Easter 2023

“We follow the Shepherd” says Archbishop McMahon at HCPT children’s pilgrimage

International Catholic charity HCPT (the Hosanna House and Children's Pilgrimage Trust) is celebrating its biggest Easter pilgrimage to Lourdes since the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly 1,000 disabled and disadvantaged children and young people, aged eight and over, enjoyed a life changing week away. They were supported by an army of volunteer helpers, priests and nurses.

Two Archbishops and eight Bishops led the pilgrimage. HCPT volunteers from Merseyside organised the liturgy for the week with the theme "The Good Shepherd". At the main Mass of the week, on Thursday 13th April, celebrant Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool said in his homily "Like sheep, we have to follow the Shepherd. That means following Jesus. We know that is a wonderful thing to do because He will lead us to joy and to happiness. He will lead us in a way which leads to his Father in Heaven."

Also travelling on the pilgrimage were Archbishop Leo Cushley (St Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland), Bishop Manuel Cruz (Newark, USA), Bishop Fintan Gavin (Cork and Ross, Ireland), Bishop Paul Mason (Bishopric of the Forces), Bishop Donal McKeown (Derry, Ireland), Bishop Gregory Studerus (Newark, USA), Bishop Joseph Toal (Motherwell, Scotland), Bishop Alan Williams (Brentwood) and Bishop Tom Williams (Liverpool).

Children from Merseyside were at the centre of the big Mass. Two young people dressed as liver birds led the procession for the Mass. Children came dressed as shepherds and sheep and a Gospel animation brought to life the story of the "lost sheep" using the famous Scouse sense of humour. The offertory gifts were brought up by four generations of Merseysiders and after Communion there was a reflection performed by local children and adults.

The Mass featured popular music by Mike Anderson, Maria Parkinson, Matt Redman and Stuart Townsend, and included HCPT favourites "Rise and Shine" and "Sing it in the Valleys". It was led by musical director Dr Marie Giles, with musicians and singers from Merseyside. With more than half the people on the pilgrimage aged under 30 years old, there was plenty of lively dance, drama and visuals, broadcast on huge screens. Thousands watched the event live on the internet.

The pilgrimage consisted of over 3,500 people in total. 2,341 of them, from England, Scotland and Wales, travelled with HCPT. The remainder came from sister organisations in Belgium, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, the West Indies and the USA.

Conditions experienced by the hundreds of children taking part included learning difficulties (33% of participants), behavioural problems (22%) and autism (19%). Other common conditions included asthma, Down's Syndrome and epilepsy. 8% of the pilgrims were wheelchair users.

HCPT's pilgrimage groups each wore colours unique to their group, and were prominent within the shrine area and at other sites around the town connected to St Bernadette of Lourdes. HCPT swelled the torchlight procession on the Tuesday evening, and the Blessed Sacrament procession on the Thursday, carrying colourful banners.

It being a children's pilgrimage, there were also opportunities in the week for arts and crafts, singing, parties and fancy dress.

Sporting celebrities from Merseyside, former England footballer Wayne Rooney among them, gave online messages of support.

The pilgrimage is a major undertaking for all concerned. All volunteer helpers are trained and prepared to support the children and young people and to keep them safe. To transport the UK contingent to Lourdes and back, HCPT chartered 10 flights each way from local airports.

HCPT's pilgrimage season continues from May to October at its Hosanna House facility. The house, in the hills above Lourdes, will host over 1,500 pilgrims of all ages, many of them with disabilities or life-limiting conditions.