Cardinal leads Lourdes pilgrimage

 Nearly a thousand Londoners were in Lourdes all last week, for the twelfth annual Westminster pilgrimage, lead by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, with Bishop James O'Brien and Bishop Arthur Roche. There were also groups from Brentwood, Cardiff, Liverpool, Dunkeld, and Birmingham dioceses among the 40,000 pilgrims gathered at the shrine. Travelling by plane, coach and train, the sick and disabled were cared for by volunteer doctors and nursing staff and helpers. Westminster had their own team of 'Redcaps' who pushed wheelchairs and helped organise the processions and crowded events. The Westminster pilgrimage began on Monday with an open-air Mass at the Cathedral of the Trees, celebrated by Cardinal Cormac. On Tuesday, Mass at the Grotto was lead by the Archbishop of Liverpool, Most Rev Patrick Kelly with music from Liverpool Diocese's music group. Standing on the steps of the Basilica, pilgrims from a dozen countries lead the hymns and prayers during the spectacular torchlight procession on Tuesday evening. There was a break from tradition when a group of singers from the Marquises Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, dressed in brilliant green sarongs prayed a sung version of the Hail Mary in Polynesian. On the final evening of the pilgrimage, there were several parties and Cardinal Cormac gave special presentations to the Redcaps. Praising them for their hard work and enthusiasm he asked each person to bring a friend next year. At the Closing Mass on Friday morning, a group of small children stole the show when they lead one of the hymns from the altar with sign language. Redcap Katrina Chapman, 21, a student from Shepperton in Middlesex, who visits Lourdes every year, said: "It's been a great week. I'm very tired now but I'm definitely coming again." Hospital helper Prue Hornby, a management consultant from Cirencester, who came with Westminster, said: "This was my first time. I'm not a Catholic but I wanted to see what it was all about. It's been a terrific week. I've found the liturgies very accessible. The music and the spectacle was beautiful. It all makes more sense now." Patient Brian Hempsall, from Palmers Green said: "I've had a lovely time. It's been a real holiday. They've looked after me so well." More than five million pilgrims come to Lourdes each year from all over the world. For more information about the shrine, and to see the live Lourdes webcam - click on: Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes official website.

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