The Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes (HNDL) a Roman Catholic religious confraternity under the spiritual authority of the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, and works closely with the Rector of the Sanctuaries and his pastoral team. The HNDL (and each of its sections) is governed by a President and a council. It is active in Lourdes during the main pilgrimage season (which normally lasts from Easter until November), and it also provides people to welcome pilgrims at the Piscines (Baths) during the winter. The HNDL was founded in 1885, and through its work aims to pass on the ‘message of Lourdes’. Members, known in French as hospitaliers, strive to do this not only in Lourdes but also in their home parishes and institutions, for the good of the church and the world.
Six million visitors a year are welcomed by the volunteers who work in the sanctuaries of Lourdes. Some of these volunteers work in the Forum-Information Centre welcoming individual pilgrims and small groups. Other volunteers work in the Youth service, or give of their time and talent in one of the pavilion tents around the Domaine. However, the largest group of volunteers (16,000 of them) is known as the Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes (Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes). In the past a ‘Hospitality’ was a charitable organisation whose aim was to gather, accommodate and feed the less fortunate in a hostel or hospital. Today the Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes (HNDL) builds on that tradition, welcoming pilgrims to Lourdes (especially, but not only, the sick and disabled), and assisting at religious ceremonies. It is an organisation of pilgrims at the service of other pilgrims and Our Lady.
All Hospitalités around the world are connected to the HNDL.
A period of service with the Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes is known as a ‘Stage’. The name 'Stage' comes from the French for 'work experience'. Those on Stage are often known as ‘stagiaires’ or more recently ‘hospitaliters auxiliaries’. The HNDL encourages people to do a Stage lasting at least 6 days.
The Stage is open to new helpers aged between 18 and 75 (though 65 is the maximum age for someone to do their first Stage with a view to making their ‘engagement’ as a member of the Hospitalité on their fifth Stage). Doing a Stage requires dedication, a willingness to serve, and a certain maturity of character (though that doesn’t mean dullness). Stage offers tremendous satisfaction and opportunities to enjoy life in a group.
No special skills are required to be on stage, just a willingness to serve, and a desire to enter into the 'spirit of Lourdes'. Note that if you have specific restrictions which for example may not enable you to lift someone, this is not a problem, as there are plenty of other things to do; just make sure your "limitations?!" are known. (Some of the best hospitaliers are physically disabled in some way)
It is also not necessary to speak French, though a basic knowledge of that or any other language is of course useful. Any languages that a stagier feels confident about speaking can be indicated on their badge by flags. Note that the flag indicates a Language, not a nationality,so there should be no need for American, Irish, Belgian or Swiss badges, although these are to be seen.
During the first four years, stagiaires must take part in the 'Formation' (a type of Stage training, formerly known as ‘école’) twice in the week. This provides both practical training, and an overview of the spirituality of Lourdes. The Formation classes are taught in English, when an English speaking formateur is present (which is usually the case). There are no exams and plenty of opportunity for interaction and discussion. Usual topics for discussion include: our attitudes to the sick; the symbolism of the grotto and its water; a tour of the places where Bernadette lived; the history of the domain; Christian approaches to suffering; etc.
The first Stage is known as the 'année d’accueil’ (reception year). After this volunteers become a 'hospitalier auxiliaire’, for years 2, 3 and 4. After the reception year and three stages of formation Christians can apply in their 4th year to make an engagement into the Hospitalité. The following year (5th), after approval from the Council, volunteers are presented with the silver medal on blue ribbon. This is a sign that the volunteer has made a promise to commit to the service of the sick, specifically by coming on stage regularly. This medal is a dedication, not a decoration, and a sign that the volunteer is at the service of anyone who may visit Lourdes. This isn’t the end of the service, but the beginning of a deeper commitment.
Once a volunteer has become a ‘titulaire’ member of the HNDL, they are asked to pay an annual €15 ‘cotisation’ to help cover administrative costs and pay for the Lettre de l’Hospitalité which members receive three times a year. The new member in the UK may also become a member of the British Hospitality Trust and be invited to an annual reunion in the winter. The "cotisation" in Britain may be paid to the British Hospitality Trust, which is a charity, so any tax may be reclaimed. The money gained is used to pay for things of use to the Hospitalite at Lourdes.
Many British pilgrimages have their own stage group, for example the Catholic Association Pilgrimage who run two groups in May and August. Ampleforth run a Stage group in June, Hexham run a stage group in May,and SOLL run a stage group in September. There is also an Oxford and Cambridge stage group.
American hospitalite groups come over in ever increasing numbers with the North American Volunteers, or with the order of the Knights of Malta.
Anyone who wishes to become a stagiaire as a step towards becoming a hospitalier needs only get a letter of introduction from his parish priest, or any hospitalier, and send it to HNDL Lourdes, BP 197, LOURDES 65106 CEDEX, France complete with a demande de stage which can be found on the British Hospitalite trust webpage. Accommodation can be booked using this form.