Pilgrimage to Lourdes

Introduction to Background and Context

Additional information can be found via the following link: https://dublindiocese.ie/lourdes/

Chaplain’s Report on Lourdes


In the early hours of Thursday morning 7th of September, the Castleknock contingent (S. Brown, M. Kilcoyne, C. Mullins, A. Mc Andrew, N. Webster) and I set off on our early morning flight from Dublin for a pilgrimage to Lourdes. This would be a first since 1930 for the Castleknock group to travel on the pilgrimage but a task that these students were absolutely ready to take on with great joy and interest. Our flight was the first charter flight out to Lourdes with another two following later that morning and afternoon. Asking the students about their expectations before they departed, they replied in honesty that they had no real expectations but were rather open to what may or would unfold and that they were . . .

The schools along with our VIP’S (sick pilgrims) were led by Archbishop Farrell on the annual pilgrimage to Our Lady’s shrine.

The group included 110 sick pilgrims, 10 doctors, 30 nurses, 500 helpers, 30 priests and two deacons. The 500 helpers include 250 young people, with 135 of those being sixth year students from 25 secondary schools around the Archdiocese. In total, 1,200 pilgrims travelled.

Over the course of the six days our students were scheduled for two duties which would rotate every second day. Castleknock were charged with ‘ward duty’ at the Accueil (a welcoming space that hosts the pilgrims in a medically equipped environment with medical attention always available) and ‘stewarding’ which could mean anything from assisting at the various liturgical ceremonies to transporting the VIP’s to and from these ceremonies in fancy blue voitures. Before engaging in their activities the students met with the various duty coordinators and were appropriately trained in their areas. To say that the schools timetable (that we always had to keep an eye to) was a huge piece of work put together by the schools team would be an understatement. I was in awe of looking at a system whereby so many people were involved, so many moving parts and yet it all happened with a joy and love that flowed which was very evident for all to see.

A pivotal moment that stands out for me took place on our second day (Friday). Unfortunately, as planned the Yellow Flight with their VIP’s (sick pilgrims) had been due to fly out on the Thursday afternoon but was cancelled. As a result the flight ended up arriving late Friday night. The schools team communicated with the students who were scheduled for ward or stewarding duties and asked us to be at the Accueil to meet the bus loads of pilgrims who

would evidently be exhausted after their two day ordeal. After the students night prayer and a busy day of duties already, all were only delighted to step up to the mark and await our beloved pilgrims.

As I stood at the Accueil doors it was a sea of white and blue shirts. (colours indicating school students (blue) and anyone outside of that (white).

There was an excitement in the air as we waited. As the buses pulled up and the lights came on- there were joyous cheers, claps and even tears that the remainder of our missing family had finally arrived. As the pilgrims were wheeled passed we smiled and welcomed them and the joy was quite simply beautiful. For me it was an early indicator as to what the spirit of Lourdes is all about.

They say that Pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveller. On this pilgrimage there were so many opportunities for finding this ‘something deeper’, from the beautifully planned liturgies with moving and uplifting music, to our own schools morning, night prayers, pastoral packs led by the schools chaplain Fr. Paul Thornton and students, to experiencing the water ritual at the Holy Baths, to the commadore experienced and so evidentially witnessed by one and all between students, helpers and our VIPS (pilgrims). We were also privileged to meet and journey with the following Castleknock past men: Matt Lynch (’78) who was the Assistant Medical Director to the Pilgrimage and Liam Hawkes – helper (’13).

Now upon our return I have tried to continue to reflect and have invited the students whom I have shared this unique and humbling experience with to do the same. At this question the students faces beam at me with joy and love but they truly struggle to put into words their experience. As the weeks and months pass I hope we will find those lines and words that will somewhat explain the experience to the current fifth year group as we recruit interest for next years archdiocese pilgrimage. Having said that I am reminded by the line ‘Let go and Let God’. Why – because since returning in only two days, I have already had students and staff come to me and reiterate the joy and delight they can evidently see in our students who travelled this year.

However, I will leave you with and finish on a line that a colleague shared with me on the pilgrimage, when he tried to put into words the experience with his students;

An unbelievable experience in an indescribable place

Please be assured that all intentions of our school community and our wide Vincentian family were remembered by the students and I.


Ms. Anne-Marie Dolan – Chaplain

Students’ Individual Reports

My personal experience Of Lourdes was highlighted by the kindness and generosity of people most especially the pilgrims. There was a sense of belonging for everyone as everybody was there to assist the pilgrims, meet new people and learn new things. My favourite part of the trip was the torchlight procession. This was when we brought the pilgrims along the path in front of the Basilica and ultimately arrive at the procession where there was singing, and recitation of prayers. Overall, there were thousands of people there from many countries. It was surreal and the atmosphere was amazing. Shorty after the procession we had our nightly prairie where some other schools performed prayers and songs. On this trip I have learned to appreciate my health and well being as most of the pilgrims were quite sick, even terminal, yet still the happiest of people I think I have ever met. I encourage the current 5th years to go as it is a once in a lifetime experience with great people and a great community

M. Kilcoyne – 6th year


Lourdes was a truly fantastic experience for the five of us who attended. It was also a fulfilling experience which has enriched us and changed us for the better. Lourdes was a unique place. What we hope to achieve in this small article is to tell you about our experiences and detail to you why we recommend all who read this to consider a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

On Thursday the 7th at 5am we arrived at Dublin Airport and made our way through security and to the plane. After our arrival we were immediately on duty helping the sick pilgrims. We helped people in wheelchairs collect their bags and bring them to their coaches. After everyone was ready, we took our own coach to our hotel, Louis de France. We had some lunch upon arrival and headed to the pilgrimage straight away.

