On Saturday February 8, we, the Parish of Ss Peter and Paul in Mankato, Minnesota, hosted members of the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers for a Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experience. About 120 parishioners joined us to learn about St. Bernadette and the Lourdes apparitions, to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament and receive the Sacrament of Confession, to venerate a rock from the Grotto where Our Lady appeared and to “wash” in the healing waters of Lourdes, as well as participate in a candlelight rosary procession, complete with an international rosary. And to seal the all the graces Our Lady gives to her pilgrims, Pope Francis had granted a plenary indulgence to all who participate in this pilgrimage experience under the normal conditions.
We also brought the virtual pilgrimage to the local nursing home where about 10 of our parishioners made a pilgrimage to Lourdes without leaving their home. This experience, along with my own actual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France last summer, made me reflect on the power of Our Lady’s intercession and protection.
The more I learn about Our Lady of Lourdes, the more I see how she calls certain souls to her. In one of the apparitions, she asked St. Bernadette to tell the priests that people should come in procession to the Grotto. And so every day in Lourdes there are two processions: a Eucharistic procession and a Rosary procession. But there is another procession which Our Lady herself seems to lead…that is the procession of pilgrims who come to her for both physical and spiritual healing. Both when I made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France and as I was preparing for our parish to host this virtual pilgrimage, I was profoundly aware that it was all the work of Our Lady and that she was drawing certain souls to her.
This procession of the sick and suffering began very soon after the first apparitions. In St. Bernadette’s time, the people of Lourdes understood very quickly that Our Lady was drawing pilgrims to her. The men of Lourdes would meet the sick at the train station and carry them on stretchers to the grotto. In 1885, inspired by “the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem who see in the sick, the poor and the pilgrims « the poor and the sick, our Lords »”, the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes was founded and elevated to the status of confraternity by Mgr. Billere1. This is the hospitality that runs the Sanctuary of Lourdes and welcomes pilgrimage groups to the sanctuary; all of this work is done mostly by volunteers.
The first pilgrimage hospitality was founded in 1872 – only 10 years after the Church approved the apparitions. L’ Hospitalité Notre Dame de Salut was founded by two Assumptionist priests, Fr. Picard and Fr. Bailly, with the aim of organizing a national pilgrimage to Lourdes every year. Within less than ten years of its foundation, the hospitality was transporting 1000 sick pilgrims to Lourdes2.
Then other countries in Europe began forming their own hospitalities to bring their sick in pilgrimage to Lourdes. These pilgrimage hospitalities coordinate with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes in order to house the pilgrims inside the sanctuary at the Accueil Notre Dame, a hospital-like building which is designated for hospitalities which bring with the sick their own medical personnel. While transporting the serious ill across Europe via trains or planes may have its challenges, bringing such pilgrims across the ocean would bring the added difficulty of a longer journey and a big time change.
Nevertheless, in 2001, Our Lady inspired an American housewife to found the first hospitality from the United States. Thus a few years later the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers was born. Dedicated to spreading the message of Lourdes and bringing pilgrims and volunteers to Lourdes (or bringing Lourdes to the sick), one notable characteristic of the members of this organization is their devotion to Our Lady and to the sacraments. It is no easy task to organize the sick, the volunteers, the doctors and nurses, etc, and yet they seem to face every challenge with trust in Our Lady’s intercession. I was reminded of their devotion when we hosted the Virtual Pilgrimage Experience in our parish.
The couple, who came to present the Virtual pilgrimage, were deeply moved by how many people went to Confession during the holy hour. The virtual pilgrimage also provided a beautiful opportunity to bring together many of the groups in our parish. The Knights of Columbus proudly carried Our Lady in the rosary procession. The Legion of Mary led the rosary and distributed Lourdes water to all of our pilgrims. And one of the children from our faith formation program “stood in” for St. Bernadette during the presentation. We give thanks to God through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes and beg for the continued fruits of the virtual pilgrimage and for the work of the North American Lourdes Volunteers.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
St. Bernadette, pray for us!
Oh Mary Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
Sr. Maria Thalassa
1 Hospitalite Notre Dame de Lourdes: http://hospitalite-nd-lourdes.com/en/documentations-9/histoire.html
2 L’ Hospitalité Notre Dame de Salut https://www.pelerinage-national.org/en/l-histoire-de-l-hospitalite