August 2, 2018

When I heard that Kath Brown was arranging a Lourdes pilgrimage this year, I knew I must seize the opportunity.   I had never been.  80, a widow, not a cradle Catholic, but a convert on marriage, Our Lady had long been a shadowy figure for me. But recently I had found that a devotion to Our Lady Untier of Knots, loved by Pope Francis, made me aware of a personal invitation from Our Lady herself;’ there were 21 of us in the group led by Father Jose:  Clare Allen, Kathleen Brown, Martin Brown, Liela Hathaway, Jenika Jayawardena, Sally Johns, Tresamma Jose, Ann Kennett, Shawn Lewis, Teresa Mahoney, John Marsden, Ted Murphy, Theresa Novak, Mary Robb, Daniel Want and Margaret Want, with Anne Rowntree from Chard, joined at Heathrow by Patricia and Chris Domingo from Mitchum and in Lourdes by Kath’s cousin, Deacon Richard McLaughlin. Sadly, Alan and June Cousins had to cancel.

At 3.00 a.m. on Saturday, 7th October, the coach rumbled away in the darkness from the Marian Hall to Heathrow and a flight to Toulouse where Damien, our tour guide, met us. We then we travelled on another coach to Lourdes, arriving in warm midday sun.  Kath had booked us into a comfortable, solid 1896 old-style hotel, less than 100 yards from St Joseph’s Gate and the domain. A plentiful, well-cooked lunch awaited us. The food was altogether good and plentiful, with three-course meals each day for lunch and dinner.  The rooms were spacious with high ceilings and French doors on to a little balcony.  A kettle for tea was provided on request, and there was a small fridge for milk.

Mass on Saturday was at 4.30 p.m. in the Seven Dolours Chapel, followed by an explanation of the layout out of the Sanctuary with its three basilicas, one built upon another, and a visit to the Grotto with the statue of Our Lady high up and easy to see.  Row upon row of people sat and stood quietly, and came and went.  We had arrived.

I had had no idea what to expect. I was overwhelmed. The vast expanse of Rosary Square, was thronged with groups of people, some in colourful national costume, all quiet and purposeful, some pushing wheelchairs, with a constant murmur of prayer and song in languages from all over Europe, the Far East and the whole world.  There was a palpable loving kindness and friendliness from everyone you met, whether they were pilgrims or officials, a sense of shared awareness.  I loved the international feeling, warm and comforting, in our scarred and devastated world.

Over months beforehand, Kath and Damien had arranged the pilgrimage beautifully.  Each morning there was mass in a different place:  the Jeanne d’Arc chapel, part of the basilica; the Mater Dolorosa chapel up the hill; the Grotto at 7.30 am; in the basilica and in the Chapel of the Poor Clares.  Damien suggested I hired an electric scooter which gave me heartening free access everywhere, uphill and down. 

Being a morning person, I loved scooting up the hill to the Mater Dolorosa chapel early on Monday. The chapel was still locked but a group from Vietnam arrived to celebrate mass in the adjacent Gloriosa chapel.  They invited me to join them so kindly that I was deeply touched.  I zoomed down to the Grotto the next day, Tuesday, before the sun was up, to sit quietly there for two earlier masses before ours, one in an Asian language and the other, I think, in Polish, while the sky grew pale, the moon and stars faded, and a robin began to sing.  We concelebrated our mass with an American group.

As the week went on I became very aware of the banks of candles on the opposite bank of the river at the edge of the Meadow.  Day and night, particularly under the stars, each candle’s golden light showed the prayers, hopes and longings for peace of many people, hundreds to each candle, impossible to count, flickering and flaring in the gusts of wind:  God’s constant forces for good.  Standing nearby you could feel the warmth and smell the wax, while the river clattered quietly over the stones in its bed.  Voicelessly in many languages I could see the candles continuing our prayers when we were gone.

As well as the masses, there were the Stations of the Cross.   The stony path to the high stations with life size statues led steeply up the hill – too rough for me.  I joined the group following the Low Stations of the Cross with Father Jose in the underground basilica, gazing at the astonishing stained glass panels.  There was time to explore the illustrations of the life of Bernardette another time.   When there was a coach excursion up into the mountains to Gavernie, I stayed behind and quietly went down the Meadow to the bas-relief Low Stations of the Cross in its exquisite autumnal setting by the river.  The image of Christ and the breaking of the bread at Emmaus stayed with me.

Then there were the baths.   Leila explained how it was.  Wrapped naked in the dark blue wrap, I waited my turn.   The attendant spoke English.  Like a woman drowning in the freezing water, I clutched her kind, strong, unflinching hand.   I am still don’t know what it was I experienced, but it was powerful, and very profound.   I want to go again.

Most beautiful was the Blessed Sacrament Procession and Benediction in the underground basilica: Christ himself, really present, walked so simply in procession amongst us, blessing us, knowing each one of us, in the heart of that vast shadowy hall.   Beneath the lovely singing stepped the quiet footfall of the priests, and the rustle of our little movements as we followed the Blessed Sacrament with our gaze.

