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The Catholic Association Hospitalité of Our Lady of Lourdes is the organisation responsible for coordinating the welcome and care of pilgrims, especially sick pilgrims, who come to Lourdes.

Men and women of all ages and backgrounds come to Lourdes as volunteer-helpers to answer Mary’s request for people to ‘come in procession’, but more importantly they come in response to the command of her son Jesus to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Gospel of Mark 12:29-31). These volunteer-helpers, who are pilgrims themselves, strive to encounter Jesus in each pilgrim, caring for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

The members of the CA Hospitalité are volunteers who have made a commitment to serve fellow pilgrims in Lourdes on a regular basis; one week each year when possible. They help in the smooth running of religious and other activities on the Catholic Association Pilgrimage, so that everyone can benefit from the spiritual and social benefits of a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

The Hospitalité provides its members with a social and spiritual community; cooperation and mutual support is essential to our work. We work hard, play hard and pray hard!

The Hospitalité consists of professionals (such as medical teams) and volunteers with no special skills. The Hospitalité provides some training for certain tasks and tries to ensure the safety of all pilgrims on the Catholic Association Pilgrimage. It also looks after all areas associated with the CA’s assisted pilgrims.

Almost every major pilgrimage to Lourdes has a Hospitalité organisation of some sort and most – like the Catholic Association – consists of the following types of volunteer helpers:

  • nurses
  • doctors
  • chaplains
  • health-care professionals (physiotherapists etc.)
  • handmaids (female helpers)
  • brancardiers, or ‘brancs’ (male helpers)

The name Hospitalité comes from the French term for charitable organisations that originally welcomed and sheltered travellers, the sick and the needy.

All Hospitalités that come to Lourdes on pilgrimage are known as ‘accompanying’ Hospitalités, because they accompany pilgrims from a specific place. They are mostly affiliated to the Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes (HNDL), the central coordinating Hospitalité that coordinates much of the ‘infrastructure’ of Lourdes: the baths, the processions, the reception of pilgrims, crowd-control, etc.

The Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes consists of approximately 16,000 members from around the world. It encourages pilgrimage Hospitalités to send volunteers to join it for one week a year. Volunteering for the HNDL is known as doing a ‘Stage’ (meaning work-experience).

As well as the HNDL, the Sanctuaries in Lourdes are kept running throughout the year by a team of permanent and seasonal staff, responsible for coordinating the liturgies, maintaining the candles, cleaning, building maintenance, personnel, translations, gardening, etc. There are also teams of permanent chaplains, youth-workers, caterers, and those in the Welcome-Information Service.

All these teams work together to make the pilgrimage experience as happy and fulfilling as possible for all pilgrims to Lourdes.

There are also religious orders permanently in Lourdes who run pilgrim shelters for assisted pilgrims, known as ‘Accueils’, or ‘houses of welcome’. These buildings are something between a hospital and a hotel. There are three main Accueil in Lourdes:

  1. The Accueil Notre-Dame: run by an order of nuns and their staff, this Accueil is in the heart of the domaine, and used by the Catholic Association. The Catholic Association Hospitalité works closely with the staff of the Accueil Notre Dame.
  2. The Accueil Marie Saint Frai: run by a different order, and located just outside the domaine in a recently refurbished nineteenth-century building
  3. The Salus Infirmorum: an Accueil owned by an Italian Hospitalité organisation for Italian pilgrims.

The CA Hospitalité it is a recognised as a ‘sodality’ in the Catholic Church, that is a religious gathering with a unifying purpose of doing charitable works.