EIGHTEEN years ago, when Liz Zamitt’s daughter was only a few weeks old , she found herself crippled with chronic arthritis which left her in so much pain that there were days she struggled to get out of bed.
Feeling ‘exceptionally low’ and increasingly desperate, Liz said it was fate that sent her old friend Anna Dillon to her front door.
Because for more than 40 years Anna has been helping the sick and of the North West to travel to Lourdes on pilgrimage through her work with the Derry Trust Fund.
“I was in my mother’s house and feeling very low when I saw Anna walk past my front door. I called to my mother to get her because I knew then she had been sent to me.”
Liz soon found herself on one of the Trust Fund’s pilgrimages to Lourdes, where Our Lady is said to offer hope and healing.
“Healing comes in all different forms,” Liz said, “For me, when I go, I get a sense of peace. It is hard to explain but when I go and I am there in front of the Grotto I feel a great sense of calm, even though there may be hundreds or thousands of people around me.
“My visits to Lourdes give me the strength to face whatever the following year may throw at me - the spiritual healing they offer me is remarkable.”
It is exactly this kind of response which has encouraged Anna Dillon, along with the other workers in the Derry Trust Fund to continue to send people out to Lourdes year in and year out. She estimates that over the years they have sent thousands of local people out to France and she has no plans to sit back and retire.
“People need hope. What Lourdes is about is offering that hope - it offers people a focus. It is comforting to know that even in these times when so many feel let down by the Church that people still turn to their true faith and to Our Lady for what comfort they can,” Anna said. “Faith can provide a great comfort - even when medically there is nothing more than can be done and everyone needs that comfort and hope. - if just to have the strength to carry on.”
The Derry Trust fund was initially set up by Anna’s late husband, musician Dessie Dillon who used to raise money at his gigs to help send people on pilgrimage.
Since then it has grown and expanded and Anna, along with Liz, singer Maureen Hegarty and a host of volunteers and nurses are now seeking to send three or four pilgrimages a year out to France. “My daughter Katrina has bought and converted a building out in Lourdes where our pilgrims will be able to stay when we go out now. It will be like going from home to home and hopefully with the reduced cost of the accommodation we will be able to go out more frequently and bring more people out,” Anna explained.
As well as fundraising to arrange pilgrimages - at the cost of £400 per person - the Derry Trust Fund has also helped fund a kidney dialysis machine in Lourdes and local volunteers have also been knitting blankets to be donated to the local hospital.
“We took more 100 blankets the last time we went out,” Anna explained. “One of my most emotional moments at Lourdes is when we attended the blessing of the sick the last time we were out and we saw the sick brought in, many of them with blankets knitted by Derry people.”
“It is the people of Derry who have supported us and kept us going and allowed us to achieve so much.
“We want to thank them for their continuing support.”
To offer your support to the Derry Trust Fund, or volunteer your services with fundraising call Liz on 71341205.