Visiting Lourdes with
the Order of Malta
Last week I traveled to Lourdes with Boston members of the Order of Malta. Every year the international order organizes a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the springtime that brings 30,000 pilgrims from all over the world. The pilgrims are both members of the order as well as the sick -- “malades” in French.
Lourdes is a very special place for Catholics. At a time when the Church was poised to define the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette with the words, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It has always been a place of very special care and love for the sick. There are baths there where the sick people are immersed in the waters from the spring that began miraculously in the grotto at the time of the apparitions.
Part of our pilgrimage consisted in having a Mass for English-speakers at the grotto, outside on Saturday morning. There were many people from Ireland, Scotland, England and Canada. I was the main celebrant at the Mass and Bishop Bill Curlin, the retired bishop of Charlotte, was the preacher and gave a wonderful homily.
That night there was the candlelight procession. It was very, very beautiful. Thousands of people prayed the rosary and sang hymns while walking in front of the basilica.
Sunday morning was the main Mass in the underground church. It was mostly in Latin with some prayers in other languages. Many, many priests and bishops concelebrated. I was asked to be the main celebrant and preach at that Mass. I found out the night before that I needed to prepare a homily, and they did not tell me whether I could preach in English. I actually prepared a homily in French, which I had to write out because I cannot preach spontaneously [in] French. The next day, I found out they were happy to have the homily in English because they never have English. I put the French homily away and thought, “So much the better!”
At the Mass, it was a very moving experience to see all the sick people gathered in the front, close to the altar. Many of the people who are there are very sick, particularly the ones who are brought from Europe where it is a little bit easier to transport them. In our particular group there were many children who were sick. Of course, it reminds us that right from the Gospel, Jesus’ ministry of healing, compassion and love for the sick has been an integral part of His mission. He has entrusted this mission to us, to have the same love and regard for the sick and the suffering. Lourdes is certainly a place where this is manifested in a marvelous way.
Pope John Paul II, the summer before his death -- he was already very sick -- went to Lourdes to be associated with the sick and the pilgrims who go there.
Many people go, I am sure, with the hope of cures, but we know there are many more spiritual cures than physical cures. One of the great ministries of Lourdes is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are many confessors hearing confessions all the time in every language imaginable. It is a wonderful opportunity for people to deepen their faith and renew their commitment to the Lord in an atmosphere of prayer and adoration that characterizes all of Lourdes.
I recently sent a letter of support to those state legislators who voted during the 2006 legislative session in support of the marriage amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the constitution. The amendment must receive a quarter of a second vote of the constitutional convention in order to appear on the ballot in 2008.
Media reports of undue pressure to legislators to change their vote on the marriage amendment are troublesome. We are very aware that the legislators who voted in favor of allowing the people to vote are under incredible pressure to cave in, that many people are very determined not to allow this issue to go to a vote, and we feel that it is important that the people of Massachusetts have an opportunity to discuss and to vote on this issue.
Right now people are not talking about what is at stake. There is a lot of name calling, instead of dealing with the importance of marriage in society. Some people are trying to use this as a political issue and reducing a very important human issue to political slogans and coercion. In light of that, the bishops of Massachusetts have written to all the legislators, asking them to vote in favor of this amendment and allow the citizens of the state to have a referendum that would allow a discussion airing of the issues so people would see what is at stake.
Also in this week’s blog:
> Honoring Father John Farren
> Participating at an Anti-Defamation League Gala
> Celebrating Mass with priests celebrating their 25th anniversary of ordination
> Attending the Catholic Charities Spring celebration
> Celebrating Mass with the consecrated virgins