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on pilgrimage-holiday in Lourdes with HCPT
After months of preparation and anticipation today was the day for our pilgrimage to start! The big stars (adult helpers) didn't have to wait for long at the pick up point before the little stars (children) arrived with their families. The weather was amazing and we all enjoyed soaking up some sunshine until it was time to get on the coach. Everyone was very excited as we waved goodbye to our families and friends and set off towards Bristol airport.
We arrived in good time and after we had checked in we met two Police officers who signed all off out little stars up as Junior Constables! We went through security quite quickly but had to wait on the ‘plane a very long time before we could take off. It was the first time some if us had been on a ‘plane, it was very exciting!
The flight was very smooth and before we knew it we were landing in France! It took a little while to get through the airport and onto another coach, but once we were in the road it didn't take long to reach Hotel Padoue – our home for the week! We were all very very tired but managed to eat some dinner before putting our pyjamas on, cleaning our teeth and getting into bed to dream about the adventures we are going to have. Good night!
​​​​​​​It was hard to get up this morning, but we all had breakfast and set out to walk round to the coach park. It was grey and chilly, nothing like the UK was when we left, but at least it wasn't raining! We all got on the coach and, after a short drive, arrived at the Animal Park. We walked through a bird aviary where the birds flew right over our heads and saw flamingos and pelicans. Did you know, flamingos often rest standing on one leg and pelicans have a huge pouch in their beak which stretches out to help them catch fish? We were able to see the otters swimming  through an underwater viewing window and also saw meerkats, red pandas and raccoons before some of us went into the marmot enclosure to feed them. Lots of us also went inside the goat enclosure; the goats were very boisterous, but the big stars protected the little stars where necessary. There was just time to visit the shop to spend some pocket money before we went back to the hotel for lunch.
The sun came out thus afternoon, so we headed to The Meadow to learn about the story of Lourdes and St Bernadette, beautifully performed by our little stars. We then had time to enjoy the sunshine and played parachute games, did face painting or simply relaxed on our starry blankets. Later in the afternoon we went to a short welcoming service with lots of other groups. We learnt more about St Bernadette and sang lots of lovely songs, including our favourite – Rise and Shine!
Then it was time to back to our hotel and, after our little stars had some time with the youth helpers while the big stars had a helper meeting, we went for dinner. When we had all finished we all gathered together for a very funny bedtime story and a prayer before the big stars helped the little stars get ready for bed. Until next time, night night...
After a longer night's sleep we gathered together in the hotel lobby before walk g down to the Domain to have our official group photo taken in front of the Rosary Basilica. We were all dressed in our best group clothing and we can't wait to see how it comes out. 
After a little walk around the Domain, we made our way to St Gabriel's Chapel where Fr PJ celebrated Mass for us. We listened to the Gospel and heard about how much God loves us, we  prayed for our families and friends and sang some beautiful songs. Can you guess which song we sang last...? Yes! Rise & Shine!! 
We had a delicious lunch at the hotel and then walked to the coach park for our bus to Hosanna House. We were met there by an enormous Easter Bunny and lots of youth helpers who had arranged lots of activities for  us. There were arts and crafts, cake decorating, face painting and lots of games to play. We could go outside to see the beautiful view of the mountains and enjoy the sunshine which eventually broke through the clouds. There was even a petting farm with baby goats, rabbits and guinea pigs and a very loud cockerel! 
Some of us had our faces painted as butterflies and tigers. We enjoyed meeting the baby animals, some of us were very brave and held them! We could play ‘hook a duck’ and won prizes and some of us painted pictures and made bracelets. A few of us played football with another group while most of the group enjoyed singing lots of different songs. We even managed to sing ‘London’s Burning with 20 people in five different languages! We all had a really lovely afternoon. 
We got back to the hotel in time for the little stars to spend some time with the youth helpers in the group room while the big stars made plans for tomorrow. We can't wait for our next adventures! 
We all had a very welcome  lie in this morning because we didn't go to breakfast in our hotel. Instead, we walked up the road to our favourite cafe where could have anything we liked from the entire menu. We chose all sorts of things, including chicken and chips, calamari, lasagne, pancakes and a banana split! 
