Disabled pensioner’s pilgrimage to Lourdes

SHE has conquered one of the steepest hills in north London to raise money for her church, and now she is setting out on a pilgrimage to take on France

Tan Parsons

SHE has conquered one of the steepest hills in north London to raise money for her church, and now she is setting out on a pilgrimage to take on France.

Disabled pensioner Fieke van den Berg raised £11,000 for St Joseph's Church in Highgate Hill last month by performing a sponsored mile-long trek from Archway underground station up to Pond Square and then back to the church.

Now she has decided to take on a similar challenge in September on the other side of the Channel when she travels to Lourdes to celebrate the holy festival the Feast of Our Lady.

"The walk in Highgate took me two hours and 40 minutes. I had to have a break when I got to Pond Square - they wouldn't let me carry on until I had had a coffee," said Ms van den Berg, 76.

The pensioner suffers from ataxia and has virtually no sense of balance, which makes it extremely hard for her to walk distances of more than six feet. Her normal mode of transport is a motorised buggy when she is in Highgate on her rounds.

Most Read

"I was scared when I set off from Archway because it was incredibly windy and I was being blown from all directions. I did no training whatsoever and it was just prayer that got me through," she said.

"I don't remember much of the second part of the walk and I don't have any recollection of finishing at all. It was exhausting - absolute agony and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

"It was a bit like my own version of the London Marathon. I could see a pair of feet in front of me but I didn't know who they belonged to or what I was doing by that stage. In fact it was my brother and Fr Mark who were walking one in front of me and one behind me in case I fell over."

So far she has raised about £11,000 in sponsorship for her feat - almost four times the amount the church predicted she would make.

"I'm so pleased at how it's just taken off," she said. "When I thought about doing it originally I hoped I might make a few hundred pounds just to make it worth while."

Ms van den Berg is getting used to people coming up to her in her motorised buggy and giving her money after reading about her in the Ham&High.

Some of the cash she has raised will go towards the everyday maintenance of St Joseph's, but the bulk of it will go towards the restoration of the church organ.

"I sing at the church so it's very nice that the money is going towards the organ. It needs a lot of loving care," she said.

Every year Ms van den Berg visits Lourdes to help other people, and looking ahead to this year's visit she is planning a route for her next sponsored walk.

"I will need a route with lots of walls to hold on to and help keep my balance. I just want to say a huge thank you to so many incredibly generous people who have sponsored me," she said.

Anyone wishing to sponsor Ms van den Berg or contribute to her cause should send a cheque payable to St Joseph's to St Joseph's Church, Highgate Hill, London, N19 5NE.