Bishop Michael Smith celebrated Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes last Thursday 13 September in conditions which “echoed our Irish summer” although the rain could do little to dampen the sense of privelege of being in such a holy place for the eight hundred pilgrims from around the diocese of Meath.
Bishop Smith made special mention of the 200 hospital pilgrims who travelled this year from across the diocese carrying various burdens of pain and suffering. He encouraged them to see the pilgrimage as a time of gentle encounter with God and a place where they might find valuable moments of silence which would deepen their faith.
Members of the youth group and of the Hospitalité put the Bishop’s words into action that afternoon by assisting hospital pilgrims to purchase gifts of new rosary beads for family at home and for fellow pilgrims. Later that evening all pilgrims enjoyed more favourable weather conditions as they prayed the rosary in many languages, lifted their candles for the Ave Maria refrain during the Torchlight Procession.
The children on pilgrimage were fascinated by the rise and fall of the sea of candles around them and the ringing of the Church bells. One of their parents compared the ceremony to the opening of the Olympics!! Regular pilgrims and staff were impressed by the huge participation that evening of hundreds of pilgrims from the “Living in hope with Cancer” pilgrimage who also formed part of the Procession from the Grotto to the Rosary Basilica.
Fr Joseph Campbell’s homily during the Holy Hour in the Underground Basilica opened the door for many to an experience of gentleness and healing which was celebrated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This atmosphere of calm and support is a hallmark of Lourdes and is sustained by the pilgrimage staff, chaplains and by the interaction of hospital pilgrims with those who are accommodated in hotels.
Nurses, doctors, brancardiers and handmaids were kept busy through the day from the staff Mass at 6:30am until late every evening. The Staff pledge which they prayed at Mass highlighted the generosity of every member of the Lourdes Hospitalité. This prayer and their work made a deep impression on first time pilgrims – some of whom have expressed the wish to join their ranks.
Text of Staff Pledge:“With the grace of God, I pledge myself to serve the hospital pilgrims with th respect and dignity which is their due. The comfort and wellbeing of the pilgrims will be my first consideration. I will treat equally all persons who seek my care.”
Fr Declan Hurley in his homily on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross challenged pilgrims “not just to wear the cross or to carry the cross but to embrace the message of Christ crucified.” The same message was offered by Bishop Smith during his homily at Mass for the Anointing of the Sick. He proposed the rosary as “a simple and a profound prayer of faith which can bring comfort in the quiet and lonely moments that come with illness.”
Fr Stan Deegan aided by Rev Michael Hinds and Fr Brendan Corrigan with the help of the diocesan youth group explored the same themes in their Way of the Cross on the “High Stations” and in “Low Stations” for the sick.
Echoes of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in the RDS and Croke Park were noted for some first-time pilgrims especially during the Blessed Sacrament Procession, the Blessing of the Sick and Sunday’s 10,000 strong International Mass. Bishop Michael had the privilege of being the principal Celebrant of the International Mass which was broadcast on Lourdes TV. Afterwards he led the Angelus at the Grotto which was broadcast across France and was also viewed by families and friends of pilgrims online.
Throughout our pilgrimage the sense of prayer was sustained by St Mary’s Choir, Navan. Their hymn of blessing “Clare Benediction” composed by John Rutter was a special request on the part of Sanctuary Organist Jean-Paul Lécot. He was so pleased with its prayerful lyrics and gentle flow of prayer that he requested an immediate repeat of the piece!! Compliments to Gabrielle Harte, the choir, the soloists and the harpists from Navan who enhanced our liturgies with well-chosen and varied hymns.
Before leaving Lourdes, Fr Joseph Gallagher (pilgrimage director) expressed his thanks to all who contributed to the success, the prayerful atmosphere of the pilgrimage. He encouraged daily prayer for vocations and thanked all the regional secretaries for their work in promoting the pilgrimage through the eight diocesan centres.
Three large candles were blessed by Bishop Smith at the concluding ceremony which will continue to burn for few days near the Grotto until postcards have arrived and bottles of Holy Water have been distributed to families and all who asked for prayers at Lourdes.
A video is being prepared at present and will be uploaded to the Meath diocesan channel of www.iCatholic.ie.
A photo album is available on the diocesan facebook page