The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

Leeds in Lourdes 2023

From Our Own Correspondent

During the second week of July almost 500 pilgrims from the Diocese of Leeds made the journey to southwest France to take part in the annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, a tradition that now dates back almost a hundred years to 1928, when the first Pilgrimage took place.

At the opening Mass of this year’s Pilgrimage – and at the liturgy on the final day – Bishop Marcus reminded the pilgrims that time is one of the most precious gifts that we have been given by God. The pilgrimage itself extends over seven days, and is a very special period of time, when all those who take part do something that is quite literally ‘out of the ordinary’.

In his book Lourdes Diary, published in 2006, Fr James Martin SJ, puts it like this:

Pilgrimages are time-honoured ways of fostering reliance on God, so dependent are pilgrims on the grace of God, which manifests itself in the charity and kindness of fellow pilgrims…We find ourselves caught between one place and another and during these times we can be especially aware of God….we are sometimes more attentive to God when our normal routines are set aside, and when our defences are down,. It is then that we more easily recognise our ‘spiritual poverty’, that is, our basic need for God.

It is sentiments such as these that keep people coming back to Lourdes year after year. On our visit this year was a gentleman who has taken part in no less than fifty Diocesan Pilgrimages to Lourdes, and who has been to Lourdes a total of 178 times over the years – admittedly he is well over ninety years of age. It’s a remarkable, if not unique record. For others their pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2023 will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but one that will undoubtedly stay with them for the rest of their lives.

There were some special moments during the Pilgrimage this year, such as the presentation by the Bishop of the Diocesan Medal to Mr Bob Lavery, who has long played a key role in the logistical aspects of the liturgical celebrations during the Pilgrimage, not least in co-ordinating the procession of banners which begins and ends each of our Masses during the week. Last year he was instrumental in bringing the relics of St Bernadette to our shores. On another occasion a couple marked their Ruby Wedding anniversary and received a special blessing from Bishop Marcus, together with the congratulations of the assembled pilgrims. And on the final day the Bishop congratulated one of our younger pilgrims on the occasion of his eighteenth birthday.

Each year the success of the Pilgrimage, on many different levels, is the fruit of an enormous amount of work that goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in the weeks and months leading up to the second week of July. We are indebted to Fr Phillip Hall, the Pilgrimage Pastoral and Spiritual Director, and Mrs Kim O’Connor, the Pilgrimage Director of Logistics and Operations, who lead the team of volunteer doctors, nurses and carers. Their efforts bring all of the elements together that ensure the physical and spiritual well-being of all the pilgrims. We also thank those clergy and religious who take time out to accompany us and who contribute so much to the liturgical and spiritual life of ‘Leeds in Lourdes’.

But anyone who has been on the Diocesan Pilgrimage will know what a special debt is owed to the army of ‘Yellow Polos & Yellow Hoodies’, the more than 250 young people from our schools and colleges, and those teachers and chaplains who accompany them, along with members of the Diocesan Youth Team. Seeing them gathered en masse is an amazing sight, and one which sets the Leeds pilgrimage apart from the rest. Above all, day by day, they exhibit the ‘charity and kindness’ which Fr James Martin writes about, supporting those pilgrims who need assistance to get around Lourdes by wheelchair owing to age or ill health. They are all a credit to their families, their parishes and their schools and colleges. Thank you!

So, if you haven’t been to Lourdes yet the date to remember is Friday 5 July 2024, when the Leeds Diocesan Pilgrimage will once again set forth for the small town at the foot of the Pyrenees, and an encounter with Our Lady, Our Blessed Lord and the charity and kindness that is inspired by faith.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for Us.

There are lots more photos from the Pilgrimage on our social media platforms:

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