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Frequently Asked Questions

The Catholic Association has been in existence for over a hundred years. The sole activity of the Catholic Association today is the organisation of the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. These Frequently Asked Questions have been put together to give all our visitors basic information about our Pilgrimage. Each question includes links to further information on the site.


Who are the Catholic Association?
The Catholic Association was founded in 1891 with the approval and blessing of Cardinal Manning a contemporary of Blessed John Henry Newman. England at that time had recently restored the hierarchy - restored in 1850 just eight years before the first apparition at Lourdes in 1858.

Since the 1970's, its main purpose is to mastermind the CA Annual Pilgrimage to Lourdes, currently incorporating the diocesan pilgrimages of Clifton, East Anglia, Northampton, Portsmouth, Southwark, the British Province of Carmelites, and the Stonyhurst College Lourdes Pilgrimage. Each of these groups is overseen by a Diocesan or Group Director. In addition, the Pilgrimage includes the Glanfield Children's Group.

The entire Pilgrimage is coordinated by the Pilgrimage Director (currently Mgr Bill Saunders from Southwark Archdiocese).

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How does the Catholic Association Pigrimage work?
The CA is a Registered Charity (number 1071120), and has a number of Trustees. The Trustees fulfil the usual role of Trustees, which is to guard the funds. The Trustees appoint Pilgrimage Officers (the heads of the different service sections including doctors, nurses, brancs, handmaids). They also appoint the leader of the Young Helpers' Group. The Pilgrimage Officers, YHG Leader, together with the Diocesan Directors, make up the Pilgrimage Management Committee (PMC), and this manages itself.

In addition to the PMC, the CA Hospitalité of Our Lady of Lourdes exists to bind together the volunteer pilgrims, known in French as Hospitalier(e)s, who help in the service of all pilgrims – especially assisted pilgrims – during the Pilgrimage; doctors, nurses, handmaids (female helpers), brancardiers (male helpers), chaplains, and praying members. The CA Hospitalité's main role is to look after all the assisted pilgrims and helpers before and during the Pilgrimage. All helpers work for the CA Hospitalité in Lourdes.

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Which groups and dioceses make up the Catholic Association Pilgrimage?
The CA Pilgrimage is made up of the diocesan pilgrimages of Clifton, East Anglia, Northampton, Portsmouth, Southwark, plus the British Province of Carmelites Lourdes Pilgrimage, and the Stonyhurst College Lourdes Pilgrimage. Each of these groups is overseen by a Diocesan or Group Director. In addition, the Pilgrimage includes the Glanfield Children's Group.

Click on one your Diocesan/Group Pilgrimage Director to email them directly (this will also provide further contact details).

  • Mr Johan Bergström-Allen (Camelites)
  • Rev David Wakefield (Clifton)
  • Rev Alan McMahon & Rev Clive Brooks (East Anglia)
  • Rev Fr Damien Walne (Northampton)
  • Rev Mgr Vincent Harvey (Portsmouth)
  • Dr Nuala Mellows (Stonyhurst)
  • Rev Michael Kennedy (Southwark)
  • Or visit their individual page here:

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    What happened in Lourdes?
    From the 11 February 1858, a 14-year old peasant girl called Bernadette Soubirous experienced 18 apparitions of a girl dressed in white with a blue belt around her waist, who eventually introduced herself as the Immaculate Conception, a name by which the Virgin Mary was known.

    On this first morning when Bernadette’s family awoke in the damp and miserable Cachot there was no more firewood for the fire and Bernadette pleaded with her mother to be allowed to find some new firewood. Eventually her mother consented although she as always was concerned for her daughter.

    Bernadette’s own account of the events follows (Taken from "Ecrits de Saint Bernadette")
    Then I turned my head towards the meadow. I saw the trees quite still: I went on taking off my stockings. I heard the same sound again. As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white."

    "The Lady made a sign for me to approach; but I was seized with fear, and I did not dare, thinking that I was faced with an illusion. I rubbed my eyes, but in vain. I looked again, and I could still see the same Lady. Then I put my hand into my pocket, and took my rosary. I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but in vain; I could not raise my hand to my forehead, it kept on dropping. Then a violent impression took hold of me more strongly, but I did not go."

    "The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross. Then I commenced not to be afraid. I took my rosary again; I was able to make the sign of the cross; from that moment I felt perfectly undisturbed in mind. I knelt down and said my rosary, seeing this Lady always before my eyes. The Vision slipped the beads of her rosary between her fingers, but she did not move her lips. When I had said my rosary the Lady made a sign for me to approach, but I did not dare. I stayed in the same place. Then, all of a sudden, she disappeared. I started to remove the other stocking to cross the shallow water near the grotto so as to join my companions. And we went away. As we returned, I asked my companions if they had seen anything. 'No,' they replied. 'And what about you? Did you see anything?' 'Oh, no, if you have seen nothing, neither have I.' "

    "I thought I had been mistaken. But as we went, all the way, they kept asking me what I had seen. I did not want to tell them. Seeing that they kept on asking I decided to tell them, on condition that they would tell nobody. They promised not to tell. They said that I must never go there again, nor would they, thinking that it was someone who would harm us. I said no. As soon as they arrived home they hastened to say that I had seen a Lady dressed in white. That was the first time."

    There were a further 17 apparitions where Our Lady asked Bernadette to do a number of things. Among the instructions from Our Lady were "Go and drink from the spring", "Go and tell the priests to build a chapel here", and "Have the people come here in procession". These three instructions in particular were to prove pivotal in the development of Lourdes and its ceremonies.

