I had been sat on a coach for about twelve hours by now. We were in the midst of watching the cinematic masterpiece that is Sister Act, and I was trying my hardest to remember the names of those on the seats around me. An entire bus of other young Catholics. There were more than fifty Catholics my age; a fact I was still trying to get my head around. As I placed my pillow on the window, I thought of what the Hotel might be like, and how warm it would be at the Lake, and who these people were that I was going to get to know. As I fell asleep, I did not think of God. But he had other plans.

Lourdes is a small town in the South of France, where in 1858, Our Lady appeared to a young girl called Bernadette Soubirous. Surrounded by many who did not believe her story, Bernadette was told by Our Lady to build a Church. It was under this church that countless miracles have happened since; where so many have been brought back to God; and where I, and a bus load of Lancaster Diocese Youth, would be arriving in the morning.

That week, I found God in so many things that, before visiting Lourdes, I was naïve enough to believe he didn’t exist in. In my head, God lived in Church, and it sort of stopped there. Yet, over the next week, I was to see him so clearly in all that I experienced. In the friends I met, who made me laugh until it hurt and who I could be vulnerable with without hesitation. In the sick and the elderly I got to know over trips to mass and post-prayer coffee, who showed me what it was like to live a life that was rich and fruitful.

But, above all these, I found Gods love most tangibly, in his Mother.

I had been visiting the grotto, the place where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette, each evening for the last few nights now. It had felt good to be sat there looking around and enjoying the quiet. I had stopped myself from feeling much else beyond this. I had built a wall up that I was unwilling to bring down. But, hearing my new friends talk about what they had felt in the grotto I was saddened that I had allowed myself to miss out. I went there that evening, with the intention of feeling something. No matter how small.

But God gives abundantly.

That night, I prayed the first real prayer I’d said in years. I spoke to Mary, and in return, I was filled with a peace that I had never felt before. A peace so immeasurable, that I find almost impossible to put into words. I knew in that moment, that God was real and that he loved me. And knowing that, was to change everything.

Not every moment in my life since has been filled with the same peace I felt in the grotto when I was sixteen. But every moment after this, that has been filled with joy and love, that has made me feel more alive than I had thought possible, has come from that week in small town in the South of France.

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Could you help support a young person to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes? If so, please contact Fr John - director@castleriggmanor.co.uk