Every year at Easter the Hosanna House & Children’s Pilgrimage Trust (HCPT) runs a pilgrimage holiday to Lourdes, France, for disabled and disadvantaged children and young adults. Whilst HCPT is a Roman Catholic organisation this is an inclusive trip open to children and helpers of all backgrounds – of all faiths and none.
HCPT is a civilian Organisation but the British Armed Forces have a proud tradition of taking a sizeable contingent along each year. Our highly professional team of helpers are mainly Service personnel or civilians who have a clear connection with the military. Military nurses, doctors, padres and personnel from across the trades and branches, and from across the ranks and age range, make up this “rankless” team.
The purpose of this pilgrimage holiday is two-fold: firstly, children enjoy a powerful and often life-changing experience – ask them, not me! (See Annex); secondly, their devoted families receive a well earned week’s respite – for most, this is the first time they have spent time apart from their child…ever! What is key in Lourdes is that, in a world where difference can be a cause of tension or distress, each child’s uniqueness is celebrated and accepted with openness, joy and hope. This is the spirit and ethos of Lourdes, and of HCPT!
To prepare thoroughly for the huge responsibility of caring for children with differing and often complex needs all helpers and chaplains must undergo an intensive programme of mandatory training. This is stipulated by HCPT. Areas covered include: safeguarding, health and safety, risk assessment, care work, first aid and disabilities awareness, and an introduction to the religious aspects of the week. Helpers, in at least pairs, are allocated the child they will care for on the trip, and they will also be prepared for the particular special needs of their child.
From 24th – 26th February 2017 Sqn Ldr Olivia Steel and Padre Dave Skillen led the training weekend at RAF Halton for 50 personnel from all three Services. This was a huge success as helpers, old and new, got to know each other and received the required training. We would like to thank all who enabled this to happen: Gp Capt Brayshaw (Station Commander), Wg Cdr Stacey (OC Support Wing), Flt Lt Sumner, the Airman’s Command Squadron, the Accommodation Cell, the Maitland Mess, MT, C4i, the Security Services, and Holy Family Church.
The AFR HCPT is headed up by Capt Derek Swannick (RN). Tri-Service subgroups have their own Group Leaders and there are currently two Chaplains for the whole AFR – Regional Chaplain Fr David Yates (RN) and Deacon Dave Skillen (RAF).
We are all now ready and very much looking forward to this year’s pilgrimage. If you are interested in becoming a helper next year, or if you know of any Armed Forces family who might benefit from their child coming to Lourdes in the future, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can also check out the HCPT website: www.HCPT.org.uk to find out much more.
Padre Dave Skillen (RAF) – firstname.lastname@example.org