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    How do we travel to Lourdes?
    The Catholic Association Pilgrimage have appointed Tangney Tours as the tour operator. They organise the aircraft and hotel bookings and carry out other tour operator duties whilst the Pilgrimage Management Committee, comprising of various Catholic Association Trustees and members of the Catholic Association Hospitalite, organise the day to day running of the Pilgrimage.

    To join our Pilgrimage you can either apply to Tangney Tours for a copy of their Pilgrimage brochure or download a copy of the basic air or train travel forms below. Tangney Tours details are as follows:

    Tangney Tours
    Pilgrim House
    Station Court
    Borough Green
    TN15 8AF

    Tel 01732 886666
    Fax 01732 886885

    e-mail info@tangney-tours.com

    webpage www.tangney-tours.com

    It is also possible for people to travel independently and make their own alternative arrangements.


    How do I become a volunteer helper?
    At the heart of our Pilgrimage are the assisted pilgrims (or APs) who need care or assistance.

    Men and women of all ages and backgrounds come to Lourdes as volunteer helpers to answer Mary’s request for people to ‘come in procession’, but more importantly they come in response to the command of her son Jesus to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Gospel of Mark 12:29-31). These volunteer helpers, who are pilgrims themselves, strive to encounter Jesus in each pilgrim, caring for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. The CA Hospitalité manages all the volunteer helpers, which includes doctors, nurses, and non medical helpers: brancardiers (male) and handmaids (female).

    In addition, if you are aged 17-25, you can be a part of the Young Helpers’ Group, (a supervised group staying in a separate hotel) please let us know here (young_helpers@catholicassociation.co.uk).

    Although we are unable to include people under 17 as full volunteers under the terms of our insurance, we welcome enthusiastic younger people whose families are on the Pilgrimage and who are interested in coming as volunteers when they reach 17 and wish to see what volunteer work is like. Simply email us here.

    If you are interested in volunteering for the CA, please email us.

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    Can I bring my children on Pilgrimage and still be a helper?
    If you have children, the CA organises the Helpers' Children's Programme (HCP), which offers a programme of activities for the children (0 - 16) of helpers working on the Pilgrimage. It is generally open from 8.30 - 12 and 2 - 6 each day and your duties can be adjusted accordingly. For more information, please email HCP here.

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    How do I come to Lourdes as an Assisted Pilgrim?
    If accompanied by a relative, spouse, friend or carer, you may choose to stay in a hotel in Lourdes and receive basic support from volunteer helpers. This usually takes the form of wheelchair assistance moving about the town and to services. Otherwise, many of our APs stay in the Accueil, a residential facility where APs receive full-time care from volunteer helpers who work in teams.

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    Who are the Glanfield Children's Group?
    The Glanfield Children's Group was set up in 1987 in memory of Father Frank Glanfield, a priest who was involved with the care of children with special needs both in Lourdes and in England. Since 1987 the group has taken to Lourdes many children with learning difficulties as well as chronic and terminal illness each August as part of the Catholic Association Pilgrimage.

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    I sing and/or play an instrument. Can I help?
    The CA music group welcomes all those that can sing and play an instrument to join them. If you want to volunteer as a full-time singer/musician, please contact the Director of Music: Mrs Judy Ball, 8 Farrow Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR5 8AH.

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    What is stage?
    During one of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions to Saint Bernadette in 1858, she asked that people come in procession to the Grotto. Ever since then there has been a ‘ministry of welcome’ in Lourdes, receiving and caring for all the pilgrims who come to the apparition site, especially the sick and infirm.

    Bernadette described how Our Lady smiled at her ‘as one person would to another,’ and this smile of welcome is today extended to six million visitors a year by the volunteers who work in the sanctuaries of Lourdes. Some of these volunteers work in the Forum-Information Centre welcoming individual pilgrims and small groups. Other volunteers work in the Youth service, or give of their time and talent in one of the pavilion tents around the Domaine. However, the largest group of volunteers (16,000 of them) is known as the Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes (Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes). In the past a ‘Hospitality’ was a charitable organisation whose aim was to gather, accommodate and feed the less fortunate in a hostel or hospital. Today the Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes (HNDL) builds on that tradition, welcoming pilgrims to Lourdes (especially, but not only, the sick and disabled), and assisting at religious ceremonies. It is an organisation of pilgrims at the service of other pilgrims and Our Lady.

    What do Catholics believe?
    Catholics are first and foremost, Christians. We believe that God revealed Himself to us in His Son, Jesus Christ (which is where the name Christians derives from). However God has also revealed Himself to be a Trinity of Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

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    What is the Mission Statement for this website?
    The Catholic Association website (www.catholicassociation.co.uk) is owned and maintained by the Catholic Association and its Hospitalité. The website is a tool to further the aims and objectives of those societies, namely the promotion of pilgrimage to Lourdes, and the support of the societies’ members in their lives and commitments.

    The website aims to be:

    • A source of up-to-date information (on Lourdes, its history, the Catholic Association and its pilgrimages, how to get to Lourdes, how to volunteer services, etc.)
    • A resource for communication (for those wanting to know more about Lourdes, to spread news and information among members, etc.)
    • A support for spiritual growth (by providing resources on prayer and the spirituality of Lourdes and its Gospel message)
    • An aid to building community (by fostering discussion and debate, and by being a forum in which people can share experience and expertise)

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    How do I keep informed about CA news?
    We have our own mailing list, which you can add yourself to here.

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    Any other questions?
    Please feel free to email us at webteam@catholicassociation.co.uk for more information.

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