Nessie sighting at Lourdes

 A giant Loch Ness monster, escorted by pipers in swirling kilts, was spotted in Lourdes last Thursday. The green beastie circled round the altar at the end of the HCPT Pilgrimage Trust Mass in the Underground Basilica - much to the delight of more than 3000 balloon and banner-waving children with disabilities and their helpers. The colourful Mass, organised this year by Scottish groups, was celebrated by Bishop Ian Murray of Argyll and Isles, with Bishops John Rawsthorne, Victor Guazzelli, Edwin Regan, Mark Jabele, and Christy Jones, and dozens of priests from the Pilgrimage Trust. The service was just one of many events during the seven-day Easter pilgrimage. Throughout the week, which was blessed for the most part with sunny weather, the children also took part in many processions and ceremonies, and sightseeing excursions around the town and in the Pyrenees. Organised in 'family groups' based in small hotels near the shrine, with a chaplain, doctors and nurses, each child was accompanied by a voluntary helper 24 hours day. HCPT was set up in 1956, by Dr Michael Strode, after he took four disabled children on holiday to Lourdes. At the time most children with disabilities could only be accommodated in hospitals in the town and Dr Michael felt there was a need for holiday-pilgrimages geared specially for them in more intimate, comfortable surroundings. Nearly 50 years on, HCPT is now considered a model for disabled children's holiday care. The Trust now has several hundred groups in the UK and Ireland that go out to Lourdes each year. Recently new groups have joined from the West Indies, USA , Romania and Slovakia. The Trust also run a holiday home near Lourdes for older people with disabilities. "We must be one of the best-kept secrets of the Catholic church " one volunteer told ICN. Although the Trust might not be well known at home - they certainly make an impact abroad. While some groups wore quiet-coloured sweatshirts, others had chosen more extrovert styles that raised a few eyebrows among conservative Euro-pilgrims. This year the Windsor group wore turquoise caps topped by pink teddy bears while the children from Hertfordshire and their helpers sported eye-catching green and yellow trousers. For more information on HCPT, visit their website at:

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