When we arrived to the pilgrimage we were in awe at the serene beauty of the land. We got to explore around and walk up the many sets of stairs to the highest point available. The view from high up is truly amazing and we couldn’t help but take a few photos. We made our way to the Grotto and witnessed the wonderous centerpiece of the pilgrimage. We were able to get up close and finally be able to see the real thing. It was a beautiful place.

We then started our short training to helping the sick pilgrims. We were tasked with getting used to moving wheelchairs and other types of wheeled seats by alternating between sitting in one and pushing or pulling one. We had a blast getting used to them and of course went as fast as we could and as dangerously as we could. Don’t worry, we were slow and safe the pilgrims, we promise!

We made our way to the Accueil which is where we went to fulfill our main purpose, helping the sick pilgrims. The sick pilgrims, also known as the VIPs, were all amazing people which we had the honour to be of service to. We alternated between two jobs while we were in Lourdes: Wards and Stewarding. Working in wards means you help keep the VIPs’ rooms clean and helping to move your assigned VIP to and from every event that they attend. The job of Stewarding is helping guide all of the VIPs and helper to wherever they need to go, as well as doing other duties such as flag holding or setting up stages.

Every day we had a mass with the VIPs, hosted by the archbishop. Those who had joined the folk group were tasked with singing all of the holy music that is played throughout the mass. Every day there is a different theme that the mass pertains to. The masses are very good and they envigorates the spirit of the individual and of the community.

We moved the VIPs to many different places during the pilgrimage and they were all great. The one place we can agree was the most surprising and amazing was the Underground Basilica. From the outside you could never tell how vast and aesthetic it is on the inside. During our time a television-broadcasted ceremony took place and it was like nothing we had ever seen before.

Spending time with your pilgrims is a major part of being a helper; you chat with them about your life and their life, bring them things they need, and keep them company during downtime. We must admit, Alastair McAndrew was the best at this, maybe the best out of all the school groups. It was honestly inspiring watching him do his job so well.

While most of our time was with the VIPs, we also had a lot of time to mix with other schools. At first, we were more or less confined to our own groups, by the end, we had all combined into a single group and were mixing with all of the different schools. Everyone there was great and further enhanced an already intensely fulfilling place.

The city was a lovely place with unique and captivating architecture. The city is built near some mountains so the streets can be very steep at points. There is a hill so steep going by our hotel that when we look outside of our third story window, it looks like a ground floor window!

Lourdes is an experience that you cannot get anywhere else. It strengthens many people’s beliefs and reignites others’. There is no single part of Lourdes you can point to and say “this is what we love about Lourdes”. Every single aspect of Lourdes is holy and fulfilling: the pilgrims, the helpers, the schools, the city, the churches, the basilicas, the Grotto, and the general atmosphere. If you ever get the chance, we highly recommend that you visit, you wont regret it.

N. Webster – 6th year


The Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes was an unforgettable experience. To be honest, in the days leading up to the trip, I was quite apprehensive about all of it. I didn’t fully know what to expect, and from what I’d heard it would be hard work every day. And while that was true, there wasn’t a minute of it that I didn’t enjoy. Every day you’d be looking after a pilgrim or working with students from the other schools. What made this so enjoyable was the fact that everyone who was there had signed up for it and wanted to be a part of something special. The kindness and generosity of everyone present truly made this a special experience. I knew before the trip was even over that I would be returning next year as a white shirt, and I can’t recommend highly enough that each 5th year student applies for the trip when they have the chance.

S. Brown – 6th year


The experience that I had in Lourdes is one that I will cherish for a lifetime. I struggle with words to describe how great of a time I had with all the different duties and jobs. The early start in the morning gave way to a day of wonder and enjoyment. Our tasks in helping the pilgrims gave way to bonds with them as we all undertook this extraordinary pilgrimage. It was not just the interactions with pilgrims, but the kindness shown to us by the staff at Lourdes and how well we were treated with the utmost respect shown to us all. The duties in the wards may have had us working hard, but one joke or chat with a pilgrim made it all wonderful. I am truly blessed to have gone on such a great trip and strongly encourage the younger years to put themselves forward and experience the indescribable.

A. Mc Andrew – 6th year


My experience of Lourdes is hard to describe or put into words. However, practically speaking I was one of many students responsible for taking care of the sick pilgrims or the VIP’s as they were referred to on the pilgrimage. This work included stewarding and ward duty for Castleknock. I mostly enjoyed getting to know the pilgrims through chatting to them and sharing stories.

Two pilgrims in a special way stand out for me. From the first day myself and Matthew took care of two pilgrims by the names of Tom and Mary. It was extremely rewarding because we could tell how much they were enjoying everything that we were doing for them. They made the experience just as good for us as we did for them.

The stewarding was probably the hardest of our duties. This is because it involved standing out in the heat to make sure the pilgrims all made it to where they were meant to be guiding them and being of any assistance we could be. However, I still enjoyed this job because it gave me a chance to talk to other students from various schools that I might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

In saying that, I personally think that the Dublin Diocesan pilgrimage team did a really good job of planning various activities and events which gave us the students a chance to get to know each other e.g. Morning and Night Prayer, Sing Songs, Table Quizzes, Presentations etc.

I really enjoyed my experience and I am truly looking forward to going back as a white shirt next year.

C. Mullins – 6th year