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A group of volunteers who accompanied people to Lourdes for a yearly pilgrimage over the last six decades have to disband as they cannot recruit new members to take over.

The Galway Lourdes Pilgrimage Trust is now made up of just ten committee members, whose average age is 70 and over, explains John Keady.

“We have no shortage of people willing to travel to Lourdes, but younger people don’t want to join the committee or attend the meetings,” he reveals.

“Two years ago, temperatures reached 41 degrees and pushing wheelchairs in that is hard. A lot of us have health issues ourselves and we wouldn’t be able to give the attention to the pilgrims they might need. One of the Stations of the Cross is high up the side of a mountain.”

At their height, the Trust had over 30 volunteers who would travel to the French town with sick and disabled people flocking to the shrine in search of a cure or spiritual healing.

Most years around 45 pilgrims would be part of the trip, along with nurses, a priest and carers, who take part in religious ceremonies over the five days. One of the annual highlights is a torchlight procession at night.

The cost of the pilgrimage is subsidised for pilgrims and volunteers through fundraising from street and church gate collections.

“We always stayed in the same hotel. We were a nice, compact group, we’d know everyone, and everyone would know us. We always started the trip off with a Mass in the Commercial Boat Club so that everyone got to meet before the airport.”

John has been to Lourdes 21 times. He was first invited by the Trust in 1996 after a near death experience. A year earlier he had meningococcal septicaemia and had to be revived three times after he died.

“I was in hospital for a few months. I was lucky to recover. I don’t know how they kept me alive. That first time I went I said I’m coming back to help others the way I was helped and give thanks for being alive. I really enjoyed the peace and the quiet there.”

There will be a celebration Mass in the Commercial Boat Club in Woodquay next Saturday to thank all past and present committee members and the pilgrims who have travelled with the group for many years.

Up to 120 people are expected to attend the event, which will have music and dancing after refreshments.

“We’d hope as many people as possible come on the night to say goodbye to the Trust. A lot of the same group of people would come with us annually. There were people who came with us for years.”

The pilgrimage has taken place for the last 60 years, only taking a break during the Covid pandemic and the Foot and Mouth crisis.

The event takes place this Saturday, June 11, at 8pm.