The Miracle of Lourdes
Monday, we caught the train (from Barcelona, Spain) to Lourdes, France, and met up with Larry. Lourdes is such a spirit-filled, special place. We were able to attend Mass in the Basilica – the Mass was in Italian, but it didn’t really matter since our Catholic Mass is a universal one, which can be followed in any language. At the Shrine, I washed my feet and filled my water bottle with water from the spring, and prayed for a safe Camino. Then I went to the Grotto barefooted, and prayed. As I was praying the Rosary at the Grotto, I was overcome with emotion for some reason, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was the emotion of walking barefoot, or perhaps it was the parade of sick and infirm people in wheelchairs who were being taken through the Grotto at that time. Whatever it was, as I was praying the Rosary, I started to cry. I haven’t done that in a long time. It was a gift from the Spirit.
Camino Journal entry – Saint Jean Pied du Port, May 12, 2015
The first time I visited Lourdes, France, was in May 2012, and it was a sort of accidental visit. I was on a 3-week train trip across Europe with my daughter Sarah, and Lourdes was a convenient stopping point between 2 destinations that we wanted to visit. I knew, of course, that Lourdes was an important pilgrimage destination in Europe, and that it was where the peasant girl, Saint Bernadette, was visited by the Virgin Mary in a series of apparitions back in the 1800’s. I also knew about the healing waters of Lourdes, and the miracles of healing that have been ascribed to those waters. What I didn’t know about, and for some reason hadn’t anticipated (during that first visit) was the spirituality of Lourdes. It was overwhelming, and I knew that I wanted to return there someday. When we were preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2015, I knew that a pre-Camino visit to Lourdes was a must-do.
The story of Lourdes begins in 1858 when 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous began to have visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary while out looking for wood not far from the village of Lourdes, France. Bernadette had many visions, also called apparitions, of the Blessed Mother during that year, culminating in a final apparition on March 25, 1859, in which the Lady declared to Bernadette that she was the Immaculate Conception. Bernadette was later canonized as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes by Pope Pius XI in 1933. A Church was established near the Grotto at Lourdes, and the site has become a major pilgrimage destination visited by millions of the faithful each year. Among them, many pilgrims in search of physical and spiritual healing venture to Lourdes “to drink at the spring and wash in it”, as instructed by Our Lady of Lourdes.
Among the many pilgrims that journey to Lourdes, the Knights of Columbus initiated the Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage in 1946 as a way to promote reconciliation and peace after World War II. That tradition continues each year, even until today. In 2013, the American KofC began sponsoring an annual Warriors to Lourdes Pilgrimage, to facilitate our American military personnel, wounded, non-wounded, ill, or injured, to travel to Lourdes to seek a time of rest, prayer, and healing.
When we (Larry, Carl, Bill and I) visited Lourdes in 2015, it was a much more deliberate visit, and I believed that it was the perfect preparation for our Camino pilgrimage. It certainly did not disappoint. As I wrote in my Camino journal a couple of days later, I experienced an overwhelming sense of emotion as I was praying, a sort of gift of the Spirit. I’m not sure exactly what brought it on, but I remember that there was a long line of pilgrims, many confined to their wheelchairs, moving through the Grotto at that time – seeing them brought me to a sense of awe and humility. Here I was preparing to walk 500 miles across northern Spain to reach Santiago de Compostela, but these people have gone through so many more trials than I can ever imagine – their faith just simply left me feeling small and insignificant. And it inspired me.
I expect that most if not all pilgrims will experience significant moments of intense emotion while on the Camino de Santiago. We don’t know when or where that moment will come, but it is real, and it signifies the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives at that moment. It could be while walking on the trail itself, or in a church, or at a Pilgrim’s communal meal. For many Camino pilgrims, the Cruz de Ferro is a place of immense inspiration, where pilgrims let go of their burdens, symbolized by leaving a rock at the base of a large iron cross. For myself, I found great spiritual consolation in the Catedral de Santiago on the day that we finished our Camino. But the first moment came at Lourdes. It was an unexpected outpouring of emotion and the Spirit, just like the first time I visited Lourdes.