Lourdes, Fance (CNS) –
Pilgrims come to the Massabielle grotto to slide their fingers and run
their hands along its damp walls smoothed by years of touching. They
touch the walls with scarves, rosaries and folded pieces of paper with
written prayer intentions.
They toss photos of loved ones, written intentions
and bouquets of flowers into the grotto’s crevices. Men and women on
their knees silently pray, facing a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes
placed where Mary appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous 150 years ago.
Groups of pilgrims walk through the grotto holding candles and
sometimes spontaneously singing "Ave Maria." They place the candles at
the outdoor votive stations, where the words "The flame continues my
prayers" appear in several languages.
People drink and bathe in the holy water of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes,
hoping that their prayers for Mary’s intervention will be heard, inner
peace will be found and faith will be restored, pilgrims told Catholic
News Service in mid-February.
Sue Jarvis of Virginia Beach, Va., said she left a photograph of
herself and her late father at the grotto. But Jarvis said she came
mostly for her 18-year-old daughter, Megan, who has a brain tumor.
She was not expecting miracles from visiting the sanctuaries,
but needed a spiritual retreat to feel refreshed and to receive peace
of mind, Jarvis told CNS Feb. 13.
Fr Andrew Dubois, vicar for priests for the Diocese of Portland, Maine, said he feels this peace of mind at the grotto.
"When we clutter our minds, we have a way of distracting ourselves," he said. "And the grotto gives that (peace) back to you."
In the ninth of 18 apparitions, Mary directed St. Bernadette to
drink from the spring at the grotto. There was barely any water; what
was there was muddy, and it took St. Bernadette four attempts to drink
it. But today, the water flows clear through the sanctuaries’ spigots
The extremely sick and the extremely determined sometimes wait
in line for hours to reach the baths inside chambers near the grotto.
Mac Carvajal, a banker from Houston, has visited Lourdes twice and dipped in the baths several times.
"I wanted to heal … personal things I had inside
me. I wanted to cleanse, and I thought this was the best way to do it,"
he told CNS, noting that life changed significantly for him after his
first trip to Lourdes.
Debora Boucaud, a nurse practitioner from the New York borough of
Queens, is a volunteer at the grotto. Nearly all workers controlling
the crowds and helping at the baths, grotto and votive stations are
Boucaud has helped women undress and pray and has guided them
as they kneel in the cool waters of the baths. Many of the women "come
in very poor attire and very poor health," she said.
"As nurses, we are taught (in school) to treat the patient
holistically," but in practice the spiritual side is ignored and a
patient is treated "in a secular way" with medicine, she said.
"Here at Lourdes,
the treatment is the spirituality. You don’t have to inquire what
illness; it really doesn’t matter, the treatment is the same," she
said, adding that the job is mentally challenging because "you see all
the pain … all the emotions."
The evening rosary procession, in which pilgrims
hold candles, recite the rosary and sing "Ave Maria" while slowly
wrapping around the sanctuaries’ grounds, is a popular ritual at Lourdes. On the eve of the Feb. 11 feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick, tens of thousands of pilgrims took part in the procession.
Bill Mackowick, who brought his twin 15-year-old sons, Tom and Mike, to
the sanctuaries from Pittsburgh, said he came to introduce his sons to
Mary, "the greatest mom in the world." Following a difficult divorce,
Mackowick is the sole caregiver of his children.
Although his sons were not exactly enthused to join the pilgrimage to Lourdes
Mackowick said he was touched as his sons raised their candles high in
union with the thousands of other pilgrims during the refrain of "Ave
Maria." He said he knew the message of Lourdes was sinking in for them.