An account by Ada Power
I must tell YOU about Lourdes.
This vibrant, cosmopolitan, picturesque town in the south of France is nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees. ln 1858, on eighteen occasions, Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a poor, illiterate fourteen year old who was also a chronic asthmatic. She asked her to tell the Priest to build a Chapel and have the people come in procession. Much has been written about the story of her life. There are many excellent books, films, dvd’s and videos that are well worth reading and viewing, if you so desire.
The global interest in Lourdes is truly phenomenal. Annually, six million pilgrims come there to pray and intercede for others. While the town itself is very commercialised, inside the domain of the Grotto it is another world: a little bit of Heaven on Earth. lt is quite spacious there so one does not feel at all claustrophobic. The peace is palpable and pilgrims are reverential as they weave their way across the square in front of the magnificent Basilicas and under the arches to the Grotto. The nearby, fast flowing River Gave plays background orchestral music to the silent prayers, as people enter the Grotto in single file. People touch the smooth, damp walls of the cave as they pause momentarily under Mary’s statue. A candelabrum, pregnant with lighted candles, perpetually intercedes for loved ones. ln front of the Grotto many people either sit or kneel in quiet contemplation. This is the spot where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette, so it is holy ground.
On one of her visits, Our Lady asked Bernadette to dig with her bare hands for water. Bernadette obeyed and, to this day, the water continues to flow from the original spring that can be seen in the interior of the Grotto. Many miraculous cures happen when people bathe in, or drink this water. The freezing cold water is now piped to water taps affixed to a wall, and to concrete baths where people immerse themselves as a form of penance. Just before you come to the baths, rows and rows of candelabra with lighted candles greet you. This is a magnificent nocturnal sight.
l’ve been to my “Oasis of Peace” eighteen times so far (2013). My parents brought me there, overland, in 1948 and 1954, at age two and eight. No flights from lreland then: just boat and trains! l’ve vivid memories of the 1954 trip as we stopped off en route at Lisieux to see the Reliquary of St. Therese, and at Nevers to see the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette. We also visited the Rue du Bac Church in Paris where Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine and asked her to have the Miraculous Medal made and distributed. Daddy sat me on the chair Our Lady sat on! That trip was also the first Killaloe Diocesan Pilgrimage. My next visit was 1965 when Margaret Carey and I volunteered for three weeks at the Cite Secours Saint- Pierre. Then in 1978 I went with my friend, Loretta O’Regan. Ten trips with Fr. Miceal Mclnerney’s PTAA pilgrimages followed 1988-1998 with many parishioners. I brought my nieces Clodagh, Gillian and Sarah in 1993 and Maria and Rachel in 1998. There was lots of fun mingled with prayers, as photos will show. My niece, Joanna opted to go in 1999 with the youth section on Killaloe Diocesan Pilgrimage. My friend, Dora Nestor, and I went in 2003 and met Sr. Celestina from Ethiopia who used to work with Sr. Mary Barry, small World! A former Speech & Drama pupil, Jessica Huckstepp, now residing in France, came to visit with her family and overnighted in our hotel. ln 2006, I invited my sister Colette, who lives in the USA, to be my wheelchair helper. My Italian friend, Claudia (who now lives in Montpellier) came with her husband Diego and sons, Valerio and lvano for an overnight in our hotel. My niece, Sarah came as my wheelchair helper in 2008 and Pope Benedict XVl celebrated Mass in Rosary Square. Claudia and her family also came to visit me in 2011, when my friend Bebie McDonnell was my wheelchair helper.
lf you haven’t been, I hope YOU will visit Lourdes some day. You’ll be so happy you did!
* Ada has kindly donated the above photographs of Lourdes pilgrimages over the years – from 1948 to the present day. She has also given us copies of photographs from parish events – of her annual musical fundraisers, of parish pilgrimages, of the Legion of Mary and parish prayer groups, choir and speech and drama. These are in the Gallery HERE