COME rain or shine, for some 500 pilgrims from the Limerick diocese the annual trip to Lourdes is an unmissable event.
After the pilgrimage was cancelled two years ago due to extreme flooding in the Midi-Pyrénées town in south-western France, the numbers have again returned en masse - and this time they are witnessing temperatures of 35 degrees.
The majority of the faithful pilgrims, from youth groups in Askeaton to ladies in their 80s, departed on Sunday from Shannon Airport, and are due to return this Friday.
The dates of the Limerick pilgrimage - June 21-26 - remain unchanged every year, and are cemented into locals’ calendars, a feature as fixed as the Limerick Novena.
A number of priests from the diocese have also travelled, led by the Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy.
Speaking in Lourdes, Bishop Leahy said the thoughts and prayers of many people are with the victims of the Berkeley tragedy and their families, after six Irish students were killed when their balcony collapsed in California last week.
Bishop Leahy has said that while the grief for families and friends of those who died in the Berkley tragedy is unspeakable, the sense of solidarity across Ireland and beyond, and particularly from the young, is hopefully shining through for them in these darkest hours.
In his homily at the Limerick Diocesan Pilgrimage Mass at the Lourdes Grotto, Bishop Leahy said that the coming together of the nation and particularly the response of the youth this past week has been a ‘triumph of human spirit’.
“I thought initially following this horrific accident how would the families of these beautiful young people who died in the accident be carried through this unimaginable tragedy,” he said in his homily.
“I thought of how would they get through the storm? Would, as with yesterday’s Gospel when Jesus brought calm to a furious storm as waves crashed over his boat, they get calm themselves?
“I figured that they would ask the question where is God now? No doubt such questions exist for them.
“I hope they can take comfort, and they have already indicated as much, in the triumph of immense human spirit that has been the response to this horrific, unimaginable accident.
“Collectively our country has had a moment to stand together with them and strive to carry them through and the first to rise with them have been the young, the friends of the young people killed so tragically and, indeed, thousands of others from across the country who never knew them.
“Just like our young here today, collectively the young of our country are walking shoulder to shoulder with the bereaved.
“I hope and pray that those who have been so suddenly bereaved have felt something of God’s gentle touch in the support, sympathy and solidarity of a nation,” he concluded.
See next week’s Limerick Leader, broadsheet editions, for more photographs of the diocesan pilgramage to Lourdes