Not Volunteering, but Serving – a Red Cap’s Experience in Lourdes


To mark the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes (11th February), Caitlin Boyle – Caritas Westminster Information Officer and volunteer on the Annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes – offers a reflection on the time she has spent volunteering in Lourdes and the importance of service.

Lourdes has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager.

Growing up in a Catholic household, you couldn’t help but know the story of St Bernadette; a peasant girl from a small town in France whom the Virgin Mary appeared to in a series of visions. It was a place where those who were sick went to, but I didn’t see how it related to me.

I was 17 and at sixth form college, when a letter was sent home to my parents which changed everything. It invited us to volunteer on a trip to Lourdes the following summer, as part of the annual Diocesan pilgrimage. My mum was keen to sign me up straight away!

We were to be Red Caps, tasked to assist those pilgrims with mobility issues, as well providing them with some companionship. The idea was a daunting prospect and I approached the week with some apprehension. 

However, within a day of arriving in Lourdes, I felt my nerves transform into feelings of joy and contentment. Assisting those who otherwise would not have been able to go to Lourdes was an incredible experience. I soon realised we weren’t just volunteering, we were serving.  

In fact, the first time I properly witnessed faith in action was when I went to Lourdes. 

We’re all aware of the commandment to ‘love one another’ but to see it in practice was something completely different. It became tangible that we were living out the Gospel and the teachings of Christ.

Lourdes has become a place of great spiritual nourishment for me: it’s a place where I feel happy and at ease. It is also where I first felt called to help people, so I began to explore more faith-based volunteering opportunities and came across the Caritas Volunteer Service. In a funny twist of fate, the first I heard about Caritas Westminster was when one of the Caritas Service Managers sat next to me on the train to Lourdes. I subsequently found a paid role within Caritas and have worked here ever since.

Like the time I’ve spent in Lourdes, my time at Caritas Westminster has allowed me to witness great acts of service, both in the work my colleagues do supporting those on the margins of society, but also through the work done by the incredible people within our parishes and schools.

As Catholics, we know our service is a vital expression of our faith. It is one of the last commands of Christ, and something which we can learn at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes.

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