We arrive excitedly tired to a joyful welcome by our faithful volunteers. We come from different places in our lives and differing locales across the United States. We are each drawn in a mysterious way, like Bernadette, through grace, to this very holy place.
At Lourdes Volunteers, we long ago learned that the Mother of God has the passenger manifest with all the names clearly listed before some of us thought about coming to Lourdes or any of us knew it was really possible to visit the Grotto this week or to ever come to France at all.
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An advance team of selfless volunteers arrived from the US a few days before us to prepare our place. Our Franciscan University student volunteers traveled from Gaming, Austria, to help us and sing to us throughout our stay. We flew in from New York-JFK and from Washington-Dulles to meet in Paris changing planes to fly together to southern France.
Our plane couldn’t land in Pau. We were forced to land in Lourdes—our adventure begins! We are delighted to be helped off the plane by Hospitalite Notre-Dame friends. Our dedicated helpers change airports to assist us onto our coach.
Our volunteer team welcomes us at the Accueil Notre-Dame and settles us in. This uniquely specialized handicap accessible facility overlooks the Grotto. This is where Pope John Paul II stayed in 2004, not as the Holy Father on a papal visit, but as a pilgrim nearing the end of his journey here on earth. What a beautiful example for us to follow—to make a prayerful pilgrimage to a place of our Mother in Heaven, like a visit to Mom before we make the final journey home—from this world to the other world.
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We are enveloped in the comforting embrace of our Heavenly Mother—wrapped in the warmth of a cashmere blanket of grace. Hand-made prayer blankets await us folded neatly on our bed. Our Lady knew we were coming. Our blanket was made for us by someone we don’t know who prayed for us before we knew we would be in Lourdes. Quilted, knitted or crocheted, each blanket is made with love in prayer to keep us warm in the fall nights of the Pyrenees Mountains and to capture our pilgrimage memories for safekeeping to reflect upon when we return home.
Our name really was long ago put on the manifest by Our Lady.
A reluctant summer surrenders to the autumn frost in a vibrant display of bejeweled colors. We can’t miss the beauty of God in His creations.
We love it when Our Lady introduces us to her friends! Getting to know one another we realize we are meant to discover and learn to live the Message of Lourdes helping each other along the way to find grace, to be family—to see Christ in each other—to be Christ for each other—to know love—to live love. As opportunities of charity arise, we are moved by the generosity of those allowing us to serve them and those who serve. We are mirrors of Christ’s love for us to each other.
Holy Wake Up Call! Bells chime over the intercom at 7:00 a.m. and the lovely ladies sing the Hail Mary to wake us each morning. Better than a blaring alarm clock or someone yelling “get up!” It’s like the graciousness of Our Lady speaking to Bernadette, “Would you be so kind as to come here…?” so we hear ‘would you be so kind as to wake up and come to the French breakfast we have prepared to serve you?’
Bells ringing and angels singing—it is like Heaven—this must be a little taste of the other world! Our volunteer helpers “die” to themselves to make our breakfast and sing to us—a little foretaste of Heaven for us!
We are all a witness to holiness in each other and it helps us to want to be holy, too. We hope to be more loving, gracious, more kind, to bring a little Heaven into our family, where we live, to everyone we will meet.
We are family! We eat together. We laugh and cry with each other. We help one another get about and do the everyday little things of life like sipping good coffee with new friends after shopping for a holy treasure for someone back home. We become a true pilgrimage family, united in prayer. We promise to continue to pray together and for each other even after we return home. We are one big praying family now!
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What can we do to make a little Heaven for someone today?
We have discovered on pilgrimage that nothing happens or is presented before us that isn’t lined with grace. Often hidden from ready view, we can encounter grace in every situation and in each person we meet—if we look closely inside, in prayer, God will surely reveal the opportunity for graces awaiting us in everything.
Grace upon grace. Let us choose to seek out grace…
Pray for sinners.
This is our new vocation.
We learn the Message of Lourdes: conversion through prayer and penance.
Please begin with me: help me, change my heart, please help this poor sinner.
We encounter Bernadette following in her footsteps of simplicity and humility.
We seek her simple secret to holiness–prayer and penance—to love without measure.
Please help us, St. Bernadette, to desire the Holy Eucharist like you did.
St. Bernadette, please pray for us poor sinners, help us to be humble like you.
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We are doubly blessed with priests for spiritual direction and to guide us with the Gospel Message of Lourdes in their homilies.
At Wednesday International Mass in the St. Pius X Underground Basilica, our Pilgrimage Chaplain, Father Joseph, reads the Gospel in and our Volunteer Chaplain, Father Rudnik, prays at Consecration.
Jamie, Special Needs Advisory Committee, reads the St. Bernadette prayer. At first reluctant, he is unsure he will be able to read aloud. He perseveres and everyone hears him lead 25,000 of us faithful in prayer:
Lord, please help us to follow the example of St. Bernadette by our way of living and loving and in the way we seek opportunities to serve You and one another.
R: Lord, hear our prayer.
St. Bernadette, please help us continue when it is hard, when we’re afraid, to outstretch our comfort to bring Christ to others, to find Christ in each other and to be Christ to one another.
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The center of the charism of Lourdes Volunteers is love. Our charism is expressed as family and in charity. When we live in our charism, love is evident in who we are, in what we do, in how we do it and to those we encounter, especially at home while living everyday family life.
Most of us were delighted by the small everyday gestures of loving care throughout our pilgrimage journey. We were enriched by the faith-in-action of the volunteers in service.
At our farewell meeting, Anne told Deedra, her dedicated companion:
“I don’t understand how, but I truly love you—and I don’t even know you. And I wouldn’t say this to you if I didn’t really mean it!”
All of us knew what she said genuine, really true and truly real.
Authentic love mirrored in the image of Christ was present amongst our pilgrimage family, especially in the little things of every day. We lived it. We take this love home, the experience of learning and living the Gospel Message of Lourdes to share with those we meet along our pilgrimage journey of life from here on out—from this world to the other.
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Bernadette still teaches us. After leaving Lourdes for her new home in the Convent to never return, in her heart she continued to visit the Grotto for five minutes each day. She closed her eyes and placed herself in her beloved Grotto. For some of us, it’s easier to do this if we use a photo to recall the details of the rock, for some, it’s easier to hear the prayers or smell the early morning dew of our Mass with Father Joseph.
Retreat to the Grotto in your heart, listen to our Heavenly Mother, our tender mom who never fails us, always loving us, providing all the maternal love we need to brings us to her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s go to the Grotto from wherever we are and pray together…
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