In 1956, Dr Michael Strode, took four children with disabilities from Chailey Heritage School in Lewes, Sussex, on a pilgrimage tailored for children with disabilities to the Catholic pilgrimage site of Lourdes. His ethos was simple: the children would stay in a hotel and not in the Lourdes' hospital; the children would be part of a small group of caring friends; and the cost of the children's fares would be met by fundraising.
Now, over fifty years later, HCPT takes 2000 children on its annual childrens pilgriamge, from all over the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as other countries including America, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and the West Indies. They are accompanied by 3000 volunteer helpers, travel on several chartered flights that leave the UK for Tarbes over Easter weekend and stay in one of over sixty Lourdes hotels that opens their doors to HCPT.
The trip may be larger than ever, and the costs go up every year, but some things have remained unchanged for over fifty years. Just like the groups who travelled in the 1950's, groups today spend time visiting the Grotto where Mary the mother of Jesus appered to St. Bernadette, learning about the story of Bernadette, going to church, and taking part in the torchlight procession. There is also plenty of time for drinks in pavement cafes, after dinner singsongs, day trips into the Pyrenees, picnics, games on the meadow, donkey rides and making new friends.
All in all a holiday to Lourdes with HCPT is a very special week, for both children and helpers alike.