, it’s a combination of those different things – about service and giving of yourself; about having some quiet time to reflect on who you are and who you want to be; and also about having time with your mates and meeting new people. A combination of those things attracts people and brings them back.’
Pride in the pilgrimage
At the Thanksgiving Service on Thursday 27 July, the last full day in Lourdes, Archbishop Malcolm declared how proud he was to be part of the pilgrimage.
He also announced that the pilgrimage had a new director in Fr Grant with Monsignor Des Seddon stepping down from the role. ‘I’d like to thank Mgr Des for all he has done for the pilgrimage and my thanks to Fr Grant for agreeing to this appointment,’ said Archbishop Malcolm.
Fr Grant said he was ‘incredibly humbled to take on the role’ and that he was grateful for the ‘continuity’ that will come from having his two immediate predecessors, Mgr Des and Mgr John Butchard, on the pilgrimage’s executive committee. ‘To be pilgrimage director but have two others who’ve been in that role working alongside me for the good of the entire pilgrimage is a complete blessing.’
Reflecting on the 2023 pilgrimage overall, Archbishop Malcolm concluded: ‘I’m sure we all have treasured the week in Lourdes, or at home through our social media, with incredible memories to cherish and experiences to build upon. Long may we make it possible for our assisted pilgrims to be the heart of our pilgrimage.
‘I would like to thank all those involved in organising our centenary Lourdes pilgrimage and those who had a role in helping to lead or support one of the various pilgrim groups, ministries and events which took place. I had so much positive feedback from so many pilgrims, to say how inspired they were by the events of the week, but also how moved and inspired they were by the story of Jack Traynor, the closeness they felt to Our Lady and St Bernadette, and I know many friendships were formed and renewed during our time together. It truly was a prayerful and celebratory atmosphere.'