By Jimmy Rhatigan
WHETHER or not the Beatles ever went on pilgrimage to Lourdes doesn’t matter an iota.
What is significant is that the world famous singing sensations released a single, penned by John Lennon, which may perhaps sum up the feelings of thousands of our young people.
It may resonate in particular with Kilkenny students who have visited the world renowned place of pilgrimage called Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in France.
The number that rocked the world in 1967 was All You Need Is Love, a single that topped charts in Britain and the US.
Dare we suggest that All You Need Is Love as you jump on a pilgrimage plane with young and young at heart from Ossory and you may return home with affection in your heart, a strong feeling of camaraderie and a sense of a new beginning in your life.
Today, The Reporter takes a peek into the lives of local boys and girls, aged 15 and 16, who have discovered Lourdes.
The conclusion is that they don’t merely visit a place of prayer and devotion but a super vacation spot, a holy haven certainly that, we are told, delivers love and care, promotes teamwork, bonds friendships and leads to lifelong relationships.
To those who may not have visited Lourdes, the famous grotto and surrounds may be envisaged as a place of constant prayer, devotion to the Blessed Virgin in particular, a religious sanctuary where miracles may mean a cure for the ill or infirm.
To local students who travel regularly with the Ossory Diocesan Pilgrimage from May 22 to 27, it may be all that, and much more too.
The Reporter has learned that Lourdes is a place where fascinating friendships are born, affairs that have nothing to do with romance but are built on the kind of foundations where a young schoolboy or girl may befriend an invalid or ill person with whom he or she may have a happy and healthy bond for the rest of their lives.
Kilkrnny CBS Secondary teacher, Anna Ryan heads to Lourdes with a 50-strong Kilkenny contingent of Transition Year students for the 18th time this year.
She says the pilgrimage is a healthy challenge that encourages teamwork and promotes giving as pupils of city schools, with students from New Ross, Callan, Ballyhale and Rathdowney help each other with fund-raising, work together to help wheelchair-bound in Lourdes and return home with a diary of new pals.
“Students, like doctors, nurses and men and women who help out as Brancardiers and Handmaids, caring for the sick, give freely of their time and talents, pay their own flights and accommodation to comfort those who travel as invalids.
“The entire exercise is a wonderful display of unselfishness, kindness and caring. It is a great insight into how kindness can be the food of love for young people, seniors and everyone in between. A passport and a belief that All You Need Is Love may give young people in particular a fresh new outlook on life.”
Table quizzes and cakes are popular as fund-raisers amongst students. The mixed group of boys and girls, an integral part of the greater Ossory Pilgrimage, support each other.
Some 100 CBS boys may pay €2 each into a Presentation Convent Quiz. The girls will reciprocate.
Each student must collect €720 for flight and hotel. There is a certain irony about the name of the cosy inn that is the students’ home.
The Solitude Hotel beside the pilgrims’ grotto is anything but what the name suggests as visitors will never be home alone and there is always fun and entertainment.
The love machine that brings together students and pilgrims is cranked up each morning at circa 6.30am as students roll the pilgrims to local ceremonies, including an Ossory Spectacular.
“Students tend to work closely with the same pilgrims and relationships flourish. It is super to see boys and girls looking after elderly pilgrims they fondly describe as grannies and granddads.
“Not only do the students tend to their needs at official services but they also bring those who cannot fend for themselves for coffee and a chat or a fresh air break,” says teacher, Anna.
“A granny cared for by one of our students lived near our school in James’s Street and he visited her every Friday for lunch without fail.
“It was a beautiful friendship even if it ended in heartbreak when the woman died.
“There are often tears as students and pilgrims part but promises of visits, regular letters and contacts at Christmas are always kept.
“It is as if the caring youngsters adopt the elderly and are determined to make life as comfortable and happy as possible for them.
“Students from Clogh are particularly good to keep in touch with pilgrims as they write regularly and meet in Langton’s for Christmas Dinner.”
Anna Ryan is one of 10 youth leaders on the pilgrimage. Director is Fr Tony O’Connor PP, Kilmacow who organises the event.
Six students from Kilkenny CBS will make the trip this year. Anna says they will make friends, enjoy new experiences and come away feeling so much better for their contribution to an amazing event.
The pilgrimage is inter-denominational. Ceremonies include the anointing of the ill, Stations of the Cross, candlelight procession, confessions and visits to the healing waters of the Lourdes Baths.
Attendance is not mandatory, but most participate.
That students tend to graduate to youth leaders is proof positive that the pilgrimage has a positive impact on their young lives.
In a few months time the pilgrims will journey together on a wing and a prayer.
For the pilgrim party the sky will be the limit.
* Anyone who would like to join the pilgrimage should contact Eleanor O’Connor in the parish office, Glenmore.