The annual OMV pilgrimage to Lourdes is a unique experience. It takes place during the final week in July each year and brings together around 200 helpers, ranging from 17 years old upwards; 50 hospital pilgrims; 15 medical staff and around 10 clergy. People either travel by air or some undertake an 18 hour journey by coach. For helpers we suggest a combination of three vital ingredients to enjoy the pilgrimage at its best.
Firstly we have the 'work' ingredient. Helpers are divided into teams, or as we refer to them in French, into equipes. Each equipe is allotted various duties during the week. The first duty begins at 6am when the day is just dawning. The final duty ends around 10pm when the hospital pilgrims retire for the day.
In between there is relentless action as everyone helps the HPs to get ready for the day, help them with their meals where assistance is required, help lift them from bed to wheelchair to coach and so forth.
Next we have the 'spiritual' ingredient. Lourdes is a very spiritual place with amazing Basilicas and of course the Grotto where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette almost a century and a half ago. The Grotto at night, (left) highlighted by many burning candles, is a deeply peaceful and prayerful place to be. The OMV takes part in both the Blessed Sacrament Procession and the Marian (Torchlight) Processions which take place every day. We also arrange trips to the Baths which are filled from the spring which appeared during the apparitions.
The OMV have a clergy team who cater for everyone's needs. For some the timetabled activities such as Masses, Reconciliation services, Processions and Baths suffice but many like to go further and the clergy team are always on hand to listen, advise and discuss.
The final ingredient is the 'social' one. When you get so many people on a journey together there is always likely to be much fun and joyfulness. The OMV pilgrimage is a very social week as people make new friends and experience a different culture. With so much happening during the day it is not till quite late that people visit the bars, especially the 'Bronx' or Les Brancardiers to give it its proper title; the OMV's 'local' in Lourdes. Here the OMV make use of licensing hours not available in Britain and get to know each other as the week progresses.
The final night of the pilgrimage sees the annual OMV party when everyone gets together for a display of talent (or lack of in many cases). One of the great highlights are the Irish children from the Central Remedial Clinic in Dublin who display their musical skills. After many songs and various skits the evening ends with the 'Horse Race' (an in-depth look at the relationships that have developed during the week and the ones that may be about to) and a rendition of Rise and Shine, a song which everyone sings with gusto to celebrate the week they have spent together.
The majority of the week is spent in the town of Lourdes itself. However we do take a trip into the nearby Pyrennes to a little village called Gavarnie. Here the OMV get away from the hustle and bustle for a day, enjoy wonderful scenery and helpers and HPs alike experience the refreshing properties of the River Gave at its coldest, a few miles from its source.
The OMV pilgrimage is a wonderful week which has many of us returning year after year, after year. The attraction is very difficult to put into words and has to be experienced to be fully understood. By getting a good balance of the work, spiritual and social ingredients you are likely to have one of the best weeks of your life.
If you would like to know more about the Pilgrimage to Loudes in July and be sent an email when applications open then please send Emily an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.