“WE WILL never forget Lourdes 2013,” says Fr Pat Coffey, the youth chaplain on the archdiocese of Cashel and Emly pilgrimage.
The flash flooding last week caused extensive damage in the French town including the forced closure of its holy shrine.
The cost of repairing the shrine alone is expected to run into hundreds of thousands of euros.
Hundreds of pilgrims from Limerick and Tipperary were caught in the chaos. Many county parishes were represented including Cappamore, Doon, Pallasgreen, Kilteely-Dromkeen, Murroe-Boher, Oola, Ballybricken-Bohermore, Caherconlish.
Archbishop Dermot Clifford led the pilgrimage of clergy, lay people, invalids, teenagers and team of support staff. As always Limerick parishes in the archdiocese were well represented.
They arrived on Sunday, June 16 and returned home on the following Friday after a week they will never forget.
At around 3pm on Tuesday Lourdes was affected by severe flash flooding, said Fr Coffey, who was based in Doon up to last year.
“Our youth group comprising of 48 fifth year students and eight leaders was displaced on two separate occasions. The first evacuation was carried out in daylight in a controlled and calm manner. We had received a couple of hours of advance notice,” said Fr Coffey.
“That very same evening the second evacuation happened, this time without any notice as the muddied flood waters suddenly entered the ground floor of our second hote. Luckily three of the youth leaders are gardai and their training in handling emergency situations was put into practice as elderly pilgrims had to be evacuated from the hotel,” he added.
The gardai and other leaders were helped by the teenagers who came of age. “This necessitated the negotiation of several flights of stairs in complete darkness and also the carrying out of pilgrims through the flooded ground floor. The luggage of these distressed pilgrims was also retrieved by our leaders and by some of our youth. The actions of our leaders and of our youth group won the admiration of many pilgrims who had been in certain danger during the crisis,” Fr Coffey told the Limerick Leader.
For the remainder of the week the youth members carried out their functions as best they could. The pilgrimage programme was curtailed with the closure of the grotto domain. However, some ceremonies continued in the hospital area of the shrine.
“A large clean up operation was in evidence in the shrine area and in the affected parts of Lourdes town. Electricity to our hotels was restored on Thursday,” said Fr Coffey, who praised the leadership of Eddie Golden, youth director, and his team of youth leaders.
“We will never forget Lourdes 2013. While saddened to see such damage to the shrine domain and to the hotels that we had always been treated so well in we are grateful that all our pilgrims returned home safely. Our hearts go out to the full-time residents of Lourdes whose livelihood depends on the pilgrimage season,” said Fr Coffey.