Down and Connor Lourdes 2012
The annual Down & Connor diocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage begins today with a great number of people (Around 700) travelling today and tomorrow to the great spiritual place that is Lourdes. Ever since a small spring sprang up where Bernadette scraped in the mud at Massabielle, the dump outsideLourdes, people have flocked to the spot on the side of River Gave. It has become one of the greatest places of prayer on the face of the earth with people of all ages and all colour coming for all sorts of reasons —the sick and the -healthy, the young and the old, the happy and the sad, people in despair and those with gratitude, people of faith and those looking for faith.
Lourdes and places like it are important because I feel that they offer the thing most needed by every human being: spiritual assurance, real solid spiritual ground to stand on. And certainly in Lourdes we see the rock of faith, that is faith in action. Lourdes is run by people who believe in the love of god for his people and they as a result of this belief are prepared to go that extra mile in service of those who need them. The people who are involved there also believe in the dignity of every individual no matter whether they are disabled in any way in mind, body or spirit.
They also have a passion for life and for living and for loving, living their daily lives in the spirit and the love of God. Lourdes helps us to believe in God despite the mess we see around us. The advert for Red Bull says that it gives you wings and makes the world go round but really its love that makes the world go round, and that love is present in those who serve the sick whether working in the hospitals, hotels, shops or cafes along the streets. Personally I think that anyone who comes to Lourdes gives themselves away, in that giving yourself away to all those who need you get so much more than I can ever tell you about back especially from those who have any type of disability. We are all called To make a pilgrimage to those special places where god dwells that means we make a prayerful journey, with no rewards or results guaranteed. The true pilgrim may seek to have specific needs met, but is open to whatever God chooses to grant, knowing that there will be graces and gifts, but trusting, trusting that the giving is in the hands of God.
We are all called to come to Lourdes at Mary’s invitation for one kind of healing or another perhaps body mind spirit or soul. The burdens we carry and I believe we all have some kind of burden give us the opportunity to learn to be compassionate and kind to each other and in doing so, we show kindness to our Lord. For me the Lourdes pilgrimage has brought me many graces friendship and faith are chief among those.
If I had been told in 1981 when I went for the first time that those who began the journey with me at Belfast Central Railway station would be my friends 31 years later I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. But so many things that we feel are impossible in human reckoning are certainly different in the eyes of God and to the eyes of faith. I have been fortunate to return to the Shrine of Our Lady many times. Our Lady has a very special role in my life and I continue to experience this every day through many people and in many different situations. The faith that I have now was formed in many places and situations here at home and certainly in Lourdes and other places of faith I have had the opportunity to go to. I hope that all those who take part in the Lourdes pilgrimage this year get all the spiritual benefits for themselves and all those who are dear to them both here at home and wherever they may be.