714 we love you deep down in our hearts!

by Semira Kilic, Izzy Dutton and Skye Brunton

Lourdes has been an unforgettable experience for all that participated in the 2024 Easter pilgrimage and I can confidently say it is impossible to forget. Previous pilgrims from 714 told us that the Lourdes experience is so difficult to advertise because it is unlike anything you have experienced before in the absolute best way – they were not wrong.

You board the plane at Newcastle airport with a lot of trust in the organisers and leaders as nobody knows quite what to expect on the other side. On the plane there’s an atmosphere of excitement and nerves, but what you are certainly guaranteed is seven days full of life-altering experiences and moments you will carry for the rest of your life.

On the evening of our arrival, we passed St. Michael’s gate on the coach whilst the daily candle lit procession was ongoing. The sight of the basilica at night looked straight out of a fairytale. We settled into our rooms before visiting the grotto where we held a small liturgy nearby. Here, Mr. Murray told us “For those with faith, no explanation is needed, for those without, no explanation is possible.”

We started the week off with a bang, running an Oscars-themed party for all the sponsored children, playing games, doing face painting, and most importantly having fun; it was lovely seeing all the VIPs really enjoying themselves. That evening we then had our first large mass in which some of our group read (costumes and face paint included!). It was unlike anything any of us had ever experienced before; a high point for many would have been signing ‘rise and shine’ for the first time.

On one of the mornings, those who were not with family groups went to see the three basilicas which were all beautiful in different ways.  To continue the thoughtful day, we went to see the stations of the cross, which was a very philosophical and holy experience.

Lourdes is completely euphoric. Everyone who travels here has a different background and different reason for travelling.  No matter what, they are accepted and valued as one family united by this cathartic experience. It was extraordinary to meet all these incredible people from all over the world, such as Croatia, Spain and even America. It was great to make new bonds with sixth formers from all over the UK and create new memories with them. The power of song and smiles is strong through the streets of Lourdes and something as simple as a cheer upon entrance to mass is enough to make someone’s day. As young people, it has allowed us to see the incredible impact that kindness and faith can have on a person and how music and dance can unite strangers as a community.

A large part of our week was spent with the “family groups” assisting through various activities such as the Fun Zone in the St. Bernadette centre, visiting Hosanna House and going to the beach. Throughout the week the weather just got better and better so we had the opportunity to release our inner child and play loads of games; a dramatic frisbee competition also took place. One evening we joined some of the other North East groups to have a sing along in Hotel Paradis and another evening we went to Group 36’s hotel (Mrs Merchant and Mr O’Connor’s group) to play Beetle drive followed by a lovely meal at ‘Made in Italy’.

The pilgrimage to Lourdes has allowed us all to reconnect with our faith and beliefs. By the end of the week, we found ourselves not wanting to leave, many of us wanting to return next year again with 714 or 36!

See you in 2025 Lourdes where the North East is hosting the theme ‘Angels Among Us’!

On the plane on the way back, Mr Murray asked students to write their own thoughts on the trip. Below are some of their responses:

Sam Oswald – I thought as an agnostic person my trip to Lourdes might have been boring but I was proven wrong immediately. My trip to Lourdes taught me more about myself, the world I live in, and restored my faith in those around me. I recommend this trip to anyone and everyone.

Clarisse Cruz – I was not sure what to expect from Lourdes although I have known about the trip for years. I have been told that Lourdes is an indescribable trip and that is certainly the best way to describe it. It has definitely been very spiritual for me as an agnostic person, and has also brought me much comfort that it is possible for people to get better; I believe it is truly an inspiring experience. It is its own bubble away from the rest of the world, in the best way possible. It is definitely something people should experience if they get the chance.

Joseph Beattie – Lourdes was class. I didn’t expect it to be as good as it was. It was really good. Would recommend. *****

Skye Brunton – This trip was amazing. It allowed me to gain a deeper connection for my religion as well as my friends. At the start I was nervous but by the end I felt so much more self-confident. Along this trip I have gained life-long friendships with new people as well as school friends. This trip is definitely something everyone should experience. LOVE.

