An opportunity of a lifetime…

The CA Hospitalite organises to take sick and disabled adults to Lourdes each year for a week’s holiday. The CA Hospitalite needs many volunteer helpers to come along and look after the guests, and the Living by Giving Trust assisted three helpers to go along in 2011.

Here Robert Bigge talks about his experience and time in Lourdes:
On a sunny Thursday in August 2011 I left London on the first leg of my trip with the Catholic Association to Lourdes as a Helper. We travelled by coach down to Dover where we were booked on a ferry to Calais.
When I boarded the coach it was full of new faces and I a nervous face stared back. Not knowing anybody was a little daunting but its the best way to get to know people on a 20 hour trip to Lourdes. Having to talk to a total stranger, whom by the end of the trip I could call a friend.
After a long journey we reached Lourdes on Friday evening and booked into our hotel rooms. Most of the Party were from my school in Croydon, we all unpacked and were down at dinner eager to develop friendships with both boys and girls we had only just met, some shared stories of Lourdes if they had been before and there was a great sense of excitement amongst the group.
On Saturday I was given my rota of jobs and we got stuck in straight away. I was asked to push Mary around in a wheelchair, our first visit was to hit the souvenir shops, I quickly worked out they were all selling very much the same things but Mary was eager to see if there were any new arrivals or bargains she had missed but I think it was an excuse to bump into people and have a chat. Mary was probably in her 70s she was such a great person to talk and good company she made me feel comfortable even though I had the responsibility of wheeling her around, it was amazing to share the ‘torchlight’ evening procession with her, she made ME feel welcome and she was not demanding at all.
After three days with Mary we said our goodbyes. I then met John and had the pleasure of him taking me around Lourdes for another couple of days. Well John was hysterical, he was so cheerful and great fun, he cracked jokes all the time and I could see why he had been to Lourdes 28 times – as well as being a holy place to visit its also a place to have fun and make friends and never be lonely. Physically John had many needs and it was a pleasure to be there to support him. I learnt that even though they are old Mary and John had so much to give.
Lunchtimes were spent back at the hotel enjoying the lovely lunch and dinner was there too – we never went hungry!
On my rota I had one evening duty at the Hospital and the rest of the evenings were spent with our group in the local bars where the atmosphere is amazing, lots of chat and impromptu singing, you find that you are all drawn to each other in a common bond.
I also had one duty which involved an early start, 5.30am – but it made the day last longer and meant I could spend more time awake and alive in Lourdes.
I went for myself and I was surprised at what I had achieved an opportunity in my lifetime not to be missed. I really want to go back next year and to get more of the boys from my 6th Form at the John Fisher School to come too – I know they will have a great time on a working holiday.
Robert Bigge

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