Visiting Lourdes for the first time as a sick pilgrim was quite an experience. Certainly the pilgrimage lived up to its reputation as a place of healing where the sick and disabled were at the very centre of care.
As well as Deacon Mike having a roller, Ann whose Parkinson`s was playing up, had a wheelchair as well. We were pushed by two generous and strong rollers for whom nothing was too much. “We’re here to look after you,” they repeated and they did. One of the greatest lessons that Lourdes teaches is as well as giving unconditional love we have to learn to be objects of unconditional love.
Saturday saw the opening Mass at the Rosary Basilica and the blessing of the helper’s hands. As usual, the sick were right at the front, as they were at the International Mass in the great modern Pope Pius X Basilica which hundreds attended and we were able to watch East Anglian priests and deacons celebrate and assist at Mass.
In the evening, we were rolled up onto the ramp for the torchlight procession and Ann and Mike were invited to join the choir which responded in Latin, French, German, Italian, English, Dutch, Irish, Portuguese and Vietnamese as the procession wound its way to the ramp where Deacon Mike was privileged to recite the Hail Mary for the English section of the decade.
On Monday, we went to the cathedral of the trees – a very moving experience where Deacon Mike became re-acquainted with Catherine whom he had known when he was a helper and porter at the Accueil (the hospital for weaker pilgrims).
At two o’clock we had a penitential service at the far end of the basilica with private confession with all the priests and bishops being available. “Do not let fear keep us apart so we may sleep secure with peace and may faithfulness be our joy.” The message of healing pervaded each service, not curing but making whole, learning to live with our gifts even if those gifts were not ones we had considered them to be previously. Brother Lawrence came to mind considering each happening as a mark of God’s favour.
On Tuesday, we attended the Grotto Mass and in the front row were the Glanfield Group of severely handicapped children and young adults. Heart-rendingly beautiful were the young volunteers, mostly in their late teens who carried, comforted and cared for the most afflicted and gave respite to the parents. Ann met James, the same age as our grandson, who was severely handicapped but loved music, especially Frank Sinatra, so certain new hymns were created under cover of the official ones.
On Wednesday we went to the Baths where post-covid the practice followed Bernadette’s visit. We were offered water to wash our hands, our faces and to drink. Ann had bought three large candles and these we lit for the parish, our family and the prison as promised. The next day we went to Bartres to Bernadette’s church where Deacon Mike was privileged to proclaim the Gospel.
On Thursday, August 25, we had anointing of the sick at St Bernadette’s church, followed by the lighting of the beautiful diocesan candle. At two o’clock we had our thanksgiving Mass with full participation of the Glanfield Group. Deacon Mike read the Gospel of the man born blind, not because of sin but so he could be the object of unconditional love.
So our pilgrimage ended with a reinforcement of Lourdes being a place where we are made whole, where we learn to accept, as Our Lady did, God’s grace. To put those most in need first, to not be afraid to love, to be channels of God’s love and to recognise that along with Mary and Bernadette we have a message to proclaim.
Thank God and all who made our pilgrimage possible.
Pictured above are Ann (front) and Mike Vipond, to Ann’s right, in Lourdes. Picture by Jean Gray.