Izzy Dutton – This trip was one of the best experiences I have had so far. It has been lovely to meet Poppy and Evie from Sacred Heart, and to become closer friends with other people. It was really lush to have all the Masses. I particularly liked the last one because of its nature. Genuinely one of the best weeks of my life. Thank you. LOVE.

Georgie Bentham – Originally when I decided to come to Lourdes, I wanted to come for my family members who never got the opportunity but very quickly I realised how much this trip has done for me. It has been one of the best experiences of my life. I am so grateful I was able to come. I loved working with family groups, making new friendships and strengthening old ones. I will definitely come back another time. LOVE.

Aoife Bland – An amazing week in a magical place – surreal.

Jessica Croney – An amazing experience with the best people. Lots of memories and new friends.

Paddy Ferguson – Lourdes is an unexplainable and surreal event in the very best way possible. All embarrassment and problems leave, replaced by dancing and amazing people while still being an emotional and spiritual event.

Alfie Given – Was not completely sure what to expect going in but encountered a spiritual and joyful experience full of singing and dancing. Meeting so many new people from all over our country and the rest of the world. So overall, it was very thrilling and I would highly recommend.

Seth Arnold – Lourdes is a very unique experience in the best way it could be. At the start of the week, I didn’t believe Mr Murray when he told me I would end up joining in singing, dancing, face painting, playing games, helping out and most importantly meeting the other wonderful pilgrims. But as always, Mr Murray was right. The atmosphere just sweeps you up and I can’t recommend it enough.

Evie Wilkinson (Sacred Heart student) – I can quite firmly say that Lourdes has been the most amazing experience I have ever had. I was so incredibly nervous before I went and was so tempted to try and drop out but Mr Murray and Lizzie both reassured me on what an amazing thing I would be doing. Helping those children has changed the way I look at everything. The students who went are a credit to St Thomas More. I have never met more friendly and genuine people in my life. All of them were so friendly and welcoming, and it’s safe to say I have made friends for life. Before this trip I had little confidence but only just today I went over to talk to someone and one of my friends said that I have just gathered so much confidence since coming back from Lourdes, which left me with so much pride. The memories I have made at Lourdes I will treasure with me for the rest of my life. I don’t think I have ever felt so happy, content and at peace than I did that week. You were right about when you go back home and no one really understands what Lourdes was like, as every time I try to describe it I don’t feel as if I am doing it nearly enough justice. Thank you for allowing me to join you on this trip, it’s something I am eternally grateful for. I would recommend going to Lourdes to everyone who considered it and I would go again in a heartbeat if I could. I have never wanted to stay on an airplane more than I did when we arrived back at Newcastle as I knew I had to go back to reality and leave the life-changing place that I will remember for the rest of my life, along with the people who I will always appreciate and treasure. Thank you again.

Luca John Wynn – Lourdes has allowed me to expand my understanding of what true fulfilment is and how lucky we are to be in the life positions we are. Oh, also the French food is trash minus baguette.

Patrick Wright – Where do I begin? Lourdes has been a life changing experience for me to remember for the rest of my life. For a while I’ve been quiet then the next minute, I’m singing my heart out and dancing till the nights ended. Lourdes really got me out of my comfort zone and I believe for good this time. Friday really summarised my experience there and showed me just how close we all got together as a group and as a family. I believe Lourdes has been the greatest holiday I’ve ever been on as it has helped me to grow strong bonds to those, I didn’t believe I would. All I can thank for that is my friends, group leaders and family for making this happen. Once again thank you.

Kaila Sadiq – Lourdes was one of the best experiences I’ve had in school – both from the spiritual aspect and when making all my new friends. All the Masses were the opposite of what I expected. I’d love to bring my family here.

