The Raphael Pilgrimage to Lourdes: 1098328
Our Lady of Lourdes
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WORKSHOP 2009 - South (Archive note)
WORKSHOP 2009 - North (Archive note)
Michael Arditti's visit toLourdes with Raphael...
Lourdes 2008 : Flikr contribution
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Raphael Reunion in the South 2013
Catenian Association Bursary Fund
REUNION IN THE NORTH 2013
In memory of....
'Raphael - Looking to the future' A workshop day for all
This article appeared in the Daily Mail on 9 January 2008 ......
....prior to the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions.
(Photos are from pilgrims who attended Lourdes in 2008)
For the full article click below
Pilgrims from Britain....
.... make up around 5% of Lourdes’ visitors. While some travel independently, most come on one of the many tours organised by the Catholic dioceses and other religious organisations. I travelled last October with the Raphael Pilgrimage, an annual pilgrimage of around 250 people, founded by Leonard Cheshire in 1953 to take 40 or 50 sick and disabled pilgrims to the shrine.
As a freethinking Anglican...
... who had joined the pilgrimage both as part of my own spiritual quest and as research for a forthcoming novel, I felt totally welcomed by this Roman Catholic group. I have, however, rarely felt more Protestant than when faced with Lourdes’ overwhelming emphasis on Mary, to the apparent exclusion of her son. Even the bells of the grotto basilica chime ‘Ave Maria’ on the hour.
The heart of our pilgrimage lay....
.... in the religious services which we held both in private and as part of the wider Lourdes community. We prayed at the grotto before processing with the pilgrimage candle to the nearby burners, where it was placed among thousand of others. We walked the Stations of the Cross and attended several liturgies for the sick, including one at the beautiful medieval abbey church of Saint-Savin en Lavedan, high in the mountains above Lourdes.
We joined thousands of our fellow pilgrims....
... for the daily Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, moving slowly through the Domain to the Pius X basilica, a subterranean church with all the charm of an underground car park. Its bare concrete walls are relieved only by huge banners of obscure saints, such as St Jean Eudes holding a sacred heart like a genetically modified strawberry.
Far more moving was.....
.... the torchlit Marian Procession where, with candles aloft, we joined a vast crowd making its way around the Domain at dusk, reciting the Mysteries of the Rosary, before assembling for prayers and blessings at the steps of the Crypt. The dozens of different languages blasting over the loudspeakers bore witness to a truly universal faith.
Lourdes is the one town I have visited....
.... where the disabled take precedence. At times it seems as if half the population is pushing the other half in the thousands of wheelchairs and voitures (unique Lourdes hand-drawn carriages) that fill the Domain. They come to the shrine as a place of prayer and a place of healing but, although there have been claims of thousands of cures since the days of Bernadette (witnessed by the devotional plaques on the walls of the Basilica and Crypt), the Church authorities have recognised only sixty-six miracles.
The seriously ill and severely disabled....
.... on our pilgrimage, while no doubt praying for a miracle, did not see it as the raison d’etre of their visit. They, rather, welcomed the chance to express and enhance their faith in the company of others. The courage and humour with which they accepted their lot put my own gripes over minor hardships to shame.
No less inspirational was ....
.... the devotion of the helpers. Lourdes is run largely by volunteers. Even the baggage handlers at the airport on our arrival were a group of middle-aged men from Liverpool. Every able-bodied person on the Raphael Pilgrimage played a part in caring for the sick and disabled. There were several volunteer doctors, nurses and priests, but the majority did basic cleaning, caring, catering and support duties, the men being known as brancardiers (the French for stretcher-bearers) and the women as handmaidens.
Our oldest handmaiden was eighty-one.....
...... and the senior priest, Father Leo, had been leading the pilgrimage for thirty-three years. At the other end of the scale were forty young men and women in their late teens and early twenties who, defying all the jeremiads about the callousness of contemporary youth, performed the most menial jobs with courtesy, care and humour. Then, after a day of heavy duties, they would party well into the night, their bleary eyes at breakfast prompting much speculation about burgeoning romances.
On the last day we visited the baths,
which for many was the highlight of the pilgrimage. The entry system was one of organised chaos as we shuffled along benches in the forecourt to be let in seemingly at whim. Once inside the shabby vestibule, we endured a further prolonged wait before being summoned in groups of six into a small cubicle where we stripped to our underpants.
We were then taken individually through a curtain....
.... to one of the baths. I felt even more of an interloper when an attendant told me that it was an opportunity to renew my baptismal vows. I removed my pants and, after putting on a small linen wrap, was led down into the bath. Having been warned that the water would be icy, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was merely cold. I sat, immersed to the neck, while the attendants prayed with me. They then helped me out and back to the cubicle. When I asked for a towel, I was told that one wouldn’t be necessary since the water would dry on my skin. As I reached for my clothes, I found to my amazement that it was true.
What sceptics attribute ....
....to the mineral properties of the water, believers attribute to the miraculous ones. Lourdes is a place which provokes such polarised responses. On the one hand, it attests to genuine faith and selflessness and, on the other, to credulity and commercialism. If the former ultimately wins out, it is because even in the face of the musical Madonnas, the John Paul II key-rings and Bernadette oven-gloves, it is impossible not to be moved by the sincerity and devotion of the pilgrims.
While showing us a statue of the Virgin....
.... in front of the Basilica, Father Pat, a former travel agent and Lourdes habitué, related the legend that it had originally been placed with Mary looking away from the grotto but, the morning after it was erected, she was found to be gazing towards it and has been left like that ever since. He then recounted a second legend that, if you recited three Hail Marys beside it, you would one day return to Lourdes. For all my scepticism, I made sure that I did.
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