At the end of May a small group of us from St. Mary’s journeyed to Lourdes in France for a short five day pilgrimage. In the early days of my priesthood I used to travel there very frequently but it had been six years since my last visit. Not a lot has changed in Lourdes, there is still the tacky plastic commercialisation of the place with a thousand shops selling everything from plastic statues to pricey gold medals. The hotels have certainly improved and offer a good standard of accommodation for the in excess of five million people who throng there each year, pilgrims have to be fed and have a decent place to stay. Once you step through the gates of the sanctuary area the tackiness is left behind and the plastic Jesus yields to the real thing.
The magic of the place is somehow exemplified in the torchlight procession which takes place every evening from the Grotto area and proceeds around the demesne finishing up in front of the Rosary Basilica. Here many thousands of visitors from all parts of the world walk in solidarity carry a candle of faith and praying the rosary as the procession winds its way to Rosary Square. To hear the Lourdes Ave sung by many thousands is a wonderful experience and gives a great realisation of the unifying nature of the universal church. There are always hundreds of wheelchairs pushed in the procession and the special chariot chairs from the Hospital in Lourdes where sick pilgrims are accommodated; in Lourdes the sick are the VIP’s, the whole place is geared towards their ease of access and primacy of place.
Seeing so many sick in one place, and some seriously so, is a sobering sight and certainly makes you feel that you have no right to grumble. These sick people are cared for by an army of volunteers who accompany the pilgrimages, many of whom are young people – it’s a lovely thing to witness.
In the afternoon the great underground Basilica of St. Pius X fills for the Blessed Sacrament procession, it is here that the sick are blessed in a special way, and it is here that many have found healing. There have been 63 medically attested miracles since the apparitions of Our Lady in 1858, but for some years now the medical bureau that examined such miraculous cures has been closed down, since no more proof is needed. Apart from the physical healings many people have experienced great spiritual and mental healing in Lourdes and people wavering in the faith have had a shot in the arm, so to speak. It is a place of prayer where I always have a great sense of the Lord’s presence.
You can make an electronic visit to the grotto at Lourdes through the live 24 hour webcam https://youtu.be/dWVHAntN6k4 and now that Ryanair are flying there with scheduled flights a few days needn’t cost a fortune. It’s a great trip!
Fr. Philip Curran