On World Children’s Day each year my thoughts are always taken to the children with whom I have had the great privilege to travel on holiday at Easter to the pilgrimage shrine of Lourdes as a volunteer helper with Hosanna House and Children’s Pilgrimage Trust (HCPT) over 35 years.
One particular memory however from many years back which never fails to make me laugh in the daily image conscious world of digital social and business platforms comes from a photograph where event and interpretation did not align.
Art students from Edinburgh travelled with us in order that they could undertake a portrait diary of the week as part of their final year project. They were to capture moments which summed up the essence of the place and the pilgrimage. The winner was to have their successful work displayed in the National Portrait Gallery as I remember.
That year I was caring for and accompanying an 11 year old girl with ADHD. She lived at home with her dad and 2 younger siblings and coming away from home was going to present the challenge of being introduced to new experiences. After 3 days and nights, which included making a run for freedom at the beach, flicking the hotel room light switch on and off for hours and finding joy in working away the rubber on numerous luminous moon crater shaped balls until she could bite them open, we were excused from our group’s photo slot with the students as it would be too patience consuming for my young friend. I was therefore spared the earlier than usual wake-up call for the application of makeup and in any event my young friend had decided that she would accompany me and some others to the famous Baths in Lourdes that morning, having resolutely decided the night before it was not for her.
She had no hesitation in expressing very loudly her feelings when she felt the temperature of the water in the Baths which remains one of my top “Lourdes moments” of all times. While I was still in the Baths, a helper from another group whom she knew gave her one of the now banned luminous crater balls which I had withdrawn from circulation in our group, the night before because I did not want the liquid to find its way into her mouth.
Simultaneously, my group leader had undergone a change of heart and that as “it was all about the kids” (quite rightly so) everyone was to participate in the photo shoot. She had calculated that timing meant we could just nip in last so there was no waiting. My young friend immediately positioned herself in front of the Basilica’s grey stone wall in a pose clasping her hands together like an angel in prayer. I was asked to assume the pose of placing my arms around her arms from behind and placing my hands on hers. She liked hugs and bubble baths so having disappointed her on the bath front that morning, I could at least make up on the hug front. Just as the shutter clicked however, I realised that my young friend’s pose had been struck because her hands were around and hiding from me, the newly gifted rubber ball, which my hand was just discovering at the moment of capture…the subsequent bolt from the embrace to the waiting arms of the group leader and surrender of the trophy remained off camera.
The week continued with more escapades and adventures and it is fair to say that it was a week which ended with the kind of joyous exhaustion that you can only experience on a HCPT Pilgrimage, where as one child once gave as his feedback, “I felt all were equal and no one was different.”
Some months later however I was informed that judges of the competition had determined that our portrait photo summed up the essence and spirit of the HCPT week in Lourdes. The judges had seen the logo for the charity and felt that the student had mirrored it in our portrait which was also devoid of all the externals of the pilgrimage site. It was felt to be “a moment of deep intimacy” between helper and child...
I wonder what the post-portrait capture events would have shown for posterity? Certainly it reminds me to never think that a photo tells the whole story but on World Children’s Day it is a joy to be part of a charity where we too promote international togetherness through sharing joy, friendship and love.
Siobhan Kelly, Head of our Family Law team, has dedicated a decade of service to the Hosanna House and Children's Pilgrimage Trust charity as a trustee, in addition to having held the position of Head of Safeguarding. Her commitment to the charity extends nearly 35 years, a testament to her dedication to the cause. Siobhan eagerly anticipates the Easter 2024 adventure with the group.