As more than 1,000 children with disabilities and their groups left the annual HCPT Trust Mass in Lourdes last Thursday, the President of HCPT described this year's celebration as "a beautiful and happy year with a special Welsh tone." Archbishop Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, had concelebrated with eight other bishops from Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland and the USA. The main celebrant was Bishop Tom Burns of Menevia, who fully joined in HCPT's participatory liturgy by clapping during the Mike Anderson 'Gloria'. His sermon concluded with the message: "God's love is the best love; to love is to serve one another". Bishop Alan Williams of Brentwood waved at groups from his diocese and joined them outside afterwards, saying "the bright sunshine sums up the mood of the day".
The pilgrimage theme this year was 'Cariad - God's love is the best love', and the Trust Mass was organised by the HCPT Region of Wales. A red dragon names 'Cariad' was paraded before and after Mass. The congregation of more than 2,000 HCPT pilgrims, sitting in their distinctive group colours, raised the roof of the Salle Bernadette Church opposite the grotto with such hymns as 'Sing it in the Valley's' 'Rise and Shine', '10,000 Reasons' and the Welsh favourite, 'Bread of Heaven'. Disabled children read the bidding prayers, reminding that on this pilgrimage the children come first. Each child was cheered after prayers were said remembering the sick, poor, homeless and families at home. The wider family of HCPT - over its past 63 years - was remembered in the hearts of regulars, particularly Caroline Bennett, a former trustee and HCPT Pilgrimage Director, who died just before this year's pilgrimage. Also, HCPT founder Brother Michael Strode who first brought disabled and disadvantaged children to Lourdes in 1956.
There were huge leek and daffodil hats and balloons from Welsh groups, stars and stripes from the USA contingent and even a Billericay group dressed in green tutus. Many faces were painted in group numbers and colours. Way at the back of one of the tiers of seats, near the roof, groups in orange and yellow were seen dancing at the end. Of course, the point of the bright and distinctive colours is so that groups can spot their own members easily at a distance, as well as heighten fun and group solidarity for the children. During the procession from the church the bishops were preceded by two long lines of group chaplains and banners from as far afield as Slovakia and Australia. The joyful nature of this pilgrimage was reflected in such sweatshirts and banners as 'Shiny Happy People', 'Nothing but fun with 171', 'Called to serve' and 'Hail Mary'. The flashing star banner brought a smile to many faces.
The Mass was broadcast live on the Lourdes live TV website, and viewed internationally, as multiple internet messages testified. Many admire HCPT for being a very youthful pilgrimage with more than 50 percent of helpers under 30 years of age. Faith formation and young people engaged with reaching out to and learning from the vulnerable are part of the HCPT experience. The dedication of young helpers - particularly university students facing exams soon after returning home - to severely disabled children was humbling and life-affirming for people of all ages. "This pilgrimage puts life in perspective" one of them said in our group's final night prayers. The children themselves are always inspired when they visit the prison cell where Bernadette lived at the time of the apparitions in 1858, and discover that she was a sickly uneducated girl from perhaps the town's poorest family, and that this was the child chosen to be an earthly bridge with the divine.
On Sunday morning, as groups visited the Grotto for the final time, they joined Mass there with music led by the West Indies group, particularly Kevin D. Williams and chaplain Fr Sam playing his violin. All wore their distinctive green and yellow sweatshirts displaying 'No Problem'. Afterwards, many groups placed large candles decorated with group names, hearts, stars and hands of service, in the domain area, holding a short service of thanks for the blessings of the pilgrimage. Heads were full of memorable masses at such chapels as the Sheepfold, St Gabriels and Mater Misericordiae, and the Stations of the Cross by the shimmering River Gave, where we considered the crosses we bear in our lives and the hope offered by the Resurrection of Jesus. There were poignant memories of a week when our children were the centre of attention and valued just as they are. Final 'Ave Maria's' were sung.
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.
Trust Mass on Youtube 2019: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk8tFzGeOV8
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