Wednesday, May 04, 2011

HCPT Group 35 (again) and Other Things

I realise that there has been an important wedding recently and that Usama Bin Laden has been shot dead, which events so far have not taken up any of this blog space yet there are now three pages essentially dedicated to our 2011 pilgrimage to Lourdes and none so far to those other events. However  the trip to Lourdes has made a deep personal impact hence this 3rd  blog page on the topic. The other events important though they are, make mainly  impersonal impacts.

I do feel however that the killing of Usama Bin Ladin  and the celebrating that has engendered in some quarters   rather than his capture alive and trial for crimes against humanity,  were wrong somehow almost as if the USA is stooping to the same tactics as its enemies - an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth are not the ways of the New Testament.

The Royal Wedding was a lovely affair and its reporting provided a welcome contrast to the otherwise constant barrage of bad news

Now on to HCPT Group 35 again

Planning for the Group’s pilgrimage to Lourdes with other HCPT family groups during Easter week commences as early as the preceding June. Our estimate in 2010 of about 20 people proved a substantial underestimate as by April 2011 we numbered 29 pilgrims, partly because of transfers of some children and helpers from a group based in Kew which found only a few weeks before the pilgrimage was due to begin that it could not travel.

Schools and families began to be visited and invitations issued during the autumn of 2010 following receipt of confirmations from Group nurse Pat and other experienced helpers of their wish to join the group for 2011.

Visits to the Ursuline High School and Wimbledon College led to a gratifyingly large number of students volunteering to act as helpers - five students from those schools travelled with us. Welcome support also came from Donhead. Voluntary helpers included Becky the headmaster’s daughter, Jo, a Donhead old boy, a Donhead governor, Cecilia a sister of a former Donhead boy and Bernadette the aunt of another. Additionally, we were privileged to welcome back Phelim McGowan SJ as the Group’s chaplain – Phelim was a former Donhead governor.

In January 2011 a day of preparation for the pilgrimage was held at St George’s College, Weybridge with other Groups from the HCPT London Beaumont Region and in March 2011 Donhead kindly provided facilities for Group 35’s own half day of pilgrimage planning and preparation, one of the highlights of which was a huge lunch brought in by experienced helper, Bernadette.

St Pancras International and the Eurostar journey on Easter Sunday were ideal. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the Gare du Nord in Paris where the HCPT couchette train was delayed (having apparently suffered a derailment). The presence of some suspicious looking individuals who turned out to be French transport police on an undercover operation along with what appeared to be teenage boys in military uniform toting machine guns in the Paris station concourse, we found unnerving. Travel from Dover thence by chartered HCPT train from Calais direct to Lourdes might be preferable to facing the Gare du Nord atmosphere again in 2012. However the train managed to make up all the lost time as it rattled down overnight to Lourdes and the sight of the Grotto just prior to our reaching Lourdes Station in time for breakfast was wonderful.

We were fortunate indeed to have our own chaplain again so were able to enjoy a Group 35 mass together on the first day.

As in previous years the highlights of the pilgrimage were the characters of the child pilgrims, the dedication of helpers(mainly students) and the way in which the long journey down to Lourdes made for a great atmosphere together.

The liturgical highlights included the masses we shared at Hosanna House with another group which had no chaplain and at St Joseph’s Church in the Lourdes domaine with the six other groups from the HCPT London Beaumont Region. On the last day ironically after Phelim had taken his early flight home we had a Rotunde de Jeunes for Mass but no priest but met by chance with a small Irish HCPT group with a priest but no chapel so we shared a terrific joint celebration.

Our away day at St Jean de Luz is worth a mention. The beach, sea and sun were ideal for children and helpers alike. The beach was effectively taken over for the day by HCPT pilgrims so much so that one local man after enquiring of us as to the nature of HCPT, introduced himself as a doctor and said that it was nice to know that the town’s beach was being taken over for the day by so many deserving young people.

Especially welcome at the end of our journey back at St Pancras International was the lift back to Wimbledon in the Donhead minibus courtesy of Mr Headmaster - thank you to him and all others who have helped HCPT Group 35 child and helper pilgrims have such a fulfilling journey together.

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