The Western Association of The Order of Malta recently hosted the third annual Summer Pilgrimage to Lourdes for young adults July 14-24. The 32 participants, ranging in age from 10-20, included students from Loyola High School and the University of Southern California. Other participants hailed from Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton; Woodside Priory; Menlo School in Atherton; St. Francis in Mountain View; Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.; Seattle Preparatory School; and Cornell University in New York.“The privilege of serving in Lourdes is a life-changing experience,” said Kevin White, pilgrimage director who led the group with his wife, Mary. “The students were involved in hands-on service tending to the needs of the sick and terminally ill who travel to Lourdes from all over the world.”The daily work included loading and unloading the sick from railway cars at the train station, transporting the sick to and from airplanes at the Tarbes-Lourdes International Airport, assisting the sick in the Sacred Pools of Lourdes, helping to control the tens of thousands who participated in the afternoon and evening processions, and helping to manage the 25,000 people who attended the International Mass in the Pius X Underground Basilica. The group participated in daily Mass, celebrated by Msgr. James Kidder of Holy Trinity Church in El Dorado Hills. Msgr. Kidder, chaplain for the pilgrimage, also worked alongside the students on a daily basis. The daily schedule consisted of 15-hour days, with little time off for lunch and dinner. One team of students who were needed at the airport found themselves working 36 hours straight with only a few hours to nap on the airport cots. But in the spirit of Lourdes, none ever complained. In fact, after the students were finished, they volunteered to return the next day. Declan Feeley, a junior at Loyola High School who worked eight to nine hours a day for ten days, said some of the jobs were physically demanding, such as pushing people in wheelchairs up ramps made slippery by rain. “It was tiring,” said Feeley, but he added that it was also very moving to assist the sick coming to the baths. “I felt compassion was the biggest thing I took away from the pilgrimage.”“The spiritual journey to Lourdes was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life,” added Miles McMullin, a student at Cornell. “The opportunity to serve those less fortunate makes me appreciate everything I have been given. I didn’t know what to expect before the trip, and now I cannot wait to return.”Most of the work in Lourdes is performed by volunteers who are affiliated with the volunteer service known as the Hospitalite de Notre Dame de Lourdes. The Western Association was given daily assignments by the Hospitalite based on where there was the highest need for assistance. “Lourdes was a transcendental experience,” said Kyle Hutchinson, a recent graduate of Menlo School. “Even with the language barrier, I was able to form connections with the people I was assisting. I helped one elderly German woman off the train, and was asked to escort her group all the way to the hospital five miles away.“When we arrived at St. Frai Hospital, she made it clear she wanted only me to take her to her room and put her into her bed because of the trust we shared. I will never forget the look of mutual respect we exchanged.”On the 11-hour flight home, the students enthusiastically shared photos and stories about everything they had experienced — in particular, the opportunity to serve with participants from all over the world. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0902/malta/{/gallery}