Our Sixth Form students in Lourdes
Just as the summer term was coming to an end 15 members of our sixth form gathered at 4am with Mr Whittle to head off to Lourdes to be volunteer helpers in Lourdes. Our sixth form students were going to Lourdes for a week to be ‘Red Cap’ helpers on the Westminster Diocesan pilgrimage. All sixteen of us were happily giving up this week in order to spend our time working hard by caring for the sick and elderly who were making their pilgrimage to Lourdes. For all our students it was their very first time in Lourdes but despite this they rose to the challenge and proved themselves to be excellent helpers.
Being a volunteer helper in Lourdes is very demanding work, both physically and emotionally. Each summer over a thousand people travel to Lourdes from the Archdiocese of Westminster, and over a hundred and fifty are sick or elderly. It is the role of the ‘red cap’ helpers to work with these people (who are known in Lourdes as the ‘malade’) in order to make sure that they can have a good pilgrimage. The malade need to use wheel chairs while they are in Lourdes. There was a heavy scedule of events each day, and it is the reponsibility of the ‘red caps’ to work with the malade in their care and to make sure that they can get to all of the services and events which are part of the pilgrimage.
From the moment our sixth form students and Mr Whittle arrived at Stansted airport they were on duty. They formed part of the advanced group of volunteers who escorted and cared for the pilgrims who were staying in the hospital in Lourdes. Every day the group from Gumley were busy being outstanding ‘red caps’. No duty was too much, and they happily spent time looking after the malade. We can be very proud of the way they worked. They were putting the values and beliefs of our school into practice. Many people were impressed by the way the group from the Gumley spent their week. They were being showered with compliments, especially from the sick and elderly who needed be pushed in wheel chairs.
Being a ‘red cap’ is far more than just hard work because you have a chance to discover that being in Lourdes is something wonderful. There is something very special about being in such a holy place where we make caring for others the normal way of behaving. As well as all the hard work our group had a great week full of laughter and happy times. We formed part of a combined team made up of students from St Gregory’s (in Kenton) and from Nicholas Breakspear School (in Hartfordshire). Altogether there were 45 of us. We became the hardest working and most best team of Red Caps in the whole pilgrimage. During the week we took time out to pray together and one night we went down to the ‘Grotto’ to place a candle for the intentions of everyone who belongs to our school group.
The pictures and quotes below give a small flavour of what a fantastic time our school group had in Lourdes. We are grateful for the opportunity to go to Lourdes and many of us want to come back next year!
Some quotes from some of our Lourdes group:
“It was hard work but at the same time a real pleasure to help out”
“Lourdes is a good spiritual experience. I enjoyed my time with the malades” (Catherine)
“I feel that prayers mean more to me now and mean something different to before the pilgrimage. I find it easier to interact with new people especially the malades I looked after. I enjoyed myself and found the work quite easy” (Fatima)
“I really liked the torchlight procession. I did not think that I would enjoy it as much as I have. It was very tiring by very rewarding” (Marta)
“I really like the Grotto and the place where you leave the candles. I found it easy to be charitable and it was better than I expected.” (Jenny)
“I enjoyed giving help to the people who needed it most. It was more demanding but less awkward working with the malades than I thought” (Mary)
“I really enjoyed it and was not what I expected” (Leah)
“I loved the work with the malade” (Emily)
“I really enjoyed visiting the Grotto at night. I enjoyed it very much and found it to be very rewarding. However it was very tiring!” (Irish)
“I believe I have become a nicer person in Lourdes, especially after the night we went to light candles at the Grotto. It was hard work but I have met some amazing people. It has really opened my eyes” (Kate)