Amongst the crowds, today’s organisation and comfort, a visit to the museum, Bernardette’s family home and the Cachot where they had been living when the visions occurred, brought to life the gritty reality of the family’s poverty and the times she had lived in.  These little rooms above the mill stream must have been damp.  Her wooden shoe was shattered and worn.   The huge effort she had made to grow from her native patois and illiteracy to writing a fair hand in formal French was touchingly clear  

I nearly missed the nightly torchlight processions as I go to bed early at home.  But I am very glad I was there.  What an experience!   The shop gave us free wax candles in paper guards, which we lit carefully in the breeze as we started out.  Some caught fire.  In the dark Deacon Richard shepherded me on the scooter and Chris and Pat in her wheelchair amongst the masses of grown-ups and children; some were clinging to each other - it was easy to get separated.   The procession of thousands wound its way, with singing and prayers, around the Crowned Virgin statue, down to the St Michael’s Gate and back, and in zigzags across the square, while many people sat watching on the benches and stood looking down from the basilica steps.  It was good to hear Margie and Dan’s voices leading the English singing between chants in other languages.   The Ave Maria refrain united us all, as the whole procession triumphantly raised our candles aloft.

Damien had lived in Lourdes for some time and his local knowledge added colour to our experience as he explained the museum, the Soubirous’s homes, parish church and their graves in the cemetery, as well as the castle and the scenery.  He could also direct us to the best Irish café and local wine merchant.  His lovely family stayed at the same hotel with us, his father being the one to recommend to me the electric scooter.

At church in Yeovil, I know many of us better by sight than by name.   At Lourdes there was time to enjoy getting to know each other better over meals, and as we visited the various sites, with good humour, jokes and different insights.  It was companionable to join together for the Penitential Service in the hotel led by Father Jose.  We had a lively party on the Thursday night with games and quizzes put together by Margie, Leila and Clare.  Damien too was there and manned the stop-start music.   Individually and in groups there were visits to the grotto, and the rosary in the Meadow after supper.  On the last morning, at the Poor Clares, where mass included the anointing of the sick, Jenicka made an important announcement.   She is returning to Sri Lanka to become a Carmelite nun at Christmas.   We shall miss her.

What is Lourdes all about?  As Anne Rowntree said, “it’s love”.   It was an honour to live these days in this beautiful domain by the river blessed with warm autumn sunlight, where Christ is really, tangibly present in the many masses and in the Holy Sacrament reserved in every chapel, and, as he promised, in the hearts of his children, so many gathered together at his Holy Mother’s infinitely courteous and loving invitation, through Bernardette:  “Would you be kind enough to come here?”

Thank you, Kath, you were always there, keeping an eye on us.  Thank you, Anam Cara and Damien.  Thank you, Father Jose and Richard.  Thank you, God.  Ave Maria.  Allelulia


Sion Celebration – Saturday, 24 September 2016.

August 2, 2018

There must have been over 90 of us gathered in the Marian Hall, transformed into an elegant party venue with decorated tables and swagging on the chairs by Bing, of our Filipino community . This was only the second time that members of every community in our Parish – Indian Filipino, Polish, Slovakian, English and Irish - had come together at a Parish event. Each one was represented in the entertainment that followed the start of the buffet, when they sang, danced or played music for us, wa...

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August 2, 2018

Congratulations to our three parishioners who walked to the Glastonbury Pilgrimage last Sunday. There was a Rosary Procession through the town, followed by the Mass celebrated by Bishop Declan in the Abbey Ruins. Good to see former Headteacher of our Primary School and Glastonbury parishioner Maisie Foster as one of the Readers. Do consider supporting our annual diocesan pilgrimage. It gathers our diocese together in a place where Our Lord is worshipped under the protective mantle of Our Lady...

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Clare Allen’s Sponsored Swim – Friday, 18th March.

August 2, 2018



Sitting in the public viewing gallery overlooking the Nuffield swimming pool to watch Clare’s marathon effort to cover an amazing 160 lengths in just 1 hour, 30 minutes proved to be a mesmerising experience. She moved through the water with such grace and ease that it looked completely effortless. On the opposite side of the pool a friend, Kath Brown, kept a tally of each length she completed.

For several weeks Clare had bee...

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Christmas Carol Concert - 5th Dec 2015

August 2, 2018

A huge thanks to the pupils of Leweston Catholic Secondary School for girls, who gave a concert for us in the Church on Sat 5th Dec 2015. Similarly big thanks to the Staff and Parishioners that made the event possible and so enjoyable on the day. Notably was the refreshments and mince pies in the Marian Hall before and afterwards.

A Grand Total of £952.10 was raised, which will be split between Parish Funds and the Jona Joyti School for Girls in Napal, which is Leweston's chosen charity.

The C...

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