Well, today began in fine fashion with sunny skies and cool temps. Your favorite pilgrims rose early this morning to soak in as much of Lourdes as they can get on this final day at the foot of Our Lady. And soak they did ... but more on that later!
Following breakfast we all marched on weary feet over to "the meadow" — a grassy area on the opposite side of the river and across from the grotto —where we gathered to participate in morning Mass in the grotto. Several other WYD groups joined us and the procession, which was led by what I believe is a replica of the WYD traveling cross and our beloved bishops and priests, was a reverent stream of expectant youth.
The most solemn Mass was celebrated by our own Bishop Rhoades, and concelebrated by many priests and Bishop McFadden as well. It was so beautiiful to witness our Eucharistic celebration right at the grotto altar with the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes standing on her cliffed rock, looking over us with what I believe was a pleased smile.
In his homily Bishop Rhoades, who offered his words in both English and Spanish, reminded us that we are on a pilgrimage not only to Madrid but also to heaven. He told the pilgrims that God calls each of us to be firm and strong in the faith. Then, he said, that way we can experience joy, happiness and peace in this life and in the next. Reflecting on the Gospel, he said, "May we build our lives on solid rock — in our faith in Jesus Christ."
Father Fernando Jimenez concelebrated the Mass with his many brother priests from our diocese and abroad. When asked how it felt to offer Mass in this special grotto, he exclaimed, "It was beautiful!" Then he shared that he had a seat under a place in the rock that was wet with the healing waters. So we chuckled that he was anointed drip by drip by God Himself.
Following Mass the youth were invited to walk within the grotto to say a special prayer for their faith. It was an awesome sight to behold as the teens and young adults moved as one, slowly and reverently under the rock of the cave, praying to the Blessed Mother. I walked with them and found a peace that saturated my soul.
No lunch calamities today. A few of us ate crepes from a street vendor that can only be described as heaven sent. These French sure know how to please a palate!
At 2 p.m. the pilgrims were divided into tour groups to walk the steps of Bernadette. What a powerful journey through the life of this exceptional woman. The sky darkened as we walked and thunder rolled overhead, but we persisted on our journey to know this woman who was chosen by the Blessed Mother. It finally began to rain in earnest but the cloud burst did not dampen the spirits of this humble group.
Bernadette held a great love for her family and suffered with them through many hardships, including financial. And still she was chosen by the Immaculate Conception herself to see the physical manifestation of Our Lady.
We toured the home in which she was born and shared a few years of happiness with her family before they were forced to move.
Walking across the town of Lourdes we toured a museum where some of her personal affects are preserved for viewing. I was stunned to see her little wooden shoe, so small and broken. We also were able to see the Baptismal font in the Parish of the Sacred Heart near her home. I knew I revered this woman back when I studied her life at Confirmation. (Recall that Bernadette is my chosen Confirmation name!) But as I learned more details of her life from our wonderful tour guide, Rosaura, I realized what a true model of faith she was in the face of the persecution she met during her Marian visits.
Our tour ended at the meadow, a little soggy but not disheartened, where we met with the other pilgrims for the Eucharistic procession that traversed the field walkways and ended at a tented altar. Another solemn occasion in which to share prayer, chant and song with other believers.
Many were on their knees in prayer while the Blessed Sacrament was removed to the chapel, which filled immediately with those same prayful pilgrims. It was pleasant to spend some quiet time with our Lord there.
As I spoke to Joanne Verhiley, an adult leader in our group, she shared a powerful witness to the goodness of God, when during the Stations yesterday, she was unable to kneel with each prayer as her knees were very painful. But as she prayed she realized that by the fourth Station, she was able to painlessly kneel with the group and said, "I was very moved — emotionally tearful. With each prayer the words became more meaningful."
These personal stories are what affirms our faith in the unseen. God is good!
The evening ended with dinner and a rousing and very passion session with Franciscan Father David Engo who told the pilgrims that in Madrid they were allowed to be as roudy as they wanted to be. He went on to remind the pilgrims that they might meet hardship on this pilgrimage journey to see the Holy Father. And he encourged them to offer it up for those in their family who are struggling right now. Powerful stuff!
It was a wonderful gathering where laughter and song were hearty. The group not only sang the diocesan WYD song, with lyrics and music by Father Drew Curry, but also the Spanish international
WYD theme song.
Boy, can those kids sing!!!
There's no lack of enthusiasm here!
I'm sure you can guess by now that this is one exhausted pilgrim. So I'll let the pictures tell you the real story. For more photos check out our diocesan website www.diocesefwsb.org
I've been happy to receive a couple of videos of the torch light procession and Bishop Rhoades' homily in the grotto from one of our pilgrims. I hope you can open them. They can give you a visual taste of this journey to God.
I have also added a comments page, so feel free to add your own if you'd like. The kids would love it!
Tomorrow we leave for Loyola by 10:30. Then on to Burgos. Pray for us o holy Mother of God for safe travel.