A Local Group

A Lourdes Pilgrimage With Égalité Absolue

St. Gregory's pilgrims from Cheltenham on their visit to Lourdes in September 2007 travelled on John Paul II, the name of the latest Jumbulance to join the fleet belonging to ACROSS, the charity based in  Scotland which operates them. This latest Jumbulance came at a cost of £375,000.

 This latest Jumbulance is fitted with three fully equipped and moveable hospital beds at the front, with four beds behind in two rows. There are then eighteen fully reclining seats with good leg room and has a lift for loading wheelchairs; a fully accessible toilet together with a well kitted out kitchen area complete the on board facilities.

Image of VIP in bed being entertained by helper with guitar.
             A musical helper entertains on the Egalite Absolue pilgrimage
Pilgrims came from the Leonard Cheshire home in Cheltenham, St. Gregory's and other parishes in Gloucestershire. Our pilgrimage was organized by Égalité Absolue those who needed help were VIPs and each had a helper allocated to them. We had a doctor and two nurses, a physiotherapist and carers.

 Our group set off on Thursday afternoon from the Thistle Hotel, Golden Valley, Cheltenham with two drivers from ACROSS. Travelling via the Channel Tunnel the journey was smooth as the coach kept up a steady rhythm rolling along through the night. Our first stop was in Cahors where Stef, a Lourdes based driver took over.

As someone who had a mobility problem I was allocated one of the four rear beds during the night journey. I dozed rather than slept but was struck by the sheer radiance of goodness that came from the faces of those who readily donate their care, their love of fellow travellers. If I, or any of the VIPs, was troubled at all during the night someone was there within seconds to quietly help.

Our accommodation was at the Hotel Mediterranee, which has good facilities for the disabled and is only 10 minutes from the Grotto.

Arrival day, Friday, saw temperatures of 24°C, not bad for late September! A trip to the Domain followed check in and mass that afternoon was in the Hotel Chapel.

Day two weather was cooler for a trip to the Betharram Monastery, home of St. Michael Garicotts, founder of the Sacred Heart Fathers and a patron of St. Bernadette in her early years. After mass at the Monastery we had a look round the museum there. On then for the first of our packed lunches which was taken in a nearby hostelry. After lunch we moved on to Bartres where we saw the house where Bernadette lived with Marie Lagues as an infant. She came back in her later years to work as a shepherdess for Marie. We visited the local church. Duty done on the official sightseeing everyone enjoyed Madame Dominique's scrumptious cakes with our afternoon tea!

Sunday saw us heading up into the mountains for mass at the beautiful church in St. Savin. In better weather we travelled on to Pont d'Estang, a village nestling between waterfalls. Our packed lunch, prepared each day by the Hotel, was taken and then time for a good wander round before a final cuppa and return to Lourdes .

Monday mass was at the chapel of Maximillian Kolbe in the Domain and then a group photo was taken opposite the Grotto. That afternoon most of the party visited the baths. As I was in a wheelchair this meant going ahead of the queue and the baths volunteers were immensely helpful. In the evening we took part in the Torchlight procession carrying the ACROSS banner. The procession was dominated by a huge Italian pilgrimage presence.

Image of VIP standing outside Jumbulance.

Tuesday we set off for Gavernie but half an hour out of Lourdes our mini decided to have gearbox problems. Luckily the Cardinal Basil Hume Jumbulance was available and within an hour we were on our way in that. Gavernie was really up in the Pyrenees and temperatures were decidedly fresh! Another packed lunch at Le Taillon and then mass at a beautiful old church which pilgrims visit on their way to the Compostela journey to Santiago in Spain.

Wednesday there was a choice of attending the International Mass at the Domain or mass in the Hotel Chapel. After mass a number of us had coffee nearby in a café run by Dom Henry, a local fellow from Grimsby . Lunch was in the hotel and then we set off on a journey up into the hills. Our destination, Lake D'Estang , a beautiful spot, even in dull weather. We enjoyed a walk round the lake before afternoon tea in the nearby café. On our return to Lourdes we found it was raining really hard so we missed that!

Thursday we had mass in a beautiful chapel which was part of the Dominican Sisters' monastery in Lourdes . After shopping we took part in the Blessed Sacrament procession where the blessing took place in the vast underground basilica which boasts a superb organ.

Friday saw our final mass in the Hotel Chapel with a competition for the tackiest souvenir which had been bought – our doctor, won that with an orange floral candle with Our Lady's image! A pleasant surprise, our Jumbulance brought a group from Plymouth in the morning and at lunch I discovered that their chaplain was a man who had been our P.P. for many years when we lived in Plymouth . He told me it was his 22nd pilgrimage with ACROSS.

Jimmy Jenkinson, from Dublin, was in our hotel with a Carmelite pilgrimage when he came over to our stretcher bound pilgrims as they waited in the foyer to be taken on to John Paul II Jumbulance for their journey home.

Jimmy straightaway serenaded them and he delighted us all with some of the Irish folk songs, such as Mollie Malone, that we could join in.

Singing to each of the stretcher bound pilgrims Jimmy's impromptu twenty minute song spell was a great morale booster and a fantastic start to our homeward trip.

Another very smooth journey, we were first onto the Eurotunnel train on Saturday morning then a good trip back to the Thistle Hotel at Golden Valley , Cheltenham  where our families and friends awaited.

Andre Holbrook, a trustee of the group Egalite Absolue told me that the group had a great holiday trip on the Jumbulance to earlier this year.

Égalité Absolue, is a Cheltenham based registered charity, which organises trips and pilgrimages for the sick, disabled and infirm together with those who are terminally ill. Groups of 24 travel with the aim of instilling a family atmosphere for the sick and the helpers.

On a personal note I appreciated so much the wonderful help given by everyone to those of us who did not enjoy normal mobility, thank you all so very much.

David Burke


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