When my son heard a trip to Lourdes was on my bucket list he said, “Mom, go as a volunteer.” Great idea. I typed: Lourdes volunteer, clicked, arrived at the cyber home of North American Lourdes Volunteers and after reading about their mission and accomplishments, decided to join them in October 2017.

Our NALV group numbered over 100 new and returning doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, priests, deacons, university students, advanced volunteers, and companions with our special-needs pilgrims. I felt I walked among God’s finest!

One pilgrim was a high school student named Raoul who came to Lourdes from Florida. He was vocally challenged and wheelchair bound, yet he owned a remarkable spirit and a musical gift.

I first noticed Raoul during the NALV information meeting. President Fran Salaun had just explained the availability of Confessions in the Sanctuary and how the act of confessing “gets the junk off our shoulders” when Raoul responded with a spontaneous “YEAH!”. His energy was uplifting.

The next day when our group was asked to form a choir for Mass in the Rosary Basilica, Raoul’s hand skyrocketed first. During Mass, Raoul clearly and loudly sang the last syllable of every word at the end of the line in every hymn. After Mass, Raoul talked about his dream. He badly wanted to sing in the chorus of his high school musical but the musical director kept saying he needs performance experience. Ironically, Lourdes gave Raoul exactly what he needed, and so much more.

Looking back, I believe we all experienced a personal transformation.  I know I did.

For me, living 10 days in Lourdes was like walking in a never-ending Miracle! I was struck with a profound renewal of faith through the realization that here in Lourdes in 1858 the Mother of God actually appeared in the unsightly setting of a grotto in Massabeille, conversed with a sickly peasant girl, and left behind proof of her divine visit.

At the very site where Our Lady asked Bernadette to dig in dry dirt and wash in the spring, over 30,000 gallons of Lourdes water flow each day! And from Our Lady’s request to the parish priests to build a chapel and conduct processions, over 6,000,000 pilgrims of all religions and nationalities come together in song and prayer each year!

I wanted to experience every aspect of Lourdes every day. Being an early riser, there was time before my housekeeping service to attend 6 AM mass at the Grotto where Eucharistic celebrations were heard in Chinese, French, Italian, and Ukrainian. And I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sing for the evening Rosary procession shoulder to shoulder with choirs from North Korea, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, and Indonesia. To me, Lourdes is the home of universal peace –

If you are contemplating joining the NALV but worried about completing forms, Pilgrimage Director Pamela Ryan and staff are always helpful and patient. NALV also realizes that many are unable to make the trip to Lourdes so they offer a “virtual” Lourdes pilgrimage.

In May 2018, NALV brought a virtual pilgrimage to my hometown of Auburn, NY. The community responded wholeheartedly, beyond expectations, as if they, too, longed to hear the messages of Our Lady and St. Bernadette. We sang in full voice; saw Lourdes through large screen pictures; touched Grotto rocks; blessed ourselves with Lourdes water; and gave full attention to the story of Lourdes as can best be told by the Founder of North American Volunteers, Marlene Watkins.

So, what’s on your bucket list? If you are looking for a heavenly haven where hope and joy fill the air, then take a moment and consider traveling with North American Lourdes Volunteers, physically or virtually. The first step to being there is only a click away.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

St. Bernadette, pray for us.