Updated: Oct 8
Hey, you! 🙏
There's something magical that happens whenever I enter the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. I feel this powerful warm sensation deep within me, which gives me goosebumps from head to toe, and brings tears to my eyes. It's simply incredible.
Being raised a Catholic, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes was a recurring family trip. My mom would always insist on going there every time we could, even before she was sick. We would bring home with us bottles of Holy Water and distribute them to friends and family members.
Growing up, there was always a bowl of Holy Water in our home entryway for us to use to make the sign of the Holy Cross with before leaving home. A little bottle was also always by my childhood bedside which is in fact on my adult bedside now, as well as my daughter's.
The Sanctuary is one of the most-known and visited site for Christians in the world. According to the Catholic Church, the Virgin Mary appeared there several times in 1858. She appeared to Bernadette Soubirous - a young peasant local girl, whom adults did not believe at first. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, also known as the grotto, is the site at which the young Bernadette experienced the first of her 18 visions of the Virgin Mary. It took several years for the Church to change their mind and make Bernadette a saint. Since then, millions of pilgrims come to the foot of the Pyrenees every year. There are lots of miracles associated with Lourdes and the water that flows from the spring where Mama Mary appeared.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes features:
Basilica of Immaculate Conception – consists of an Upper and Lower Basilica
Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary – Basilica covered in Venetian mosaics
Basilica of St Pius the X – this is where International mass is held
The Crypt – only seats 120 people
The Grotto – this is where Mary first appeared to Bernadette in 1858 when she was 14 years old. There is a Spring in the rocks where the water then leads to the Holy Water taps for public use.
The pools – during her ninth encounter with the holy apparition, Soubirous was supposedly instructed to wash in the grotto and today visitors wait in line for the opportunity to take a dip in its freezing waters. In our case (post-Covid), we could not dip our feet in the water, instead we were given water to wipe on ourselves.
Stations of the Cross – 15 stations are located on the grounds
Processions – public candlelit processions at 9pm every evening and Blessed Sacrament procession every evening at 5pm
The first thing you will see from the main gate is a wide esplanade where the statue of the Crowned Virgin stands surrounded by hundreds of flower bouquets brought by visitors. This is the area where people congregate and special masses are held. This is also where people get together for the night procession.
The first celebration we participated in was the Rosary Prayer. This was held in several languages. It was an honour to participate and pray collectively with people from all walks of life.
Joining the Night Procession is to me a life-changing experience. It was raining when we did it, but nothing could stop us from joining and celebrating life. When I watch pilgrims in Lourdes especially the sick and children, tears always roll down my cheeks. There's no denying that I feel an immense connection to the place.
There is something that I did for the first time in a long time during this trip. I went to Confession and I was lucky to have an American priest. I've done confession in French a couple of times, but it's just not the same. Anyways, the moment I sat down, waiting for my turn, I understood that something was going to change in me. The experience is too personal for me to get into details here, but I was left emotionally drained. I was brought down to tears. I could not control myself and eventually emotion took over. The priest knew exactly what to say to me and what I needed to hear. To some, confession is the act of telling a priest the things they have done in order to be forgiven. To me, it is the opportunity to let go of heavy things weighing on my heart and leading me to do things I'm not proud of. This experience truly humbled me and I will never forget it.
It can be said of Lourdes that there is "a before and after" aspect. In my own experience, it's true. Finding oneself and inner peace at such a sacred place is unconditionally fulfilling.
I know that I was whining about the train ride misadventure we had in the last post (click here for the post). But the truth is, even if I had to stand or sit on the floor the whole night to go to Lourdes, I would still do it. In my book, It's worth it all.
During our stay, I had a very special thought for my great-aunt who was sadly dying at the time. When we got back home, I gave her a bottle with Holy Water and she was so happy. The next time I saw was at the morgue a month later. I looked at her arms, crossed across her chest, and when I looked closer at her hands, there was the bottle I had given her. According to my great-uncle, she tried drinking a few drops towards the end, held on to it tightly, and then demanded to be buried with it.
Such is the story of life.