Eoghan Keogh, former youth worker with Slí Eile (now Magis Ireland), joined the staff of Belvedere College, Dublin as a school chaplain and pastoral worker this September and his first job was to accompany the students and staff on a trip to Lourdes as part of the annual Dublin diocesean pilgrimage. “Even though I was hardly in the door when they asked me to travel with them I didn’t have to think twice about it because I knew it would give me a good chance to get to know some of the students I’ll be working with in my time ahead.” The pilgrimage turned out to be an important experience for him as he came to recognise the significance of the Lourdes trip, now in its sixty-first year, for the students, staff and himself. “I felt priviledged to be part of it and while it was my job that took me there, it really impacted on my own faith.” Read Eoghan’s story of the trip.
I meet Brother Eamonn Davis SJ who is in his twenty-sixth year on the pilgrimage, and Terry Mac Mullen a retired Teacher who continues to volunteer his time. Again I begin to sense that this is an important project for the school. As I meet the students, I see how well the whole trip has been prepared and thought out. I meet with ten students, a quiet but enthusiastic group.
It is the Thursday before we travel, and there is a mission Mass for all the students, not just from Belvedere but from around Dublin, twenty in all, packed into our school chapel. There is a real sense of community on many different levels.
First I notice how this is part of the wider church community. The gathering brings energy and some anxiety, but in general a sense of a challenge ahead for each student. When in Lourdes I notice straight away how this event is such a big deal for the school. There are so many past students who still volunteer their time every year with vigour and enthusiasm. It is contagious.
Immediately I feel part of something. What comes to my mind is a line from the Jesuit GC35, Decree 2: “a fire that kindles other fires”. This is what I notice in myself – I want to be part of this. I also think of a line from St Francis’ prayer, “Lord make me an instrument of your peace”. As I watch the students, past and present, get stuck into work with the sick, I see this prayer become real. They minister to one another, and deepen one another’s faith. I see faith in action. It is quite amazing and refreshing for my own Catholic faith.
As the week goes on I meet many teachers from other schools. Again I feel part not just of a Jesuit school but a wider Ignatian family, and the even wider Church community. To see young and old from different areas of Dublin is great. Barriers are broken and different communities are joined in a common faith and a common mission.
As the week ends, I see tired students, worn out from long days but still willing to take part in everything that’s happening on this pilgrimage. I am shattered and tired too, but at the same time I feel refreshed spiritually. While it was my job that enabled me to go to Lourdes, I could not help reflecting on the impact it has had on my own faith.
As a new pastoral worker I go back to work in Belvedere with energy, hope for the future of our church, and a sense of being privileged to walk with students, past students, teachers and pilgrims on a journey that has inspired me.