Semira Kilic – I do not know where to begin as I am so overwhelmed by the love, kindness, experience and most importantly, the true power of the Holy Spirit I have felt in the last seven days. Lourdes will forever hold a special place in my heart. My faith is even stronger, as are friendships new and old. To think I ever had second thoughts is slightly embarrassing. The courage and bravery demonstrated by our VIPs fills me with so much joy. I am extremely grateful for this experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Joyce Misa – One of the best life experiences I’ve ever had… I’ve learnt things about others and most importantly about MYSELF. I loved meeting Poppy and Evie – they are the most beautiful souls I’ve ever met. They are genuine and some of the most kind-hearted people I’ve met. They have taught me so many things. Speaking of being taught – I’ve also learnt a lot of life skills, especially communication, team work and a LOT of patience. I also loved all the reflections as it made my mind so quiet and I could truly reflect on myself. I liked having the chance to pray for me and my peers and especially my family. Lourdes was a break from the stress of my daily life. LOVE.

Emma Laws – Lourdes has been such a great experience and I am so glad I came. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming and I have never stopped smiling. I feel so lucky to have been a part of an amazing group and I will remember it forever. Every moment in Lourdes is filled with pure magic especially the torchlit procession and walking in the grotto. It is hard to put this trip into words but I am going to recommend it to everyone because I think you really have to experience it to understand the magic of Lourdes.

Macy Butler – Lourdes has been a fantastic week that I will never forget. I completely underestimated how moving and emotional this trip would be, and I enjoyed every minute of it, whether it was with a family group with all the lovely children, or a simple moment of just relaxing on the meadow with 714. I have made many new friends and will carry this week with me for the rest of my life. Being in Lourdes is definitely an indescribable feeling that I hope many others will get to experience.

Sam Gibson – Lourdes is a place of pure magic. I have made many new friends and strengthened existing friendships. I am honoured to have won the ‘helpers helper award’ after being voted for by my friends. I took the chance to experience things in a new way both through singing and dancing and also attending a Filipino Mass. I encourage everyone to experience the magic of Lourdes.

Rachel Bennet – Lourdes gave me the opportunity to connect and explore my faith on a deeper level. I was able to witness other people’s experience which was inspiring – particularly the nun in the adoration chapel who seemed so deeply connected to God when looking at the Blessed Sacrament. I found it very humbling and inspiring to see. It was fulfilling being able to spend time with family groups and being around the children who were brought out here. It was lovely spending time with them and seeing how they were enjoying it here. I liked being able to spend time with people from my group – it was nice making new friendships and getting to know people better. I have had an amazing time in Lourdes and words cannot fully express how much this experience meant to me. I definitely will return!

Iona Bell – Lourdes gave me confidence in leaving home. I am very proud of myself that I went even with the average of crying ten times. It has allowed me to deepen relationships with my friends and with others. I have enjoyed entertaining the kids and I have enjoyed Lourdes even if my face didn’t always show it.

Summi Sek – Lourdes is quiet a special place for me as I am not a religious person. But I really enjoyed every Mass – not boring like before. I enjoyed singing and dancing with my friends and I never normally have these feelings in a Mass. Every day is a different experience. Lourdes is beautiful. I think Lourdes is a place feeling full of happiness in spirit.

Lourdes was a great opportunity. I’ve made lots of different friends and memories that will last forever. This week allowed me to get a greater understanding of the kindness of humanity. It was truly eye-opening to comprehend the lives of young people but also it was so fulfilling to see the happiness this week brought them and in return the happiness it brought me.

My trip to Lourdes has given me the opportunity to reflect upon my own life, and the everyday things I take for granted. I am very grateful for the chance to meet new people and experience things outside my comfort zone.

The trip to Lourdes was honestly incredible. Not only did it allow me to appreciate my own life and reflect upon the things I take for granted, but it also allowed me the chance to meet some truly inspirational young people and make both memories and friends that will last me a lifetime.