The Cursillo annual pilgrimage to Knock will forever hold a special place in Charlie McDaid’s heart.
In 2003, Charlie’s youngest daughter, Charlene, was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Tests concluded that Charlene had to undergo an operation. Charlie could do nothing but pray.
Six months after her surgery, Charlene accompanied her father on the gruelling 132 mile trek to the Co. Mayo town of Knock.
“This is a special pilgrimage,” said Charlie just before the group set out on their 25th annual Cursillo walk to Knock on Wednesday.
“I’ve seen amazing things happen on this walk, it’s almost impossible to put into words. If you’ve done the walk over the years, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about,” he added.
Cursillo is an apostolic movement which originates from Majorca in Spain. The word ‘cursillo’ is Spanish for course; the movement was initially set up by laymen when trying to refine a method to train pilgrimage Christian leaders in the 1940s.
The Derry branch of Cursillo celebrated the 25th anniversary of their annual walk to Knock on Wednesday afternoon and they will complete the arduous trek at around 3pm this afternoon.
“I look forward to this every year,” said Letterkenny woman Bridie Doherty.
“I embarked on my first pilgrimage to Knock 18 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.
“I just love coming on the walk with all the people of Derry - they are very kind and I have made some amazing friends.
I get on really well with all of the young ones - they keep me in good spirits and the kindness you experience along the way is amazing too,” added Bridie before setting off from the grounds of St. Eugene’s Cathedral.
Men and women of all ages emerged from the Cathedral after a short nine o’clock Mass and after a few photos and several farewell hugs and kisses about 50 walkers pulled on fluorescent jackets and set off down the driveway towards Frances Street.
“I’ve been a member of Cursillo for years but this is my second ever walk to Knock,” said Omagh woman Ann Pearson.
“All you have to do is look around you to see just how good a mood everyone is in. I always wondered what doing the walk would be like and it wasn’t until I actually did it that I realised its true meaning.
“It’s a hard feeling to put into words but it’s a feeling that’s worth every blister and bead of sweat,” smiled Ann.
The young people taking part in this year’s milestone walk were easy to find as they were in such abundance but off to the side of the main group stood Connie Martin.
Connie is one of the original 28 people who took part in the original Cursillo walk in 1988. Over 130 are involved in this year’s walk.
“I think it’s fantastic to see so many young people taking part in the walk. We had an 82 year-old man take part last year too.
The diversity of the walker helps to make the walk very special.
“It’s a spiritual pilgrimage first and foremost but we always manage to have plenty of craic along the way.
“Some people play music, others sing but when you reach Knock on the Sunday - it’s a feeling like no other,” smiled Connie.