Lourdes Pilgrims Travel With Open Hearts, Hope


Siobhan Hapgood is one of seven parents who will accompany their children with disabilities on the 59th annual U.S. National Rosary Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, June 27-July 6.

She will be traveling with her six-year-old daughter, Ellie, who is severely autistic.

“About a year ago, I saw an article about this pilgrimage to Lourdes. I knew in my gut that Ellie must experience this,” Mrs. Hapgood wrote in a letter to Catholic New York, which was given the opportunity to solicit its readership for nominations to this year’s pilgrimage.

“I wanted Ellie to visit these miraculous sites and holy places,” she said. “We would both find strength in this community of believers.”

As part of the trip, the pilgrims will attend the international Mass of Lourdes, and a Mass at the Grotto of Massabielle, the site of the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. The pilgrimage includes tours to places associated with the life of St. Bernadette, and an opportunity to bath in the waters of the Lourdes Shrine.

Pilgrimage costs are completely covered for the parents and children. This is the 39th year that the Knights of Columbus of Our Lady of Lourdes Council 5890 in Washingtonville have raised funds for the national trip. The Knights must raise more than $48,000 to cover the costs.

In her letter, Mrs. Hapgood honestly expressed how she and her husband Tom found themselves in a “dark hole” with the difficulties of raising an autistic child. The arrival of their third child, Grace, helped to renew their spiritual life, and gave them new appreciation for the gift of their older daughter.

“I really missed having a relationship with Christ,” she wrote. “So instead of focusing on the negative, I allowed my heart and mind to open up. I was reminded that each and every person is made in the image of Christ, and during the most trying of times with Ellie, I find strength in that fact.”

The family belongs to Holy Trinity parish in Manhattan.

In an interview with CNY, Mrs. Hapgood explained she is not putting any expectations on the pilgrimage. “I am really trying to say my heart and my mind is open so that this trip will provide some type of healing, renewed faith and belief,” she said.

She said she is looking forward to meeting others “who are experiencing suffering and have the faith that miracles can still happen, and healing can still happen, and we are looking for it.”

Pilgrims will visit Nevers, the home of the convent where St. Bernadette lived after the apparitions in Lourdes. There will be a trip to the convent of St. Gildard in Nevers, where the incorruptible body of St. Bernadette lies. Other excursions are planned as well.

Lourdes co-chairman Walter H. Kozlowski, said, “…nobody goes away from Lourdes empty handed.”

“They are filled with the grace bestowed upon them and leave with a renewed faith and their lives will never be the same,” he said.

The six other children from the archdiocese who will make the pilgrimage along with a parent or guardian are: Gil E. Seda, 18, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, Shrub Oak, who has been diagnosed with epilepsy and complex partial seizures; Isaiah Arocho, 15, of Holy Family, the Bronx, who has Seckles syndrome, cerebral palsy and scoliosis; Christopher D. Canale, 6, of St. Christopher’s, Staten Island, who has medulloblastoma; Ethan S. Besas, 17, of St. Anastasia’s, Harriman, who has biliary atresia; Leonel Vicente, 10, of St. Joseph’s, Middletown, who has epilepsy and Rolandic seizures; and Julianna M. Edel, 12, of St. Patrick’s, Highland Mills, who has Ewings Sarcoma.

Donations: Knights of Columbus, Lourdes Program, 18 Hallock Drive, Washingtonville, N.Y. 10992.