|The Sanctuary and Basilica in Lourdes|
"It was last December 8th on the occasion of our Golden Wedding anniversary that our son surprised us with a gift of a trip to Lourdes .
So on July 9th we set off. Arrived in mid morning having driven through lovely countryside, to the town of Lourdes to be completely shocked at first. I had been warned about souvenir shops but had not expected the sheer scale of shops selling mostly tacky souvenirs. To be fair we did find other more tasteful shopping areas and as tourism must form a very large part of their economy so we should not be so derogatory about that. We quickly found our way to Rosary Square and found the setting there quite beautiful. After the recent floods we wondered how much it would be affected. There were many signs of damage and the baths were still closed off. Indeed the river was still swollen and gushing along that it was easy to see that another storm and heavy downpour could easily cause the same to happen again.
We made our way down to the shrine and at this stage did not feel particularly moved. It was certainly busy and a league of nations in miniature! I was particularly impressed by the amount of young people apparently happy in their task of pushing and pulling around those in wheelchairs and their kindness to the disabled . I wasn’t sure how I felt about the taps for holy water nor the massive candles.
You may think this all sounds very negative – read on!!
All through the day there were Masses and other services going on and you didn’t have to go far to listen to some beautiful singing from one place or another.
We returned in the evening for the torchlight procession. This left us feeling extremely moved, even emotional. It was all organised very well and to watch these vast swathes of pilgrims was incredible. When the beginning of the procession reached rosary square the tail end had not even started. After the statue had been placed in the centre those in wheelchairs were brought up in lines which alone moved me to tears. Then the groups with banners filled the staircases encircling the basilica followed by other pilgrims walking with their torches moving along in strict lines until the square and beyond was one mass of people and torches.
I remember that Deacon Stephen Sharpe from our parish said that when in Rome it was the sheer physical sight of the church that moved him to respond to his calling – I can understand that myself now, it was indeed the sheer physicality of the church in action that I found so moving.
Most reassuringly I came away with the feeling that we may fret over our diminished congregations and some of our parochial efforts not being fully supported but it is clear that God’s Church is not only alive and kicking but thriving and well."