From Fr Phillip Hall, Pilgrimage Director, Diocese of Leeds (December 2020)
It was in March this year that with much regret I had to announce the postponement of the 82nd Leeds Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes in July. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the world so quickly, along with the corresponding very high levels of risk involved travelling to and being in Lourdes, it became absolutely necessary to postpone the pilgrimage. Although this was the right decision, it was taken nonetheless with a heavy heart.
Therefore, dear friends, it falls to me once again to inform you that the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2021, our 82nd, has been rescheduled to 1st July 2022. Essentially, nothing has changed since March this year when we reviewed the Risk Assessment.
You may be thinking that July is a long time away. However, it is not, as much detailed planning needs to be put in place before we arrive. Across the pilgrimage planning, there is a real sense of sadness that we are collectively unable to attempt the planning and welcome you on pilgrimage. You may well understand that a pilgrimage of our size is complex and takes months in advance to plan before we are ready to open up for bookings. This preparation begins in the early autumn. By Christmas, all the necessary plans are in place for the booking forms to be sent and the publicity to parishes. After which, there is on-going planning across the whole structure of the pilgrimage.
The difficulty in the planning effects medical, hospitality, schools and clergy. Many of our volunteers that help us in the hospitality, are themselves working directly with the NHS or in the care sector. I have to consider the pilgrimage’s ability to operate safely and also any consequences to these volunteers if they contract COVID-19 whilst on pilgrimage. Also, at this time the Risk Assessment is very high for all pilgrims. Further, the schools who every year attend and help on the pilgrimage, particularly with the care of the sick and less able, are also not planning any foreign trips for the academic year. I do not want to paint a bleak picture, especially as the prospect of a vaccine is on the horizon so that we can all go on pilgrimage safely. However, the vaccination programme that will be rolled out, may take many months to complete, and we would not be in a position to reschedule in 2021.
On a wider level, other dioceses as we speak are announcing to their own pilgrimages that they are also postponing until 2022. In our recent Pilgrim Directors Conference, the British Lourdes Medical Association (BLMA) gave very clear guidance as to the clinical risks of making a pilgrimage. Most dioceses, and other affiliated groups are therefore postponing for 2021 until the following year.
A number of you have already received refunds this year. Many of you decided to hold out until 2021. Joe Wash Tours have agreed to refund all the pilgrims who have an existing booking. Therefore, Joe Walsh Tours will arrange the refund of your deposits, or what you have paid up front, directly. I would like to thank Joe Walsh Tours for making the arrangements for refunds very easy for the pilgrims, and their continued support for our diocesan pilgrimage.
Lastly, in a meeting my team and I had recently, we were very positive about maintaining the passion and interest that we all share about Lourdes. We are planning some Lourdes events through the year, beginning as soon as Advent this year. The Friends of Lourdes are planning an Advent event. The Diocese of Leeds Youth section is looking to provide ‘mini Lourdes’ events in the schools. There is also an outline plan for a special Mass at the Cathedral to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on 11th February. Also, after speaking with Bishop Marcus and Fr Eamonn Hegarty who is the parish priest of St Mary’s, Batley, we are planning to have a strong Lourdes theme for 2021 for the Annual Torchlight Procession. Other events may well surface in the coming months.
I know that this is not the same as being stood at the grotto singing the Lourdes hymn, or receiving Lourdes water, or taking part in the processions in Lourdes; however do not let the light of Lourdes go out! Let us keep the flame of pilgrimage to Lourdes alight in our hearts
As you may well imagine, the income for Lourdes has been greatly affected this year. If you would like to make a donation to Lourdes, please do go on the Lourdes website: https://www.lourdes-france.org
In the meantime, please let us all pray to St Bernadette who struggled so much with the weight of being the visionary, to give us perseverance and forbearance. We also invoke the prayers of Our Lady of Lourdes, the comforter of the afflicted, and the health of the sick.
With every blessing,
Fr Phillip Hall, Pilgrimage Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone 0113 286 3224