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LOURDES PILGRIMAGE

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 Over the next few weeks a number of friends of mine will be travelling to Lourdes here are a few thoughts on what the place and the people mean to me 34 years on from my 1st pilgrimage as a 14 year old in 1981.

When I think about Lourdes so many things like the cold water of the baths and people such as Fr. Leahy and Mrs. Smye and CLM all come to mind. After all the  years of coming and going so much has changed and so many people have gone to God both young and old and all the ages in between. There have been So many happy and sad times together with those who began to mean a lot to me way back at the start in August 1981 and many of those people mean so much more to me now they all know who they are and hopefully they might even be reading this !!!. Lourdes is the one thing that I have in common with all of my friends. The experiences that I have had over the years have changed me So much for the better I hope that I am more thoughtful and a less annoying person than before other people will have to tell me whether that is true or not. Lourdes has many meanings for everyone who visits the place but for me it means love, joy happiness and yes even sadness but above all else it is about the presence of Mary our mother in my life.

It is about Mary bringing all of us to Jesus who in turn brings us to the Father and the father’s house. Lourdes is not about me as an individual instead Lourdes is about giving yourself away in service for others the pilgrims of all nationalities who need your help physical, medical, spiritual or for many including myself it is simply about just sitting listening to what is important to someone which often times is a load of rubbish or at least it seems that way to you but to them it is the most important thing in their lives at that moment. One friend recently stated that Lourdes was the annual dose of steroids for her faith she said this in an interview on the radio and that is a great description of the Lourdes experience it certainly is a boost for those whose faith is strong to keep on going and a kick up the 90’s for those whose faith is not so strong to a start walking along on the road of faith.

In our pilgrimage to Lourdes all of us come with the sick, the fragile, those who long for many different kinds of healing perhaps body, mind or spirit. We place them at the heart of our pilgrimage week as a visible sign of our faith in God’s love for the weak and those in our modern world who count for little or nothing at all when in truth they are of great value more valuable than Gold and Silver.  Those of us, who are sick or weak or powerless, like Bernadette, teach the rest of the able bodied world something of great and vital importance. They teach us that God is with the weak and the powerless and through them he points us along the right road.  We may, at least for part of our lives, enjoy comfort, good health, various kinds of success; they are not what life is about. Life is about the journey we make to God, not about what we think of as our achievements or our plans. Remember the old saying that man proposes and god disposes, this means god does what he sees is good for all of us both as individuals and community. 

When I went overland to Lourdes for the 1st time August in 1981 I didn’t think that I would go back and yet here I am talking about the one thing that is so much of what I have become over the intervening years. There is a line of Patrick Kavanagh that says “Only they who fly home to God have flown at all” I certainly have flown high above the clouds and so many others have been in the flight with me and given me so much in relation to Lourdes and the life I have back as a result back home. I only hope that I have been able to give them something back.  So much good has come into my life as a result of Lourdes and all the experiences that I have had there and I will always be grateful for the people and the place that mean so much to me.

Down and Connor Lourdes 2012

Our Lady of Lourdes Pray for us

 

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.

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