As anyone who know me well will testify Lourdes holds a special place in my heart.
It was in that holy place, minding my own business, saying my prayers at the Grotto that Tom Arkless, the Chief Brancardier asked me if I had ever thought of being a priest. At that precise moment I had only given it a passing thought and there was a further complication. I wasn't a Catholic!!!
Tom Arkless sowed the seed of vocation in my mind and heart. I will never forget his words to me. 'Son, your prayer at the Grotto. Entrust everything to Her and you won't go far wrong. She'll see you alright.'
And indeed Our Lady has 'seen me alright.' Twenty eight pilgrimages to Lourdes and sixteen years of priesthood!!!
In Lourdes many young men feel a call to the priesthood or the religious life. We commend them all at this time to the prayers of the Immaculate Virgin.
A few years ago I was leading a walking tour of Lourdes with Canon McBride. As we went around the various places associated with St Bernadette he suggested that we offer an alternative tour pointing out the various places where pilgrims from our diocese have got engaged over the years!!!
Lourdes is not just a place to receive a vocation to the priesthood but also to marriage and family life. We commend to Our Lady's care all our young families - those who form our diocese pilgrimage and those who work in our parishes all around the diocese. It is from good, strong families that future vocations will come.