Throughout the UK and in 11 other countries, groups are making their final preparations for HCPT's Easter Pilgrimage - which starts on Easter Sunday and kicks off the charity's season of pilgrimages to Lourdes in Southern France. HCPT's pilgrimage, the largest from the UK, will provide a joyful, loud and colourful start to the Shrine's 2019 season - which will see it welcome over four million visitors.
Around 1,000 disabled children will be participating in this year's HCPT Easter pilgrimage. The theme is 'God's love is the best love' which has been developed by a team of volunteers from the charity's Welsh region. It draws inspiration from the Gospels, and from two words that are particularly important in the Welsh language - cariad (meaning love) and cwtch (meaning a hug).
Leading the pilgrimage will be Archbishop Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh, and President of HCPT, with eight other bishops from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the United States of America in attendance.
Highlights will include a new child-focused multimedia presentation of the Apparitions and story of Lourdes, a rare late-night Grotto Mass in English, and "Welsh Wednesday" with its procession of all the pilgrims from the Principality, many in fancy dress. The principal celebrant of the large Trust Mass on the Thursday morning will be Bishop Tom Burns of Menevia. New for the 2019 Easter Pilgrimage will be an HCPT International Mass, led by HCPT's Swiss contingent and attended by groups from the 12 nations of the HCPT International Family.
HCPT's pilgrimages are unusual, in that they have a distinctly youthful feel - with over half of the volunteer helpers being under the age of 30. Its pilgrimages are often called life-changing: a big claim, but one that is backed up by hundreds of testimonies - like the story of Lucy, who travelled last Easter. She has a learning disability caused by her mother's heavy drinking before she was born. She is 16, but has a mental age of 8.
Her disability makes her vulnerable. As an example, she had never been out alone - a freedom most people of her age, and much younger, would take for granted. In Lourdes, however, she was given responsibility. Her HCPT group leader explains: "We knew it would be beneficial for her. She was caring for a young woman with Down's syndrome. Lucy was given the task of making sure they were both ready in time for everything during their week together. It was lovely to see her self-esteem grow due to the help she was offering, as well as receiving."
Lucy's adoptive mum says, "I've definitely noticed changes in her since her week away. She has more spirit, and a new have-a-go attitude! She glows with confidence. Everyone she meets says that. It can only have come from the love, care and support she enjoyed in Lourdes."
HCPT's Easter pilgrimage is the start of a busy year for the charity, which also offers pilgrimages to Hosanna House, HCPT's retreat centre in the hills above Lourdes, from May to October. HCPT (Hosanna House and Children's Pilgrimage Trust) was founded in 1956 by Dr Michael Strode. It has taken disabled and disadvantaged children to Lourdes ever since.
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