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 guests; 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.lourdes

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 guests retire for the day.

In between there is relentless action as everyone helps the guests 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 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 guests alike experience the refreshing properties of the River Gave at its coldest, a few miles from its source.

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 an email to lourdes@omv.org.uk.

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Lourdes with the OMV

It is easier to articulate the reasons why I go to Lourdes now, than it would have been 6 years ago, when as a clueless and nervous teenager, I arrived at the St Frai, ready to greet the guests as they disembarked their coaches from the airport. My experience and time in Lourdes has morphed and developed as I have taken on new roles, each one teaching me not only valuable life skills, but also enabling me to fully understand the purpose that drives the OMV to continue this activity year after year.

Whilst the care and well-being of the guests is at the heart of every pilgrimage, and is what we strive to perfect each year, there is also a transformation that occurs- young people become altered by a life changing week, one that brings them close to people enduring suffering with great dignity. It is this deeply spiritual experience, that drove me to return to Lourdes, and made me realise I had to do everything I could to support the charity which enabled this to happen.

Lily Hornsby Clark- Volunteer Coordinator


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