On Thursday two planes will carry the 580 pilgrims from right across our diocese on pilgrimage to Lourdes. Our pilgrims this year include 105 young people with 18 youth leaders; 15 priests; 50 assisted pilgrims and their family members and a medical team. The young people will become the friends of the assisted pilgrims over the six days of pilgrimage. The young people, like the assisted pilgrim are from practically every parish of our diocese. I am so delighted to see us once again travelling as a diocesan family to Lourdes, and to see the parishes, big and small represented so well on the pilgrimage. It is essentially like life itself, journeying together but no where more beautiful to journey than to the Grotto at Massabielle where your intentions and prayers are always heard.
This years theme for Lourdes reflects as always on the life of St. Bernadette and introduces us to another saint, Benedict Joseph Labre, known as the beggar saint, the patron saint of pilgrims, the homeless and the Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes. Born in March 1748 in the north of France, he was the eldest of fifteen children, dying in April 1783, aged 35. He had an uncle a Parish Priest who took the young Benedict in and saw to his early education. He tried to enter several religious orders, but was seen as too delicate to be formed or instrucuted. In the end, he joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and experienced a desire to visit famous places of Christian devotion, travelling by foot to Rome, begging along the way.
The pilgrimage theme this year in Lourdes is rooted in Luke 6:20: ‘Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of God is theirs’. The very word ‘poor’ is not very appealing. Perhaps when we hear the word ‘poor’, we already have an image of it in our heads. We think of migrants in search of a better life; we think of the homeless in search of a home of their own; we think of those who knock on our door, or meet us on the street in the embarrasment of asking for help. And yet ‘poor’ can be secretive or hidden. An illness that robs us of our independence. A relationship that has grown sour over time. A poverty hidden behind a lifestyle that is way beyond our means.
In Lourdes this year we aspire to follow the same path that Our Lady offered to St. Bernadette, to die to self so that we might discover true life, authentic happiness. A pilgrim is different to a tourist. A pilgrim and a tourist may go on the same plane, but the pilgrim is on a sacred journey in which God is encountered through places, people and situations. The tourist sees sights; the pilgrim gains insights. The tourist brings home souvenirs; the pilgrim comes home a different person. I ask you to pray for all of us on pilgrimage, that our journey goes well and that our pilgrimage brings many blessings. We will remember you at home, and especially those who are too sick to travel with us this year. May Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Bernadette and St. Benedict Joseph Labre shower all of you with their blessings.