Spring Pilgrimage ~ Lourdes

An unusual sky greeted our pilgrimage this late afternoon, and I thought of how the sky might have looked when Bernadette Soubirous saw our Blessed Lady back in 1858.

We stopped only momentarily at the Alba Hotel, at the foot of mountains in the City of Lourdes, where we received our luggage, then rushed to the Grotto.  It was already dark, but we were compelled to the site.  It was a few blocks away.  We walked fast.

At the Grotto there were people everywhere, crowds and lines of people.  They were hushed and prayerful.  They moved slowly. The famous image and cave was before us.  Little Bernadette had narrated what happened on February 11th, 1858:  "I saw a lady dressed in white.  She wore a white dress and a white veil with a blue sash and a yellow rose on each of her feet.  Her rosary was yellow too …"  There were many more apparitions of Our Lady at this location.  Her main message was to "pray and repent."

Although it was the end of a very long day, and there was a chilling breeze in the air, people were not interested in leaving.  We felt to home.  We had arrived.

Mary Moore and I talked late into the night and missed our morning wake-up call, then rushed to breakfast.  Our group of pilgrims met in the plaza at the foot of the prominent statute of Our Lady of Lourdes, Crowned.  She stands in front of the three Basilicas, one built above the other,  It is a phenomenal structure, an awesome sight.

It might be easier to see the three levels of churches from this angle.  The top church with the spires and  bell tower is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  The middle level with the jagged back edging into the cliff is the Crypt.  The Crypt was the first building in response to Our Lady's request:  "I wish a shrine to be built in this place."  The Grotto is located directly below the Crypt, at street level.  In the forefront, with its entrance at street level, is the Basilica of the Rosary.

And then, totally out of sight, below the campus of the Shrine is a huge underground church that holds 30,000 people.   Called the Basilica of St. Pius X, it was consecrated in 1958.  You can see priests sitting at the base of each pillar that surrounds the perimeter, hearing confessions of the pilgrims.

This underground basilica, "a daring work of colossal proportions," has the form of a ship turned upside down.

Father Bob and Father Stan said Mass for our group in a side room of the Saint Bernadette Church, another basilica at the Shrine to help handle the huge numbers of pilgrims.

Lee LaBore was our reader.  Framed stained glass was novel in warm colors, traditional in scene.

As the prominent and towering edifice at the Shrine pointed to the heavens, so our minds also turned  in that direction.  Construction of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (top church) began in 1866 and was completed in 1871.  It holds 600 people.

As we waited to view a video about Bernadette and Lourdes, Father Stan visited with some sisters from the Philippines.  Pilgrims come from all over the world.  The rosary and benediction prayers were said in many different languages.

Then we got to see the Grotto in daylight.  Every day, during the pilgrimage season, morning Masses are concelebrated in the various languages here at the Grotto.  We attended a Mass here concelebrated by Father Stan.  Here is where I prayed for people by name, as promised, as I walked next to the spring waters in the cave below the image, and ran my fingers along the entire span of stone wall.

The Grotto is located at the base of this photo behind the greenery.  You really need an aerial view to see it all together.

The center of the great plaza is dominated by the statue of Our Lady Crowned.  It dates from 1877.  This was most often the meeting place for our group when we were re-grouping.

Pilgrims place bouquets of flowers in the decorative fencing at the base of the Crowned Lady.

A little further down the campus is the Breton Calvary, encircled during the candlelight procession.

Mary and I went to confession in that long building at the right, where dozens of priests sat in little rooms with their language identified on the door. 

After a little shopping and filling souvenir bottles with water from the spring at the Grotto, we stopped at a sidewalk café called "The Little Flower" for pizza and wine.

Our hotel seemed a little further away that afternoon.

The hazy sky portends of things to come, but it does not keep people away.  Hundreds of volunteers pulled sick people in blue buggies to the shrine.

Many pilgrims, including some in our group, took baths in the Lourdes water.  I did not, but I drank lots of it.  Cold.  Refreshing.  Cleansing.

Mass was being held in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  The main reason we stepped inside at this time was because of the drenching pouring rain outside.

Thank you, Father Stan, and Jim Lambert for encouraging us to make the Way of the Cross despite the inclement weather.  The bigger than life bronze stations told the story without words.

The mixture of rain and sunlight lent to the message of sorrow and joy in the life of Our Lord.

Both Father Bob and Father Stan gave an extemporaneous witness and inspiration at each of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross.

The Way of the Cross was more difficult for some than others.  The steep incline took us 500 feet higher than the Grotto just below us.

When it thundered, we gasped and shivered.  "And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last.  The multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts."  I imagined the rending of the temple curtain.  I waited for the earth to quake.

From the 13th Station of the Cross we looked out onto the high mountains.  The Lord hears the cry of the poor.  Blessed be His Holy Name.

Then Joseph of Aramithea took down the body of Jesus, wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

The candlelight procession that evening was particularly moving, as thousands of pilgrims prepared to move around the plaza, praying the rosary in different languages, walking with the Body of Christ through life's difficult and winding ways. 

Can it be said too often that life is a journey, a pilgrimage, towards God, together with others?

For He has regarded the lowly state of His handmaiden; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

And Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus."

The candles did, indeed, seem to walk and sing.

Our final Mass together as pilgrims was in a side chapel at the main Basilica at Lourdes.

I've been told that Kings of the Old Testament were introduced along with their mother, the Queen Mother.  So, too, in the New Testament is the King of Heaven and Earth, the Messiah, introduced with His mother, Our Lady.  The Royal Son and the Queen Mother make quite a pair, and we made quite a pilgrimage.  This crown signifying love, honor, and respect is visible even from a distance, in above photos of the Basilica.  A synopsis of the pilgrimage, with an entirely new view, is also online as the front page story in the June 2006 issue of the Victoria Gazette.

The End

Love, Sue

Email:  Sue@PrintsPublishing.com
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