After breakfast we went in a big lift to take us to the top of the hill to begin our tour of the old town of Lourdes to see where St Bernadette lived. We visited the mill which Bernadette's father owned and Cachot where the whole family lived after he lost his business. We also went to the Parish church where the font in which Bernadette was baptised is located. We all drank some of the special Lourdes water before we said our own personal prayers and lighting candles. After this we visited the Grotto where Bernadette saw Our Blessed Lady; we touched the rocks which have been worn smooth by millions of pilgrim’s hands and prayed the Our Father and a Hail Mary together. 
We went back to the hotel where we managed to squeeze some lunch into our tummies, which were still quite full! Then we went to the Play Base where we spent an hour or so with youth helpers who painted our faces, read stories to us and helped us with craft activities. The sun was shining brightly, so we moved on to the Meadow where we played parachute games and football and enjoyed the sunshine. All of a sudden it clouded over and it threatened to rain, so we headed to a nearby cafe for a brief visit. 
After the cafe we gathered with some of the other groups from our HCPT region for our Regional Mass. We were all very colourful in our different group clothing and were in very fine voice for the hymns. It was a good taste of how wonderful tomorrow's Trust Mass will be. We got back to the hotel just in time for our dinner, followed by an amazing bed time story and a prayer before bed. 

We had to get up quite early today so that we could get out in time to find good seats for today’s Trust Mass. The church was very big, although not as big as the underground Basilica where Trust Mass is usually held. There aren't so many or such big HCPT groups as usual in Lourdes this Easter, so we used a slightly smaller venue. We chose a spot at the front and laid out blankets in front of the benches for some of us to sit on. While we waited for Mass to begin we swapped badges with other groups, coloured in the activity books that had been given to us, listened to the choir and musicians practising, had our hair decorated in group colours and even had our faces painted with Group 170’s logo! 
Mass began and we looked out for our starry banner as it was brought in with all of the other group banners. There were too many to count! The church was full of different colours as the HCPT groups all have their own colour schemes for their clothes; it was quite a sight! The Mass was beautiful, with lovely readings and prayers and lots of wonderful songs to sing. Do you think we sang Rise and Shine...? Of course we did! 
We had a lovely lunch back at the hotel after Mass and spent the afternoon there too. The weather was very changeable, with some sunshine, but also some rain and blustery cold winds, so we decided to stay indoors and prepare our acts for the talent show with some assistance from our lovely youth helpers. 
There was a full house to watch the Talent Show, which involved a wide variety of acts. We had opera, a contemporary solo, a gymnastic display, a short piano recital, a modern song and dance routine, Disney themed visual art to music, an athletic display and an audience participation act based on a well known nursery rhyme. The audience went wild for every act and the official clapometer had to be utilised to verify the results... It was a tie! Joint winners prizes, medals and certificates were awarded and everyone joined in a celebratory dance. 
There was still time after the Talent Show to spend some time with the youth helpers before dinner. After dinner we shared some lovely chocolate buttons while we listened to our bed time story and prayer before going to bed. 

After a good night's sleep, we had breakfast in the hotel and then walked to the coach pick up point. It was raining so all of the waterproofs came out and our big blue and yellow umbrella! The coach took us to St Savin, a very old church in the foot hills of the mountains; unfortunately, we couldn't see the mountains because the rain and clouds were hiding them. The church was very cold, so we wrapped up in our hats and scarves and starry starry blankets! We were joined by our friends from Group 71, our fabulous youth helpers from Alton Convent School and Farnborough's Salesian College and the West Indies HCPT group; each of the groups is blessed to have their own priest chaplain, so we had four priests to say Mass for us together. The Mass involved lots of singing and some of us joined the priests and youth helpers on the Sanctuary when we sang Rise and Shine!
It had stopped raining when we came out of the church and some of the cloud had lifted. We took the opportunity to have our photographs taken at the viewpoint with the beautiful mountain scenery in the background. We got back on the coach and went to MacDonald’s for a yummy lunch.
We had hoped to spend the afternoon on the Meadow, but it was windy and showery, so instead we chilled out at the hotel for a few hours. The Little Stars spent time with the youth helpers and went souvenir shopping with the Big Stars and we did some diary and post card writing before we all joined in with a craft activity.
