By Kathleen Mullane

‘What an Experience’

Well the Athea contingent, headed by Fr. Duggan along with the youth helpers, left Athea for Lourdes on Wednesday last. It was a while since a group had travelled together. We arrived late last Wednesday night. Most of our group were based in the Eliseo Hotel near the grotto, the youth helpers a bit away in the Astoria. In all there are over 200 hotels in Lourdes, a far cry from when St. Bernadette witnessed Our Lady’s apparition many years ago.

The opening mass at the Grotto on Thursday morning was so beautiful with Bishop Brendan Leahy celebrating and many of our Limerick priests concelebrating with him. The musicians and singers that had brought over their harp, accordion, side flutes etc were so talented, not to mention the singers – I can tell you anyone of them could win “The X Factor” -what voices!

We went to the “Baths” in the afternoon – luckily we only had to queue for over an hour, more often than not it can take even 3 hours or more, such are the crowds! The heat of 35° was almost unbearable on Thursday and bottles of water were drank – sometimes even ‘Holy Water’. The Baths were a unique experience-plunged into the cold water and all your worries and woes gone away, for some it was a very emotional experience. Thursday night devotions ended with Holy Hour and then it was off to “The Solitude” where many gather. Fr. Chris O’Donnell and Lizzy Murphy took to the floor with all the youth helpers and what a great buzz, all letting themselves go after a ‘hard day’s work’.

The anointing of the sick on Friday was again a very emotional ceremony, so many from the Limerick Diocese attending. Bishop Donal Murray said this mass and again the singing was so uplifting. Some of us took off with Fr. Duggan, Bill Casey & Teady Hunt in the afternoon up hundreds of meters up the mountain to Pic du Jer and the caves. Clodagh Histon, Nicole O’Sullivan & Patsy Hayes & myself plucked up the courage!

The Torchlight Procession on Friday night had the “Limerick Pilgrims” so well represented – Limerick was the biggest group in the whole procession, which indeed was a joy. Fr. Duggan led the Penitential service on Saturday and gave a lovely talk in the underground Basilica, where a big crowd attended confessions. Saturday night, after the hospitality mass, was something else in “The Solitude Hotel” – where the annual singing competition took place between 1) the youth group 2) the nurses 3) the doctors 4) the handmaids 5) the choir 6) the Brancardier 7) the Priests. The nurses came out winners in the end, however Fr. Duggan along with Bishop Brendan Leahy and Bishop Donal Murray and the other priests came in 3rd place and got some great cheers,

On Sunday the closing ceremony was taken over by the youth. Their singing, music, friendliness and above all their help with the elderly patients was something else. There was “many a tear shed” when they were leaving their patients they had taken care of all the week. My own grand-daughter Amy O’Riordan had a lady from Newcastle West – namely Lily Doody and at 95 she got off her wheelchair for a waltz!

Fr. O’Leary said the Rosary every night down near the River Gave and many prayed along with him, Lizzy Murphy does untold work with the youth from taking photos of everyone and much more. Of course Fr. Chris O’Donnell was “idolized” by all the youth and was like one of themselves.

Fr. Duggan bought a huge candle and all the Athea group went and erected it in the candelabra, across from the Grotto, and it was lit for all the Athea parish back home – indeed a lovely thought Father (and he didn’t let us down in the singing either). As I finish these few lines at 7am on a very wet Lourdes morning we will all take back great memories from our pilgrimage and I would encourage everyone to come, especially our youth. Liam Mullane, Lower Athea has come 4 years as a helper, well done. To all the names I’ve mentioned above along with Helen and Mary Brosnan, Agatha Barrett, Joan Manaher, Teresa O’Halloran (who gave us many a laugh) and Betty Murphy, thanks for the company, friendliness and prayers shared. Happy birthday to Jade McMahon who turned 17 in Lourdes and Katelyn O’Connor who worked so hard as a handmaid.