THE Irish Pilgrimage Trust has been bringing people with special needs to Lourdes for the past 41 years. This year, thanks once again to the voluntary work of a number of local people, they took 11 students to the pilgrimage town in France.
Among those who went was 13-year-old Jason Garland from Dromineer, who told the Tipperary Star that he would “definitely” go back.
The Borrisokane Community College student heard about the pilgrimage through the school’s chef, Michael Carroll, who asked him if he would like to travel.
Jason said he ran the idea past his parents and they agreed he could go.
However, he didn’t really know what to expect except that he thought it would be “pretty much all fun and games with a bit of Mass here and there”.
And while that proved to be the case “mostly”, Jason was more than impressed with the Masses, and got to bring the national banner up to the altar.
“I was proud of that because it had never been brought up before,” he said.
And the Masses were “definitely better” than back home.
“There was a huge difference. The priests wore funny hats and danced around,” he recalled.
Could he see his local priest behaving like that on the altar on Sundays?
“Not at all. You wouldn’t see that over here,” he said.
He also found the music to be “joyful and good. It made me feel happy afterwards.”
And he admitted that he can still be heard singing his favourite song, Rise and Shine, even now that he is back home.
Jason spoke highly of Fr Gerry Boyle, who travelled with the group, and who he described as “cool” and “so easy to talk to”.
And while he thought going to the beach on one of the days was the “best part” of the visit, Jason also felt he learned a lot while there and it changed his outlook on life.
“I learned to respect people better. That people can be nicer than you realise,” he said. “The French people were really kind to us.”
He also recalled “flying up and down” the hotel corridor in a wheelchair, but that made him realise that while this was fun for him because he does not need a wheelchair, it was not fun for those who do.
“They hadn’t the energy I had, for one thing,” said Jason.
Of course, no visit to Lourdes can be undertaken without visiting the grotto, which Jason described as “not what I expected. It was simpler than I would have thought.”
However, one of the highlights of going to the grotto was carrying the six-foot candle and placing it there.
“I have never seen such a huge candle. Before going we wrote out our intentions for people who might be sick or doing exams or people we missed. Then we put them on the candle and brought it to the church where we said a prayer. Afterwards we lit it and went to the grotto,” Jason recalled.
He believes that going to Lourdes is a trip that everyone should make.
“I definitely recommend it,” he said, pointing out that he had made new friends out of the trip and they were all now keeping in touch.
Bringing people to Lourdes requires a huge amount of voluntary work, and Jason said he hoped to get involved in fundraising and maybe some day to be a leader and help people on one of the IPT pilgrimages.
If you would like to help with fundraising or be a volunteer for Group 165 on the IPT pilgrimage to Lourdes, contact Vincent Savage at 087-6672666 or Michael Carroll at 087-9229175.