We did indeed return with our candles and paper lanterns last night for the Marian procession. It was an evening I shall never forget. We joined a group forming behind banners bearing the name, Abbeyleix, an Irish group it seemed. We thought they would be singing in English and we could sort of follow along. The thousands that joined us on that windy evening were quiet folks, the chairs carrying the crippled pushed by attendants, families of all sorts, young and old. We began at the Basilica and moved up the Esplanade, singing our chorus triumphantly, Ave Maria. The Lourdes tune is lovely, Ave, Ave, Ave Ma-ri-a, with a final accent on the last a. With each Ave, the candle is thrust higher in the air.
Dark clouds were forming in the distance over St. Michael’s Gate, and the wind picked up, snuffing our candles. A neighbor relit mine, again and again and I wondered how she kept hers going. Finally, I held my candle up with the song, lit or not, my heart alight, my mind full of the moment. We followed the crowd, singing and stepping slowly, moving forward in time, and somehow moving in faith too, with all these brothers and sisters, a great family. We returned to the Basilica with all of its light and color, where final prayers were said. By 10 p.m. the crowds dispersed quietly to their beds for a good night’s rest.
This morning we woke to heavy mist, nearly a rain, and umbrellas in hand walked through the old town of Lourdes, pausing at the sights of Bernadette’s life – the house where she was born, the cachot, former jail, where the family lived in poverty at the time of the apparitions. The cachot was just like the pictures, and you can walk right in, see the fire place, the two windows, the white walls, the smallness of the space for a family of six. I recalled she had asthma, and her mother worried, but I also recall theirs was a loving family, and the first years of Bernadette’s life, until this year of misfortunes when her father lost his job and they moved to the cachot, were happy ones. Her father had been a miller and they lived in the mill, alongside the rushing River Gave.
We walked farther up into town to the parish church with its triple nave and stained glass depicting Bernadette’s life. A woman was singing before the Reserved Sacrament in the north aisle, another group was reciting the rosary.
The Tourist Office across the street was helpful with maps and information. Folks spoke English.
We headed back for lunch, the sun breaking through the wetness and scorching the air, and later ventured out again, the rain clearing, the skies brightening. This time I carried my last two copies of Offerings, thinking to leave them with the Information Center, addressed to the English Chaplain of Lourdes, a Father Martin Moran.
But first we had one more offering of thanksgiving: placing flowers at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes, who faces the basilica, anchoring one end of the Esplanade, the giant crucifix standing tall at the other end, Saint Michael’s gate, facing the crowds coming in. We bought two pink roses outside the gate and placed them in the wrought iron fence surrounding Our Lady. I said a Hail Mary and a prayer of thanksgiving. We continued to the banks of burning candles, and placed our candles, purchased nearby, in the iron stands and prayed for our Church, our clergy, and our people in these difficult times. Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
We then went to the Information Office in search of Father Martin. A lovely lady behind the desk, Christina, came to my aid and phoned Father, and he soon arrived, greeting us with a smile and a handshake. Father Martin Moran is a tall man, gracious and friendly. He was most encouraging, taking my novel with thanks and chatting with us about Lourdes and the many ways folks are healed here. “Everyone leaves changed,” he said, smiling. And I could see that.
Father Martin suggested I take my second copy back into town to the English bookshop, run by the Griffins. Which we did.
We walked back up the hill, crossing the river into town, up the rue de la Grotte, turning on the rue du Bourg. There were several book shops on this quiet street, and we spotted the one with the folding sign outside that read “English Book Shop.”
The Griffins were most welcoming and accepted my little book. I hope to send them a few more copies, and wish them blessings with their store in these difficult economic times. The shop is lovely, with icons and an excellent selection of books in English. Wish I had spent more time there, although I tend to load my suitcase too readily when it comes to books and icons. http://www.lourdes-books.com/
I thought my day was nearly perfect, and our last event in Lourdes was yet to come.