I’m Mark, I started volunteering in Lourdes with Catholic Association August Pilgrimage, I’m in my early 30’s, I’m keeping it vague for good reason! As of late, I’ve been with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes (HNDL). I made my engagement in August 2016 and work in St Joseph’s service.
So I get it, someone has told you, “Hey, you must come to Lourdes and serve with HNDL…” you’ve got to the point of filling out the form and once you’ve done the work of filling out the basic details there is this bit with the different services and you might not have a clue what to do or what it means. But let me try and remove myth, mystery and the unknown. Trust me, it’s great. I love it. Keep reading.
So, with St Joseph’s service there are many different facets to what you do. It sounds very cliché, but there is no such thing as a standard day. A schedule is planned in advanced for the service by the service co-ordinators.
You may serve in all the areas as below:
- At the train station and the airport to help pilgrims off and on the planes or trains.
- In the grotto – to help maintain a prayerful environment
- On ceremony – generally crowd control, sometimes you may be called upon to help out during masses or services.
- Outside the baths – to help guide pilgrims as they wait to bathe
- Inside the baths – to help bathe the pilgrims and pray with them.
- Torchlight procession – crowd control and general guidance.
- Any other jobs that need to be done – logistically, things need to happen – and we’re called upon to help.
What is a regular day like?
It’s really hard to describe what a regular day is like, particularly when you first arrive for your first week of service, as the program for the first to third year of service, is designed to give you full exposure to ‘behind the scenes’, what we do on service and where we serve. Once you’ve have decided to make your Engagement (your personal commitment to the Hospitalité made after your 5th year of service) you can sometimes decide where you feel most drawn to serve. But for your first few years, your timetable will will be very mixed. You will be interacting with lots of people. You will be in a team for your time in Lourdes and they will become your closest friends. You will support each other when you are finding things difficult. My best friends from when I did Stage have been people from my first team in Lourdes as a Primo Anno (first year) in Lourdes.
That reminds me, you’ll find out for yourself that you will learn sometimes the most basic of small talk in French, Spanish, Italian, or German. See, it’s a good thing you did that GCSE in German. “Trinkst du Bier?”
So you’ve arrived in Lourdes. You’ve never been before – it might feel a bit daunting but don’t worry! what do you do…? where do you go…? Head over to the HNDL office which is in the Sanctuary.
If you’ve walked from the train station (or jumped on the Bus from the Airport – costs 2 Euros per journey) you would have come down the hill lined with shops, restaurants and cafes (how idyllic – don’t worry there are plenty of them to grab a cheeky beer, crepe or buy a glow in the dark rosary for that favourite aunty of yours!), then you’ll have crossed a bridge and entered the sanctuary passing through the gates. The HNDL office is on the right hand side in a long terraced building.
Keep an eye out for this sign on the right-hand side on a big grey building above some glass doors:
By the way, these buildings used to be the old Accueils (It means welcoming place – which is used instead of hospital – because they really are not hospitals)
Once you arrive, now starts the paperwork bit!
You can drop your bags in the luggage storage area for the moment. You’ll need to go to the St. Joseph’s service office which is on the right side – through the glass doors. Tell the people in the office that you are there for your first stage. After a few minutes, you might have to wait a little bit of time – patience is a virtue at the best of times, particularly when you, are not quite sure what is going on and you’ve been on a plane, train or donkey (If it was good enough for Jesus – its good enough for me and you!). But don’t worry things will get sorted. You’ll be handed several things, try not to lose them – particularly the small white piece of paper which you will need to hand to your team leader (Chef D’Equipe) when you arrive for duty.
- Small white slip which has your name, team number and dates for service – when you start and end. You’ll need to give it to your team leader so they know a little bit about you.
- Small green piece of paper – this will tell you a schedule of your spiritual formation sessions. These are times for you to learn about the message of Lourdes. You need to go to them.
- Your name badge – it helps you to be identified as from the HNDL – it will also have your team number highlighted in a colour. Also, you will be asked if you can speak any other languages where you don’t mind conversing with people in. They will be marked on your badge with a small flag.
- Brettelles– these is to be worn when you are on service. It’s a sign to others that you are on service. They originate from the straps the stretcher bearers used to wear. In Lourdes a male helper is called a Brancardier (stretcher bearer) – which originates from the word “Brancard” which is French for stretcher.
OK… so you’re done… nearly. One more thing. You’ll be directed to another office to pay your cotisation and accommodation fees.
Your cotisation – is to cover any administrative costs of the Hospitalité. However, more importantly, it is your insurance should anything happen while you are on service in Lourdes with the HNDL. It is currently 11 euros for 1st – 4th year stagiers (as of 2019) and 18 euros for 5th year onwards.
You’ll also be asked if you would like to buy some meal coupons for the Abri (canteen). If you’re sitting in the office right now – you would have passed it without noticing. It’s just next to those big gates that you walked through.
I usually buy 4 or 5 meal coupons for a week. Once I have finished them I buy some more from the office. The tickets are around 6.50 Euros each – and you get a basic but tasty 4 course meal. Do buy some as it is an opportunity to meet other members of the hospitalité during the day when you are not on service. If you have any leftover by the end of your service in Lourdes, you can donate them back to the HNDL where they will be given to those who cannot afford meal vouchers. Pass the love forward!
Now you’re all set!
Who will look out for me in this strange place?
While you are on service in Lourdes you will be assigned to a team. Each team is numbered – and has a team leader (Chef d’Equipe) assigned to it. You will be told your team leaders name when you sign in to the office. You will be able to spot them by their name badge. It will show the team number and be highlighted with the same colour as on your badge.
Where do I go? I’m a bit lost! I don’t know what is my next service!?
Puzzled already. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. When you signed in, you will be told when you’re due for service. Each evening after 6.30pm – the schedule is published for the following day in a number of different places.
- St Joseph’s office where you signed in.
- Next to the St Joseph’s office on the outside where you signed in. Between the office building and the St Josephs Chapel.
- Accommodation blocks in the foyer
- Ask your team leader.
You will need to be up to date with the schedule as this will inform you whether you have an early or late start, also where you need to meet. Your team leader should help to clarify any issues with the schedule. It’s recommended that you pick up your schedule as early as possible from 6.30pm – as if you have 5am service at the train station – you might just want to get some extra sleep!
Take a picture of the schedule each day on your phone so you have it to hand. Also, you can help others if they don’t know where to go. We are not in Lourdes just to be of service to pilgrims, we are called to be of service to one another.
Remember – you are responsible for turning up on time – give yourself a little more time to get somewhere. If you get lost, ask a friendly face. If you have any difficulties, please just speak to your team leader.
This is what one of the schedules looks like – it will change every day depending on the need for the day. It will be printed in French. But your team leader is your point of contact if you have any issues.
Sometimes the schedule of the day might change during the day. It might get a bit confusing however your team leader will guide you through what is expected to happen.
“Have a great stage! Bon Service! Have a good pilgrimage”
… and finally.
Enjoy yourself. Say hello to people. It might not be easy at times… but remember – smile, we are all here to serve, and it’s probably worth learning where the nearest toilets are – men’s and women’s… for your benefit and for others!