We have to ask ‘Why?’
July 28, 2017
Look to young heroes of faith – Vicar General
July 28, 2017

A spiritual experience at Lourdes

Ruby Alleyne concludes her report on the Evangelisation Commission’s Pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes and other holy sites in May. Parts 1, 2 and 3 appeared in the July 9, 16 and 23 issues respectively.

As we shared our personal experiences, the power of prayer was manifest in so many ways. Even while we carried the petitions of the pilgrims, friends, relatives and strangers who had asked for prayers in our bag emblazoned with the T&T flag, there was news from home that prayers had been answered.

At each Mass, the petitions were offered and the bag, carrying the prayers of so many who placed their trust in God, was placed at the foot of the altar. Oh, how many graces have been received, how many lives have been changed!

The changing countryside slid past as we drove along steeper and narrower mountain roads through the south of France. Clear, crisp rivers and streams flowed alongside the road at many points as we drove through the forests. Majestic pine trees towered on the hillsides on either side.

On our arrival at the hotel in Lourdes we were stunned as we were greeted by a red, white and black flag that we recognised as our own! The excited flag bearer was the sister of one of our pilgrims who has been living in France for 17 years. What a wonderful family reunion that was! Not only did she walk with the flag but also with a bottle of homemade pepper sauce which she shared generously to inject some Caribbean flavour in the French cuisine.

Our visit to Lourdes was another highlight of our pilgrimage – it was for all of us a deeply spiritual experience. People from all walks of life and at all stages of life come to Lourdes, many of them seeking healing. This small town in the foothills of the French Pyrenees Mountains is the site of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette in 1858. We visited historic sites such as the home of St Bernadette’s family. Our visit to Lourdes coincided with the annual International Military Pilgrimage and so it was bustling with activity as arriving military bands paraded through the streets.

Many of our pilgrims had the awesome experience of being submerged in the waters of Lourdes where many miracles have been recorded, and others drank from the spring and filled bottles of water for relatives and friends. Also in Lourdes, we met other pilgrims from T&T who joined us for Holy Mass at a small chapel in the church at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Later that evening, with a chill in the air as the temperature dropped to 9° celsius, we joined pilgrims from other parts of the world to lead the singing of the Holy Rosary during the candlelight procession at the Grotto.

Paris, the City of Lights

From Lourdes we drove to Nevers in central France. This was the longest leg of our journey. Nevers is a small town situated on the right bank of the Loire River, the longest river in France. It was here that St Bernadette lived and died at the Convent of the Sisters of Charity.

We celebrated Mass at the Chapel of St Bernadette where her incorrupt body lies in a crystal reliquary to the right of the altar. In Bernadette’s life there were many trials but her life was characterised by simplicity, humility, sacrifice and, above all, love.

Fr Christo’s homily that day was on love. He asked us to consider that “Love is a desire of the will, to love the other in spite of” and that “Mercy means treating someone better than they deserve”. It was as if everything that we had experienced on our journey had brought us to this point – the sobering reality that in the lives of the saints there is so much to learn, so much to emulate.

We departed Nevers for Paris – the City of Lights. The camaraderie that developed along the way, the lightheartedness that we shared and the laughter that erupted at Felix’s humorous play on words (he is the Pierrot Grenade after all) were an integral part of the journey.

With the pilgrimage drawing to an end, the drive to Paris was a lively one! The three-hour drive spontaneously became a celebration of diverse cultures. Monica, our tour guide, had so embraced our culture that she sang traditional Portuguese and Spanish songs for us, while we in turn gave her a parang! In true Trini style we would also give our guide and driver a taste of calypso and folk songs that reveal our rich cultural heritage. Laughter filled the air and the atmosphere was light and jovial.

In Paris we would visit the main attractions such as L’Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees Avenue, the Louvre Museum, the Opera House, the Eiffel Tower and end the day sailing on the River Seine, singing our river-themed folk songs along the way and attempting a Trinbago wave (to the amusement of many) under the bridges of Paris.

The following day we would celebrate Mass at the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal and shop for souvenirs before departing for London. On Sunday, May 21 pilgrims would join in the celebration of Holy Mass at Westminster Cathedral, which was a short walk from our hotel, and then enjoy some free time before returning to Trinidad the next day.

On arrival at Piarco, as we said farewell to each other, it was with a sense of gratitude to God for having brought us safely home but also for the stirring of the Holy Spirit that we had all experienced during the pilgrimage. This was truly a life-changing experience. Praise the Lord!