Years ago I watched one of the standout films of my childhood, The Song of Bernadette, based on the book of the same title by Franz Werfel. It is the story of Bernadette Soubirous, a poor girl and her encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary in a grotto outside her hometown of Lourdes in 1858.

Little did I know that a decade after watching the film I would be visiting Lourdes with two friends. It was February 1981, the weather was bright and brisk and I won’t forget the shock to the system as I was submerged in the healing waters by the grotto.

However, it was my second visit the following year that had a more profound impact on my life. On this occasion it was an HCPT pilgrimage and I was one of thousands of helpers looking after physically and mentally disabled children. The work was challenging and there were times when I felt decidedly out of my depth. Ultimately though, it was richly rewarding and I found myself returning year after year. Admittedly, I didn’t quite know what to expect at the beginning of each week as I prepared to get to know the child in my care but whatever came my way I took comfort from the fact that I belonged to a very supportive group (Group 47) with just the right blend of experience and enthusiasm. Of course, there was always the gentle support of our Heavenly Mother and St Bernadette to get us through a demanding week.

All of this would not have been possible of course if we didn’t have the money to pay for it and so at various times throughout the year members and associates of Group 47 would be involved in various fundraising events which covered the cost of the flight, hotel accommodation and spending money for the week.

At most of our Masses this Sunday either Sofia Sims or Isabel Walsh will be speaking to you about their forthcoming HCPT Pilgrimage to Lourdes this Easter and will be asking  for your financial help. I’m sure you will respond as generously as you can. I will never forget my many experiences at Lourdes and I hope these girls will feel the same in years to come.

Incidentally, as it was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes on 11th Feb, last Sunday those who came along to the newly formed Watch and Pray Film club enjoyed The Song of Bernadette. Watching it as an adult I realise that it sails very close to sentimentality at times but to my mind it still has the capacity to draw the viewer into a compelling story of faith, innocence and obedience. There was hardly a dry eye in the house and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling uplifted as I left.