I have a Bucket List for Ma Vie à Paris. A bucket list that requires checking for the next couple of years during our Paris assignment (if all goes as planned). And this weekend, I got to tick one of the items on that list: Visit Lourdes (pronounced as “loord.”) Check.
Lourdes is located in the South of France, in the Midi-Pyrénées region, very close to the border of Spain and France. I was originally supposed to go with my family — who were sad victims of the airport closures while the Iceland volcanic ash spread all over Europe’s air space. They cancelled their trip all together, and I was left with two unnamed first class tickets on the TGV.
I tried not to dampen our well-structured plans and tried to stay optimistic. As my mantra goes — “There is a reason for everything.” It didn’t take much to convince my six-year-old to come join the fun (tried to make it sound like Disneyland for people who pray), and invited Ani (who was only too happy to visit a place she had heard so much about from all her Catholic friends.)
By 7:30AM, we were all comfortably installed in our little cabin, whose charisma lasted for but a very short moment. Apparently, the chaos of panicky travelers trying to reach their destinations muddled up the records of TGV — and there were passengers with the same seat numbers, all hustling to make their way to the South where they could get on a plane to continue their journeys. Our train didn’t move until one solid hour past our scheduled departure — and we just sat there, not amused by the added 60 minutes to our already lengthy 6-hour journey.
But it eventually moved… and we enjoyed the comfort for about 3 hours or so …
… until an all-French announcement said something about having to switch trains in Bordeaux. “Voie 3” was all I barely understood — and before we could figure out what was happening, the train stopped, sput us out into another train that screeched to a halt. Then… madness. Where do we sit? Which cabin? Which seat? Do we all have our belongings? What ever happened to those First Class tickets I paid for?
Epic Fail. Downgraded to the barracks, with nary a seat. We managed to hop into just any cabin on that train that screeched by, before the doors were shut. It was chaotic. Everyone was scrounging for a seat, and the passengers who were originally on THAT train were looking at us like we were train-jumping-gypsies. All seats were quickly filled up and we ended up in that little passage way between the door to the cabin and the metal luggage racks. There we were — standing, squatting, and finally sitting on the floor for whatever time was left between Bordeaux and Lourdes. Great. We were off to a great start.
Here we are trying to make light of the situation, pretending that the train floors were not the filthiest surfaces on earth. (Take note of my teenage daughter’s huge effort to “just deal with it.”) We had been reduced to refugees aboard the speedy TGV.
Yet again … we eventually made it. We easily found a taxi, checked-in at Hotel Roissy — a simple, basic hotel with a great location, a mere 100 meters from the Sanctuary’s main entrance. We walked down the streets that were studded with shops selling everything and anything made to relate to Lourdes: from hats, to rosaries, to all sorts of shapes and sizes of bottles for Holy Water. We intended to go to a restaurant claimed to be one of the best in Lourdes for paella — but when we got there, we were told it was closed. No reason. Just “fermé.” Sad. Lesson learned: Research the restaurants first before going on a trip. We soon found an alternative — which proved good enough for the intense level of hunger we had — and left like four satisfied piggies after their trip to the market.
Then, we walked through the St. Michael Gate to enter the Sanctuary. Suddenly, the feeling of peace just enfolds you. And when you are greeted by a site like this … you forget the 7 hour train ride, the grime on your jeans, and the total waste of money on those tickets you purchased.
Suddenly, your problems disappear and you are almost ashamed of all the whining of the past 3 hours.
Peace, enchantment, spirituality, wonder, and thanks. Repeated feelings that moved each of us through the 24-hours that we were at Lourdes.
We joined the Torchlight Marian Procession at 9:00PM — which was the one experience that affected my daughter the most, I think. She had never been to one before — and I am sure that her heart was touched as she witnessed the unified praying of the rosary in at least 6 different languages, the candles, the hundreds of sick people in wheelchairs and beds being pushed and pulled by volunteers and nurses.
My poor little boy was so tired towards the end of the whole ceremony that he fell asleep while sitting on top of Ani’s feet, amidst the sea of people who were praying and singing. We all went to bed that night exhausted, but with quiet smiles on our faces.
The next day, we went to the Baths — which to me, was the most touching of all. I cannot put into words the intensity of the emotions that just enveloped me. Without much planning, we ended up in the Baths at the perfect time — when there was hardly a line, despite the hundreds of pilgrims we had just seen the night before. The women helping at the Baths were totally amazing — I could feel their inner goodness, their faith — just dying to be shared with all those filled with hopes in their hearts. The tears from my eyes just kept trickling down as the women took my little boy, quietly coached him to pray to the Blessed Virgin, and to walk through that Bath before they plunged him down into the water.
He wriggled for a second from the cold, for sure — but in a matter of seconds, he was dry and warm again, no towel required, all set to get back into the clothes he had just removed. Amazing. Totally amazing.
For me, this experience alone is worth every minute, every penny, and any hardship of one’s long journey to Lourdes.
The rest of the day was spent filling up our 2-liter bottles with Holy Water from the Water Way, visiting and praying at the Grotto, the Crypt, and the St. Pius X Basilica.
All four of us left Lourdes feeling a tad bit lighter, and a whole of a lot more peaceful — with renewed faith in our hearts.
And I am sure, that all the wishes and prayers that were whispered to our Blessed Mother were already heard and answered, even before we stepped out of those gates for the last time to catch our train back.
Helpful Links for would-be Visitors:
Hotel Padoue (beside Hotel Roissy, which looked a bit newer, slightly more expensive)