In Easter 2013, 22 year old David Nicholls took part in the annual HCPT pilgrimage to Lourdes, which every year takes more than 2,000 children with disabilities to the foothills of the Pyrenees.
This year was the sixth time David had taken part in what is largest children’s pilgrimage from the UK. He said, “Each year’s pilgrimage continues to build on the successes from the previous year and while each year is distinctively unique, they are all familiarly rewarding.”
The trip is a week long, and this Easter saw over 7,000 people take part in the pilgrimage including children from all over the UK and Ireland, as well as groups from Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, USA and West Indies. The children, who have a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, or have been physically and emotionally neglected, are supported on the pilgrimage by volunteers like David, as well as doctors, nurses and chaplains.
David said, “The week was extremely rewarding as a helper. I witnessed how the week benefits and even transforms the children, and there wasn’t a moment where most of the group weren’t laughing. It is remarkable how close everyone was by the end of the week, and how new helpers became very much part of a family.”
One of the most iconic moments of the week is the Trust Mass – a joyous celebration of faith and love held on the Thursday during the Easter pilgrimage. Every year, a different organisation leads the Trust Mass, with this year being run by a group from Yorkshire. Around 5,000 people celebrated the mass together in the underground Basilica St Pius X – the second largest basilica in the world! David said, “East Trust Mass is a truly unique experience and although the event is broadcast live online, nothing compares to the sense of unity and atmosphere shared by the people in the Basilica.”
As well as enjoying Lourdes itself, many of the groups went on various trips including visiting the mountainous regions of Gavarnie and the beaches at St Jean de Luz. “The scenery at Gavarnie is simply stunning, and is only made more spectacular in the years where the ground is covered in a relatively undisturbed snowfall. It is well worth the undeniably winding coach journey there and back!”
Evening events during the week included a talent show for the children, a fancy dress disco night and a birthday party held for one of the helper’s in David’s group.
Overall, David gained a lot from what was a very enjoyable and positive week. “A week with the HCPT gives you a sense of perspective – not only by understanding the difficulties that others face on a daily basis but also the positive effects that volunteering can have. I gained an appreciation of the significant change that can be motivated by simply spending time with people in a happy environment.”
To find out how to take part in the pilgrimage, visit www.hcpt.org.uk
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