Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Lourdes, France is a one-of-a-kind kind of place.  For me, that is for two good reasons:

  1. It is the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette, a country girl with no education but a lot of faith.
  2. My mother and sister are both named after that site, where the “Virgin of Lourdes” appeared to Bernadette.

    grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

    The lower and upper basilicas from the Information Center

I suspect both my mom and sister have always wondered if they would ever go to that town in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.  Wouldn’t you want to go to the town where your name came from or is related to?  In their case, maybe more than just for the curiosity of being namesakes with the town but also on account of what happened there in the mid 19th century.

The apparition happened multiple times and the local clergy had initially been skeptical but, over time, became convinced of the validity of what Bernadette shared.  I will leave to other sources to explain the whole story but the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette on a grotto near the river.  Out of these events, water sprung from the site and waters of Lourdes are, to believers, holy waters.  People from all over the world come seeking healing or just a spiritual encounter.  Many drink the waters from the spring, bottle some to take home, or even immerse themselves in special pools set up near the grotto (we did all three).

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The grotto

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Fountains where bottles can be filled

When we first arrived in Lourdes from San Sebastian via Biarritz and Bayonne, I was expecting the narrow streets, crowded and me driving this larger vehicle through it all.  I knew I was near the hotel, the Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres, which I had picked due to its proximity to the Sanctuary of Lourdes to make all the walking to and fro easier for everyone, when all of a sudden I saw a parking sign for it, not where the GPS was indicating I needed to go.  Miraculously (pardon the pun), I caught a passing glimpse of the sign before I would have hit the heart of the crowded part of town!

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The back of our hotel

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Right outside of the Sanctuary – tourist shop chaos

The hotel was in the old style of a grand hotel.  It was nice enough but, unfortunately, the A/C was not working on our floor.  Hard to tell with French hotels whether they are just being stingy or whether it was true.  Certainly, at night the air cooled enough to be comfortable in the room but the noise from the street did not subside until the very wee hours of the morning – not the faithful partying, I am sure.  So that made the hotel not perfect.  But other than that, it did the job nicely enough.

We had dinner before heading in the early evening to the Sanctuary, the site with the grotto and several churches/basilicas, almost across the street from the hotel.  We knew there would be a torchlight procession at 9PM where the Holy Rosary is recited but we did not quite know the ‘mechanics’ of it.  So we sat on a bench to wait and what we missed was that we were supposed to walk towards the grotto and join the procession line.  But we witnessed the procession which brought a statue of the Virgin to the front steps of the Rosary Basilica (the lower one; the upper one that one sees more evidently is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or the Upper Basilica).  In the meantime, we did walk to the grotto for our first visit to the spot where the apparition took place.  The line was very short and it was always moving so it did not take long before we got to visit and say our prayers and intentions…

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The front of the lower basilica during the torchlight procession

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Grotto at night

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Statue of the Virgin carried during the torchlight procession

The next day, we had found out at the information center (located by one of the entrances to the complex) that there would be a Spanish Mass at 11 AM down the Esplanade at St. Joseph’s Chapel.  After attending that Mass we went into the underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive modern space completed in 1958 (it can hold 25,000 folk!).  I am not sure it is the type of church I feel most spiritual in but I suppose there is a need for it in this site?

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Information Center

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The Basilica of St. Pius X

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The lower and upper basilicas from across the Esplanade

We finished our exploring by visiting the Rosary Basilica and the Upper Basilica.  After that we went to the baths (or piscines) where one can immerse him- or herself in the holy spring waters.  The water was absolutely frigid so the miracle may be that my legs regained normal body temperature!  All joking aside, it was a very moving experience and we are grateful to the kind and helpful volunteers who give of themselves to help pilgrims…

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Detail of the facade of the lower basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The inside of the lower basilica

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Looking towards the Esplanade from the Upper Basilica

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Entrance to the baths or piscines

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Amazing to see all the people helping the sick, or malade, move around

Witnessing so many people wearing their faith ‘on their sleeve’ was powerful.  Our trip was actually not just due to curiosity, or even strictly to see a place where an important event in our faith took place.  Our trip was a real pilgrimage of thanksgiving and prayer for continued health in my family after a year-and-a-half of dealing with cancer…  The grotto and the holy waters of Lourdes carry a very special meaning for us, even more now that we have been so fortunate to visit this place…

 


 

Holy Week in Malta: A Wonderful Experience

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On this Good Friday, I recall a unique and quite accidental experience during Holy Week 2006.  We had traveled to Italy and were planning to experience Easter Mass at The Vatican.  Because of my friends had a colleague from the U.S. who was traveling back to his home country of Malta for Easter, we asked ourselves as we planned the trip, “Why not?  Let’s go to Malta for a couple of days!”.  So we took off for Malta after spending a few days enjoying Tuscany.

