In 1883, the Oblates led their first pilgrimage to Lourdes. From 21-24 May, a total of 310 Pilgrims travelled. A report in the Annals of Our Lady of Lourdes gives an account of this pilgrimage which was organised by Father William Ring OMI, and he was joined in his endeavour by many other Oblate priests and brothers.
The pilgrims were more than three hundred and among them were men like the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Denbeigh, Lord Arundel, Lord Harries, aristocratic women, models of simplicity and charity, converts (to Catholicism) who, by accepting the Catholic faith, had sacrificed all their personal fortunes and close relations and family. They were more than three hundred and they came from: England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India. They were more than three hundred and they represented a million associates, of whom almost one hundred thousand had sent their written intentions and all remained united in prayer and communion with the pilgrims. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster had approved and given his blessing to their pilgrimage and, during their stay in Lourdes, His Eminence sent them his blessing, after offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for them.
Also, when, led by the Reverend Father Ring, Provincial of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, they went up, for the first time, in procession to the Basilica, under the richly ornate banner of St. George, carried by His Grace the Duke of Norfolk, a thrill of emotion passed through the hearts of those attending and tears were flowing. The hearts, advancing the time so desired, believed to be taking part in the dream of Catholic England and foreseeing the Kingdom of God brought by her fleet to the ends of the earth. The pilgrims celebrated a Triduum of Reparation and of Supplication.
Each morning, they received Holy Communion, they had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon and in the evening a time of prayer at the Grotto. To their calm dignity, they added punctuality that was maintained each day. Everyone attended all the exercises; everyone took part in the prayers and the singing. Nothing was more beautiful than the recitation of the Rosary each evening at the Grotto and their solemn and sorrowful singing of the Miserere with lighted candles; nothing was more touching than their prayers for the sick in front of the Baths; arms outstretched, kissing the ground, they appeared untouched by all distractions like to human respect.
The Reverend Father Ring always spoke to them, he spoke with a great apostolic freedom; they listened to him with a respectful deference which is one of the strengths of Great Britain. They were an elite, a people set apart.
On the evening before their departure, they came together in the Basilica for their last Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; two tables were covered with votive offerings (ex-votes) and letters or petitions. They distributed the petitions, the letters and the ex-votos, carrying them in procession to the Grotto and placed them on the altar. In the evening they held their own Torchlight Procession; it was a triumphant prayer following the atonement and supplication.
The following day, they received Holy Communion a last time at the Grotto and received the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Oh, how so many generous promises went up to the Blessed Virgin! The Reverend Father Ring put forward the suggestion to the pilgrims that they recite the Rosary each day until the month of May next year: all raised their hands in agreement. The contemplation was complete; one could feel that these pilgrims embraced in prayer once again more fervently their entire families and a great nation.
In an air of solemnity, Rosary beads in hand, they dragged themselves from the Grotto only to go to bathe their sick pilgrims, to pray once again at the Baths, on their knees, arms outstretched, in the presence of numerous pilgrims who were drawn by the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (Fete-Dieu in French) and who never tired of admiring this simple and intense piety.
The pilgrims left their wonderful banner of St. George; all said to her “See you again” (Au revoir) and made a solemn promise that their next pilgrimage would last at least eight days. One believes they are confident that healings were obtained, but there is little to compare to the effect on morale that the pilgrims produced on the whole of England and which will continue to grow. England came to meet, at Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Queen; Our Lady of Lourdes will bring forward the moment where England will become again, according to the promise of the pilgrims, one of the brightest jewels in the crown of Holy Church.
– Originally published in Mission des Oblats, 1883 & Translated by Fr. Liam Griffin OMI