British disgrace themselves in Lourdes

It was bound to happen sooner or later. The scandal of British pilgrimages to Lourdes has finally hit the headlines with a piece in the Daily Telegraph recently had a piece titled Drunk Britons shatter peace of Lourdes. It is sad to see how the behaviour of British youngsters has given the excuse to paint a tawdry picture of Lourdes in the national press. Actually, Lourdes does not have "drinking spots" or a "profusion of fast food restaurants". There is one MacDonalds at the top of the town, well away from the Domaine and there are, of course, many cafés which sell food and drink all day to pilgrims who are able to relax and enjoy a drink without spoiling things for everyone else. It is the British who turn them into "drinking spots".

Regarding the bad behaviour, the article does not exaggerate. I visit Lourdes every year and I am sick and tired of having to look sheepish in the morning after the hotel staff and guests from other countries have been kept awake half the night by the loutish antics of British yoof. Apparently their behavious has meant that the local gendarmerie have now called in the CRS to sort things out.

The standard excuse given by Pilgrimage organisers is that "they have been working hard all day and need to let their hair down". There is also a good deal of collusion with the attitude summed up by one young lady who was quoted as saying "We come here to party after being reverential all day". It may have escaped their notice but there are thousands of Italian youngsters with the UNITALSI pilgrimages, and many others with French, German, Dutch, Belgian and Eastern European pilgrimages who do not find that they need to seek relief from their hard work or their spiritual exercises by getting ratted until 2 in the morning and then waking everyone up on their way back to their hotel.

The attitude on the part of many pilgrimage organisers and chaplains is that we must all pat ourselves on the back for getting youngsters anywhere near a shrine. This is seen as such a triumph that no further demands are made regarding moral behaviour. Frankly, I have not wanted to enquire into the all too obvious further consequences of allowing youngsters simply to go out on the town every evening. Fr Ray Blake fills in some of the details in his post on the subject.
I love the place, but I have not been to Lourdes for years. I hate the drunkenness, I hate the fornication, I hate the abuse of the liturgy, I hate the lack of real spiritual care for the young helpers. Last year all my antipathy was confirmed with a picture of one of our English bishops performing a drag routine, dressed as a nurse, even so I hadn't realised things had got to this state...
The most important point here is probably the "lack of real spiritual care". We need to stop assuming that when taking young people away on a pilgrimage or youth event, anything will do, simply because we have "got them there". It will be no use appealing to this on judgement day if our lack of spiritual care has left them in a spiritually worse state than they were in before the "Pilgrimage".

One thing is for sure. If the CRS are getting involved, the Pilgrimage organisers need to let the youngsters know that those guys mean business. It will not be like chucking-out time at the local club on a Saturday night, telling the local Bill that "I know my rights". The French know that when the CRS appear on the scene, your best response is to run for it. I do hope the British pilgrimages clean up their act before they start cracking heads.

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