On Easter Sunday, 1st April, 21 Coloma girls and I, along with 4 teachers travelled to Lourdes in the South of France. However, this was not the start to our journey; we met every week for months preparing and training for what we were about to experience on the trip. We arrived in Lourdes at around 2pm. Getting off the coach I heard someone say ‘why am I here, I’m not holy enough’. Surrounded by many gift shops selling pretty much any religious merchandise you could wish for, I’m not surprised. We had seen all of 10 metres of Lourdes and we were all freaking out about what we had signed up for. Although we were still in the area of the hotels it felt like a special place. From here on I didn’t know what to expect.

Soon after arriving at the hotel we walked down to the Basilica for Easter Sunday Mass. A small group of us had to join another service group and do all sorts of chants as the family groups arrived; at this point I knew I was going to lose my voice at some point. The Easter Sunday Mass was one of the most special parts of my trip, seeing hundreds of people so happy and so many people willing to help less fortunate people was overwhelming, there were definitely lots of tears within the group. I found out how strong the community in our faith is, that I didn’t realise was there.

The next morning, I met my family group – Group 141 from the West Country which consisted of 6 amazing young people, 12 helpers, a nurse and a priest. Immediately I knew that this group was for me and the week ahead with them was going to be a good one. This turned out to be true as I didn’t stop laughing for the entire week. As Group 141, we took part in a range of activities and services throughout the week such as celebrating daily Mass and prayer, a trip up the mountain where we played in the snow, drinks and songs in the many cafes and games on the prairie. Seeing everyone so happy all the time made the fact that we were exhausted unimportant and worth it. In my family group out-side the gates of the Domain we ‘play hard’ and inside the gates we ‘pray hard’. This helped the children in the group focus on the two main parts of the trip, to have fun and to strengthen their faith and relationships with others.

When we had our end of trip ‘awards ceremony’ one thing that was highlighted was that the children had become good friends. Something that I’ll never forget is watching the children put the other children before themselves. Saying goodbye to Group 141 at the end of the week was very hard as I had realised that although our aim was to help the children have a trip of a lifetime, actually they had helped all of us, the helpers, get along really well and also have an amazing trip. I made friends for life and look forward to the group reunion.

Going to Lourdes was hands down the best experience of my life. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. If you were to ask me what my favourite part about my trip was I wouldn’t know where to start. I find it hard to describe what it was like because you really have to go there to understand what goes on and if I were to describe it, any-one reading would think I’m bonkers!

HCPT, Hosanna Children’s Pilgrimage Trust, is an organisation which allows disabled and disadvantaged children to have the experience of their lives through the assistance of volunteers and their faith in God. With the help of HCPT and Coloma’s service group 703, I was able to help these children on their journey.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the people of our St.Edmund’s community for all the donations towards my trip and the support I have been given. I’d especially like to thank Umberto Ferrando, for informing me about The Catenian Association and helping me to be given a bursary.

Emily Sawkins, 17, Coloma Convent Girls’ School