Any helper travelling to Lourdes with the
HCPT over Easter Week, has to be ready to be be made a fool of one minute, be a star
at football the next; then a comedian and perhaps
in an instant, a peacemaker/diplomat. However the need to care for 10 children and at the same time give them a fun holiday with a spiritual dimension, quickly banishes any residual self consciousness felt by voluntary helpers.
HCPT's 2007 pilgrimage was no exception. An inaugurial sports day was held in the prairie opposite the grotto, for the children of the 5 HCPT Groups of the London Beaumont region. Wheelchair races were accompanied by much partisan shouting for the competitors from each group; eggs were soon scrambled in the egg and spoon races and hurdles of one kind or another tackled with gusto but the race by each Group to shroud its group leader from head to toe - Egyptian mummy fashion - in loo paper, attracted the most laughter, especially as each leader then had to hop to the finish to win.
Needless to add all 5 group leaders were soon disqualified but I am glad to report that Wimbledon's HCPT Group 35 won the cup for the Region's first sports day.
All the children were presented with winners' medals and the winner's cup duly
engraved with a large 35, was left at the cafe Cintra for next year.
Lighting candles at the Grotto, some quiet contemplation, the Trust Mass
attended by all 5200 HCPT pilgrims in the huge underground Church, the freezing "baths" and visiting "The Cachot", the old single room lock up
lived in by Bernadette's family 149 years ago after dad became bankrupt,
were among the spiritual highlights. The beach at Ste Jean de Luz;
the Group led by Neil on guitar and Felicity on flute, singing
inside a deserted cafe in Lourdes old town as torrential rain, thunder and
lightning, raged outside; our party on the last night at the Alba as well as the sports day, were among the fun highlights of this years journey.
We all bonded really well as a team of friends, workers, children and pilgrims.
The children were fantastic and a great privilege to look after.
One girl who was being supported arm and arm by helper Rachel and I,
decided to sit down just at the pinchpoint of the security section at Tarbes/Lourdes airport. The grin on her
face when the previously po-faced security officials became very human
and attentive, at once offering her a rather superior French wheelchair,
caused them, us and others the queue, to smile -
a human trait not normally associated with airports these days.
Many a head turned on the trains as 11 young(ish in the leader's case) helpers travelled back engroupe to Wimbledon, wearing the Group's light blue, dark blue and windsor brown shirts. "A rugby team?" asked one passenger; "sort of" I thought.
In addition to being unfazed by being the fall guy or girl, voluntary helpers
need to be CRB checked (easy for most to arrange) have imagination, energy and lots of patience.
Overseeing in the freezing Atlantic waters off St Jean de Luz beach, being dragged into rap dancing by children, hymn singing, ice cream ordering, listening, learning, torchlight processing or being away from all of those things helping a child who is sick or upset needing to be alone, are among the talents voluntary
helpers have to acquire.
If you are open, willing to learn and would like to
travel as a voluntary helper with Wimbledon's HCPT Group 35 in 2008
feel free to let me know.