I returned for my second pilgrimage to Lourdes, France this month as an Auxiliary member of the Order of Malta American Association . This time I was slightly more prepared, but still bowled over by the spirit of this place.
My job was to provide music for the various masses and services – a special job for sure. Parish music ministry is rewarding enough, but to minister in Lourdes is truly a blessing. I got to see, from a unique perspective, the desire of people to be with The Lord, and Our Lady. Many sought his or her own miracle, and I have to believe that many felt some sort of presence or touch- it seems to me impossible not to feel something there!
Last year, being my first visit, I felt I had to experience everything right away. This year, I was able to “soak it in” and not rush around. This time, I was able to sit and talk with some of the Malades (French for sick) and truly listen and experience their perspective. It was truly moving, and once again reminded me of how lucky and blessed I really am to have a beautiful, healthy family. These malades are so courageous, some facing life-threatening illness- and to hear their stories and witness their faith was truly inspiring.
Just as inspiring, was to watch so many give so willingly of their time, and put their faith into action to help others. This, above all else, is really the grace of Lourdes: to help your fellow brother or sister through the trials of life. I’m proud to serve the Order of Malta, which enables me to participate, in a small way, the call to help others. It really was a sort of catharsis from the stressful and fast-paced world in which I so easily find myself drowning.
In other matters, I got to play some fantastic instruments there!
This organ, at the church of Saint Savin (a very old Benedictine church), was constructed in 1537! It has some ballyhoo to boot. In front are three masks, the mouths of which, the organist can control with pedals. It also has birds that twirl around- and if the power goes out, you use the bellows!
I also got to play this organ in the upper basilica for the closing mass.
Then there is the underground basilica of St. Pius X. The international mass saw an attendance of roughly 25,000 – UNDERGROUND! Here is view looking left from the choir area in the center.
One other interesting fact- in no other place is it so commonplace to celebrate mass with a Cardinal, Archbishop, or bishop, and not blink an eye. The focus is squarely on the pilgrimage and service, not on the ceremony so often accompanied by high-ranking clergy. It was so personal and intimate- very nice.
Every night, after some fellowship at the Jeanne d’Arc (local bar), many would walk down to the grotto and pray the rosary. So quiet and peaceful- nobody there, and all you hear is the burning candles and the River Gave. A truly remarkable experience- and very moving to bring the malades there and witness their emotions as we prayed right in front if the place that the blessed mother appeared to Bernadette.
After, many would walk just up the way and light a candle. (Was beautiful to see the Sandy Hook candle burning there with the names inscribed on it- they burn one year-round).
I love this place, the people, and the reason. I long to return again.