After the Little Stars had spent some more time with the youth helpers, we all went down to the hotel’s conference room for our Last Night Party! The room was decorated with hanging stars and the Little Stars were given balloon hats when they arrived. There was a game of pass-the-parcel, which was great fun, especially when we realised that there was a prize in every layer! We were served lots of party food instead of going to the dining room for dinner and enjoyed a choice of soft drinks and three different desserts! When everyone had finished eating there was an awards ceremony. All of the Little Stars were given certificates to celebrate their achievements during the week and they each received a special present; the Big Stars who were new to the group also received special awards. Some of us were very tired by this point and went up to bed, but most of the Little Stars stayed until the last dance before heading upstairs get ready for bed too. When all of the Little Stars were tucked in, the Big Stars packed their luggage before helping to inventory and pack boxes and boxes of group equipment and, last but not least, packing their own suitcases. We are all a bit sad that tomorrow will be our last day, but we will have a little more time in Lourdes before we have to catch our flight home.

Everyone was a bit sleepy this morning, especially the Big Stars after they stayed up late last night! We had to make sure we had everything we needed for our last day in Lourdes and that everything else had been packed properly for our journey home, but we all made it to the dining room for breakfast. We left the hotel in good time to get to the Grotto, where we had been invited to attend Mass with our friends from the HCPT West Indies Group and some of our youth helper friends, as well as other pilgrims who were staying in Lourdes. It was special to attend Mass in the place where St Bernadette encountered Our Lady, something we were reminded of as we could see the statue of Mary in the niche in the rock right in front of us. It was a bit chilly, but it stayed dry and it was wonderful to hear the birds singing when we were quiet. We weren’t very quiet when it came to singing though – especially when it came to Rise and Shine for the last time this week!
After Mass we went to the Meadow and played parachute games and football to try and warm up, but there was a very chilly breeze and some of the Little Stars were feeling quite cold, so we went back to the hotel and sat in a cosy corner of the lobby area with our youth helper friends who played games and sang songs with us until lunch time. 
 In the afternoon we spent some time decorating our special Group candle; it was more than twice the height of some of the Little Stars and taller than most of the Big Stars too! We were all given stickers printed with our names to colour in, as well as blank stickers to write the names of our loved ones and those we wanted to pray for. We wound blue and yellow ribbons round the candle first of all to show that it belongs to Group 170 and stuck a little picture of our group logo onto it as well.  Fr PJ said some special prayers and blessed the candle and then we went forward one at a time to place our stickers on the candle; there were so many of them that you could hardly see the surface of the candle or the ribbons when we had finished! We then made our way towards the Grotto together and went over the bridge to the opposite side of the river to the special shelters where candles can be lit and left burning as symbols of our prayers. It was still very windy, so it was really difficult to light the candle, but some of the Big Stars managed to do it in the end! After saying another prayer, we walked through the Grotto one last time to touch the rocks and pray in our heads. We then gathered at the big statue of the Crowned Virgin, where we said three Hail Marys. learned that if you do this, you will come back to Lourdes again in the future; lots of the Big Stars confirmed that this had come true for them!
We just had time for one last café visit where we enjoyed ice creams and crepes before going back to the hotel where our coach to the airport collected us. We were soon waving goodbye to Lourdes and arrived at the air port in plenty of time for our flight. We were very lucky and didn’t have to wait too long before we were boarding our aeroplane with several other HCPT groups. The hotel had given us a packed tea which we ate and the nice flight crew brought us drinks and biscuits and some of us fell asleep. Before we knew it, we were landing at Stanstead airport and after our luggage had all been collected, we made our way outside to where our coach was waiting for us. It was very very late by now and, once were on the road, most of the Little Stars (and a lot of the Big ones too) fell asleep. It was very early on Sunday morning by the time we reached Southampton, but our Mums and Dads, and some of our brothers and sisters and Aunties and uncles, were there to meet us. We were very happy to see one another again, but a bit sad to say goodbye to our new friends in Group 170. We collected our suitcases and headed off to our own beds to dream about the adventures we have had and look forward to seeing each other again at our reunion in a few weeks time…

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