We spent 3 days in Malta including Holy Thursday and Good Friday.  Little did we know how vibrant the country’s Christian traditions for Holy Week were.  And we were lucky to get to experience them, among the other things we got to do in this Mediterranean island.

Holy Thursday – the Visits

On Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday), the faithful proceed to visit the Altars of Repose at seven different churches.  The altars are very decorated and we were handed leaflets with prayers for the visit.  We followed my friend’s colleague as led us to different churches across a couple of towns not far from Valletta.  He knew a lot of people in those towns so in between church visits, it was like a big social event, seeing family and friends.  I don’t know that the religious traditions began with that aspect in mind but it certainly seems to help keep the tradition alive as it gives people an opportunity to connect.

Malta, church, Catholic, Holy Week

Detail at one of the churches we visited

Good Friday

If the eve of Good Friday had, if I may, an enjoyable tone to it, Good Friday became a much  more somber occasion.  All over the islands, processions of the Cross are conducted with locals portraying the various Biblical people surrounding the life of Jesus Christ and Jesus himself.

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Locals playing the people of the Holy Land

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Some of the personnages of the times

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Jesus beginning the procession

In addition to these, others participate to atone for their sins.  They are dressed completely in white, head to toe, and carry crosses of different sizes, depending on the level of atonement they are pursuing (I presume, how big and many their sins?).  It was my understanding these people were really using the Good Friday remembrance as an act of their penance.  Impressive.

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Believers carrying their cross, literally and figuratively

And then there are the spectators.  We went to the old town of Żebbuġ (Zubbug; means “olives” in Maltese), where our host was from.  He had arranged for seats to be reserved for us on a sidewalk in front of a building that I suppose his family owned or had a business at.  Ourselves and many other spectators (most local but quite a few tourists too) sat and watched this procession.

Malta, church, Catholic, Holy Week, Zubbug, procession, Good Friday, photo, travel, tradition

Carriage taking the body of Christ

These experiences certainly helped me connect more with the Maltese and also, during this vacation, kept me grounded and connected to my own faith.  Both were quite unexpected – which is the biggest joy of travel:  discovering something you had not planned or even were aware of.   Eċċellenti, Malta!

Photo of the Week: Pope In-motion Emotion

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In the fast-paced moments after a Papal audience has ended, the Pope-mobile revs up its engine (The Vatican’s equivalent of something Schumacher or Jeff Gordon or Ricky Bobby would drive) and begins circulating around St. Peter’s Square.

It must be surreal to the Pope-du-jour, especially having to do this week after week (except when the audiences are held indoors).  At least, it surely would be to me if I were Pope…  Now, I am sure these men do it because they know what it means to the faithful pilgrims and the non-believer/believer celebrity chasers visiting Rome.  But it still must become routine.  I am writing this AFTER Pope Francis who has broken a lot of the rules and patterns – who knows what he will do with this drive-around one fine day when he is just tired of it!  This Holiness probably much rather be walking around, mingling, drinking some “mate” or, at minimum, a Mendoza wine.  In any case, it is quite the scene.  Getting to St. Pete’s Square early enough and knowing the key “intersections” where the Pope-mobile will go through is key.

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What I love about this picture is a mix of the camera-happy crowd, the Pope-mobile, a corner of the Pope (Benedict XVI, in this case), and the emotion captured in the reflection of that bullet-proof glass.  Regardless of your position vis-à-vis the Pope, etc. I hope you appreciate, as I do, the human emotion captured in that bullet-proof glass.  Whether it be about a Pope, about voodoo, about a piece of bacon, about having 6-pack abs, or about saving dolphins, every human being has something that grabs them and makes them tick.  This pic does it for me because, even if it is not technically superb, it shows human joy about being close to what is normally an unreachable.

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