Catholics from across the Diocese of Middlesbrough – which stretches from Middlesbrough to Hull and includes Whitby, Scarborough and York – are preparing for a “Virtual Pilgrimage” to Lourdes after their annual visit to the French shrine was cancelled.
Bishop Terry Drainey and other clergy will lead a programme of online services from Saturday 23 May to Thursday 28 May at around the times their various liturgies would have been taking place.
Hundreds of people have been taking part in a 16-day Walk of Hope from Middlesbrough to Lourdes, “walking” around 65 miles each day through England and France by each adding anything from 100 yards up to a few miles to a running total.
Their progress has been charted in the pilgrimage’s Facebook group, which has 800 members, in a journey that also included daily prayers, nostalgic photos of the previous 66 pilgrimages, personal testimonials about the impact Lourdes has had on people’s lives and live-streamed recitations of the Rosary every evening.
Each year since 1953, hundreds of people from the diocese, including many sick and elderly people who are cared for in a special hospital, have visited the site where Catholics believe the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette 18 times in 1858.
Helpers, including a team of doctors and nurses, give up their holidays and pay their own flight and accommodation costs to be part of the pilgrimage.
But when this year’s plans were postponed after the shrine was closed to pilgrims due to coronavirus, Lourdes regulars quickly turned their disappointment into something very special.
The 2020 Lourdes theme of “I am the Immaculate Conception”, echoing Mary’s words to Bernadette, was used to inspire the Walk of Hope, with each day focusing on a different apparition.
“In normal times we would currently finalising preparations to travel on pilgrimage to Lourdes,” said pilgrimage director Keith Tillotson.
“Unfortunately, the world we find ourselves in today is anything but normal. Despite that, it’s been wonderful to see hundreds of people enjoying travelling with us on our virtual journey to Lourdes, where I believe Heaven and Earth are closest.
“I’d like to say a big thank you to all who were involved in the preparation and journey. It was a truly amazing experience, a real sign of Lourdes being lived right here at home among our wonderful Lourdes family.
“We are now ready to begin our Virtual Pilgrimage, so I hope you all continue following us each day as we share in a spiritual way with our supported pilgrims who are unable to take part in the pilgrimage in the way we had all hoped.
“Let’s continue to make this a very special experience where we continue to support one another and pray alongside one another as we look forward to the day when we can be together in Lourdes once again.”
The week-long programme, which begins with the opening Mass at 4pm on Saturday 23 May, includes services streamed from Hull, Redcar, Whitby and York, as well as two shared services with the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who are usually in Lourdes at the same time.
Pilgrims will also use technology to recreate the famous Torchlight Marian Procession, which usually takes place each evening, and party night, when musicians and entertainers will take turns to stream live from their homes.
To join the Virtual Pilgrimage, search Facebook for “Middlesbrough Diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage and Hospitalité”.
After the Virtual Pilgrimage, Bishop Terry will celebrate a national Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Middlesbrough for NHS and key workers, which will be live-streamed across the country at 7pm on Thursday 28 May.