HCPT – The Pilgrimage Trust was formed in 1956 when a young doctor, Michael Strode, took four children with disabilities to Lourdes. Since then the organisation has grown and now, every Easter, HCPT takes around 2000 children with disabilities, or other medical or social needs, on a pilgrimage holiday to Lourdes. The children come from all walks of life and may belong to any religious background, or none at all. The children and their helpers travel from all parts of the UK and Ireland as well as groups from Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, USA and the West Indies. It is the largest children’s pilgrimage from the UK.
Although HCPT is an international organisation it is based on small, local, “family” groups who are responsible for raising funds to pay for the cost of the children’s travel. One such group was formed in 1996 here in St Bartholomew’s parish and we now aim to take around ten children each year. Some of the children that we take are members of the parish, while others attend local schools, including Watling View special school.
During our week in Lourdes we take part in various activities. We visit the Grotto, take part in the Torchlight Procession, and the highlight for many is the Trust Mass when all the HCPT pilgrims, around 6000 in total, gather in the underground basilica. We also take the opportunity to pray for the sick of the parish and light candles for those who have asked for their intentions to be brought to the shrine. We have days out, including a trip to the seaside, and enjoy the many facilities that Lourdes has to offer. We travel to Lourdes on HCPT chartered aircraft and while there stay in a hotel where we are well known and which, over the years, has become like a second home to regular helpers.
Our helpers are, in the main, drawn from St Bartholomew’s parish. The opportunity is open to all, but in particular we look to give helper places to young people in the parish. Helpers must be at least 16 years of age and undergo a vetting process which includes interview, references, and a DBS check. All helpers are also expected to attend group meetings and training events, and assist with the group’s fundraising efforts. Although helpers are expected to pay their own fare we are, through our fundraising, able to offer some subsidy to help those who volunteer for our group. Helpers work hard during the week, but find it a very rewarding and very enjoyable experience.
HCPT has its own medical centre in Lourdes which has close links to the local medical services. Each group has its own nurse(s) and they are supported by a number of doctors who also travel with some groups. We at St Bartholomew’s are always on the lookout for suitably qualified medical helpers to join our group.
If you know of any child who might benefit from joining our group, or you would like to volunteer as a helper please contact Phil Ahern via the Parish Office, or speak to Fr Francis.