Our day starts at the Crowned Virgin statue. Anyone who has even been to Lourdes knows this place. For those who have not, it is a central point, in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes, with a statue that faces the Basilica.
By now, all of our groups have arrived. Despite the disruptions, the Oblate people from around Britain and Ireland are finally together and this morning, for the first time as a complete group, we gather at the Crowned Virgin statue.
Our day began with Mass in the Basilica of St Pius X or as it is known here in Lourdes, Pix X. Some people might wonder at the selection of a venue that can accommodate about 25,000 people for a pilgrimage that is about 350 people. However, the reason is quite simple. In 2020 and 2021, we had our virtual pilgrimage and so many people joined us online during those two years. As we started our planning for 2022, and to be physically present in Lourdes, we made a decision early on that we would not abandon our online audience, those who had joined with us over the past two years, many of whom might not be able to join us physically when we returned this year.
Lourdes has invested a huge amount of investment in the technology available in Pix X which means that those who cannot be here physically can join us online, courtesy of the Lourdes communications team. Maybe you are one of those today joining us online?
Our Mass this morning was a wonderful pilgrimage experience. While of course, the homily from Fr Tom Deveraux OMI was very thought provoking and inspirational, it would be unfair not to comment on the music. The Sanctuaries made available their amazing pipe organ and our music leader for the pilgrimage, Mary Duffy, rose to the occasion in magnificent style. With Mary O’Brien conducting the choir, the accompanying music for the Mass was exceptional. It is a memory that will last.
In the late afternoon, the Oblate pilgrimage participated in the Blessed Sacrament Procession. Most would agree that this is one of the highlights of our pilgrimage, as we make our way from the Prairie altar, on the other side of the River Gave from the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, to the underground basilica of Pope St Pius X, for Benediction and the Blessing of the Sick.
In some ways, processions were a feature of our day. We processed from the Crowned Virgin to Pie X in the morning and in the afternoon, we processed from the Prairie Altar, opposite the Grotto, to Pie X. And after all, we are doing no more and no less that Our Lady asked us to do. Procession has always been a part of our pilgrimage and it is fair to say that we have made a lot of efforts over the years in this area. For example, for son many years, we had the Emerald Pipe Band lead us in our processions. Sadly, they are no longer with us, but those ladies made a huge impression in Lourdes and our processions, behind the Oblate banners and the Emerald Ladies Pipe Band was a sight to behold.
For this reason, as I viewed the processions both this morning and this afternoon, it was very symbolic of the return of the Oblates to Lourdes. To be sure, the number of pilgrims, at about three hundred, is about 50% of our pre-Covid size but what is important is that we are here, and we are processing and answering the call of Our Lady to come here in procession.
We ended our day with the Reconciliation Service. Fr Martin Moran OMI (based in Edinburgh) led this very gently, and the homily was given by Fr Michael O’Connor OMI from Darndale parish in Dublin. This was followed by individual confession as the priests moved to different parts of the church and people made their way to each. An interesting observation from two of the priests was that confessions in Lourdes are different to those anywhere else! Of course, we don’t know the nature of these confessions – and neither should we – but as one seasoned observer commented, “a lot happens in Lourdes.” It truly is a place that brings us right back to what we are about, what we are called to be in this world, and how we live up to this calling.
Of the many impressions of this pilgrimage, one is very striking. As we planned this, we commented frequently how this would be so different to those of previous years. And yes, it is different. But what is not different is the sense of sacredness that permeates each moment here. Of course we miss our sick, our Assisted Pilgrims, but through the ordinary interactions that are taking place, whether over the coffee or a drink, our theme for this year, “Healing the healer” is coming alive. People who, in every other previous year, would have been fully occupied with serving the sick now find themselves with time on their hands such as they have never had before in Lourdes.
We are rediscovering Lourdes, rediscovering the grace of this extraordinary place. We have time to pray, to reflect and yes, to heal.
Already, this pilgrimage is proving to be unique, to be special. Truly it is a gift to be able to be here but as we live each day here, we bring with us, in our thoughts and our prayers, those who are with us in spirit.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.