Friday, 15 December 2006

Pilgrimage Planning

It is that time of year again... middle of Advent, so it's time to organise the Parish Pilgrimage. Somehow or other I ended up with this job last year, and, after failing to make a complete hash of it, I'm in for Round 2!

We go to Lourdes for the May half-term holiday, Monday - Friday. Rather than paying an exorbitant amount for the privilege of fitting in with whatever the official tour operators decide you should do, we organise the whole shebang "in-house". This is actually much easier than it sounds.

A small group of us went on a recce before the first "home-grown" Parish Pilgrimage and we identified a lovely three-star family-run hotel almost next door to the shrine. It's a great place - with lots of dark wood panelling straight out of an Agatha Christie novel, only without the dead bodies - and so we go back each year. The hotel staff are friendly and helpful, and are happy to arrange coaches to and from the airport. We go half-board, which allows people plenty of time to explore during the day, rather than forcing them to rush back to the hotel for lunch. And finding a good place to eat isn't exactly rocket science...

Arranging Masses and other religious activities is pretty easy as well. There are a few ghastly modern-type chapels which we avoid like a dose of the plague, but if you are willing to be flexible about times, it isn't a problem getting the chapels you want. The only restriction is that you can't book a small parish group in until after April, as the big Diocesan (and other organisation) pilgrimages are given first priority for obvious reasons.

The Torchlight Procession and the Blessed Sacrament Procession happen at fixed times each day, and the International Mass (held in the imitation-underground-car-park... oops, sorry, the St Pius X Basilica!) is on the Wednesday morning. The Stations of the Cross, a visit to the Baths, a tour of the town in the footsteps of St Bernadette, a video about the Apparitions and the opportunity for Confession all have to be slotted in around the times of Masses, so the final programme can't be sorted yet.

The most difficult part is booking the flights: unless you can charter a plane, you are pretty much at the mercy of the airlines. Full details of each passenger are required, and it is almost more trouble than its worth to change a name at a later date, so this can be a bit fraught. Prices seem to vary on a daily basis, and they go down as well as up, so booking early isn't always cheaper... though at least you're guaranteed a seat.

Anyway, the notice has gone in for this week's newsletter, and the Booking Form has been given to Fr Tim to photocopy. So now it's just a case of wait and see...

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