Lourdes...Opening the Doors of Wisdom
The pupils, aged between 16 and 18, work as Red Caps alongside over 200 other young people from all over the diocese. Red Caps carry out a number of important roles throughout the pilgrimage including pushing the wheelchairs of the “malades”, guiding the crowds, welcoming people to all the services and handing out water (it is July!). Throughout the week the pilgrims attend Mass in various venues - in Lourdes parish church where Bernadette was baptised, at the Grotto, in the Underground Basilica and up in the Cathedral of the Trees (where it can take 4 Red Caps to pull each wheelchair up the hill to where Mass is celebrated!). We also attend a variety of other services including: healing and penitential services, Torchlight and Blessed Sacrament Processions, the Stations of the Cross and of course the recitation of the rosary. The Red Caps are on duty at all diocesan events as well as attending catechesis sessions with the Cardinal, events laid on by Westminster Youth Ministry, visiting the Grotto and going to the Baths! In Lourdes the days are long, the work is physically and emotionally exhausting but the Red Caps carry out their duties with the utmost respect and humility. These young people could be off partying with their friends in Magaluf or Malia but they choose to come to Lourdes and give selflessly of their time and energy.
If you have never been to Lourdes it is really difficult to understand what it is like and why so many young people return year after year to volunteer for this demanding role. If as the saying goes “ first impressions last” then maybe nobody would return to Lourdes as before you enter the Domain you are confronted with a plethora of hotels, bars and of souvenir shops selling everything from candles and rosary beads to flashing statues of Our Lady, but that is not what Lourdes is all about. Cardinal Nichols summed up the real essence of Lourdes when he described it as a place “where the veil between heaven and earth is a little bit thinner, a little bit lighter…” He also spoke on BBC Radio 2 on Thursday 17th July 2014 on Pause for Thought saying “In Lourdes the sick are given pride of place. Traffic gives way for wheelchairs. They are always first in the processions. And space is always made for them in the cafes and bars. Young volunteers are ready to help. With great generosity they (the Red Caps) learn to see beyond the terrible effects of illness, age and physical deformity to the character and spirit of the person they are caring for. In practical action each day they learn, and express, the compassionate love of God who never forsakes us even when we feel lost and totally forsaken ourselves”
If wisdom is not simply knowing what to do but doing it, the Red Caps prove themselves time and time again to be wise beyond measure. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?”
Rosalynne Wallis, Head of RE, St Michael’s Grammar School, North Finchley