Before the Belvedere party left Dublin for Lourdes, Cormac Devilly, a 6th year student, was commissioned to write about the experience. Here are his reflections:
“When I was given this task, I assured myself that not a single cliché would be used. But as I sit in front of the computer screen following undoubtedly the best experience of my life, all I am left with is clichés. Yet in no way is Lourdes deserving of clichés. In fact, it is the exact opposite. The week I spent in Lourdes had such an impact on me that it just cannot be explained with the content of a dictionary. Words do not do justice in conveying the magical ride of Lourdes. It is only in returning that I fully understand the great difficulty in putting this experience to paper.
Our Lourdes experience consisted of five full days’ work which began on Sunday morning, and did not end until the final pilgrim boarded the bus home on Friday. We each had our own individual duties to carry out, some looking after the pilgrims in the wards, some braving the intensity of the Lourdes heat as stewards, some as the reception team, transferring pilgrims smoothly from chaises (chairs) to voitures (comfy chairs) and vice versa.
Yet work, as unusual as it may sound, was the most rewarding time in Lourdes. Each encounter with a pilgrim was a lesson learned, a joke shared or a bond formed. I certainly enjoyed my time in reception very much and I’m sure the other lads did too. Outside of ‘work’, we spent each night participating in the blueshirt prairie and throughout the week paid a special visit to the baths, enjoyed the spectacular torchlight procession and capped off the week on Friday evening with a memorable trip to the grotto. In addition to all of this we were treated to a trip to the beach in Biarritz on our final day and relished the change in venue for our meal that night, as we swapped shovelling the gruel of St Michel down our throats for the sweet taste of duck with the Belvedere community in Lourdes.
Before I set off for Lourdes I wanted to be tested. I wanted to see life from a different angle and better appreciate the one I had. As I now look back over my experience in the comfort of home, I can safely say that Lourdes was a great test of my character. Working with the pilgrims was both physically and, more significantly, emotionally challenging as for just one week in our fortunate lives, we lived and shared the hardships of our colleagues.
Of the many unforgettable experiences I had with the pilgrims, the most powerful of all was undoubtedly the night I spent with a deaf-blind patient out by the Grotto. Asked to transport her to the site, I watched in complete awe as her assistant communicated through finger/palm movements and as the patient expressed every emotion in her body through her face. It was heart-breaking to see just how a woman could live like this, yet enlightening too to see the joy and contentment in her face. It was at this point when I finally realized how fortunate a card I have been dealt in life. For many years of my teenage life I tried telling myself this during the rough times, but it never seemed real. On this night, the reality completely hit home. For that half an hour I found myself completely lost both in my thoughts, and indeed with my speech as this remarkable form of communication evaded me. This was merely a fraction of what the pilgrim encounters on a daily basis; lost in our world of speech and forced to trust every single person she meets. It would be untrue to say that I didn’t shed a tear that night, as life was presented to me from a totally different perspective. It was this moment, the first of many more from then on, when I truly realised why people come back to Lourdes year on year.
During my week in Lourdes, my thoughts, ideas and preconceptions were all probed as in barely seven days, my whole outlook on life had changed. I learned to accept a lot more, about others and myself. We’re all different in this world and vulnerable too, so I learned to accept each individual personality and to stand by others in their time of need. That is part of the magic of Lourdes – we are all treated as human beings and, in contrary to our crass society in the everyday, treated as equals to one another. No person is more important than the other in Lourdes. I have never experienced so many different emotions in such a short space of time. Throughout the week I sucked in joy, sorrow, anger, relief and wonder among a wide spectrum of sentiments, be it in the magnificent beauty of the torchlight procession, the serenity of the baths or most frequently, in touching encounters with the pilgrims. Our visit to the grotto on Friday night provided a fittingly inspiring end to a glorious week. The peace, solidarity and spirituality encountered as we stood as one with our own unique thoughts and intentions was extremely powerful. We stood as men who travelled individually through th e Lourdes puzzle and gathered collectively at the final post with our own unique solutions. Yet beyond everything I experienced, the pilgrims were our centre of attention, and everything was done to ensure they enjoyed the week of their lives. I am just extremely glad to have played a part in it.
To conclude, I firmly believe what makes Lourdes the amazingly inspiring experience that it is are the people themselves. Lourdes provided me with a warmth I have honestly never experienced before, that was brought about by people. God created us all for a reason, and we as people in Lourdes represent everything Christian about our wonderful race. Lourdes would not be the same without people. Lourdes would not be Lourdes without Bernadette, whose determination and strength is honoured for providing us with the experience we all share today. Lourdes would not be Lourdes without the helpers, whose generosity and kindness help spread happiness and joy. And most importantly, Lourdes would not be Lourdes without the pilgrims, who fill us with their infinite wisdom and inspire us with their attitude to life and perseverance. Throughout my week in Lourdes, I believe I have been transformed as a character for the better. I have been well tested, and achieved my own personal answers. For this change and for giving me (and many others) undoubtedly the best experience of my life, it feels only right to thank the people of Lourdes for the opportunity, and many others in Belvdere, boys and staff, for preparing, leading and guiding us through our journey. It would not have. been possible at all without them.. I cannot stress enough to any other Belvedere student reading this to apply for Lourdes. It is a journey which must be experienced to understand, and I can assure everyone that you will get something out of it. For me, with the people I met and the friendships (both young and old) I forged, it is an experience I will take with me for the rest of my life.