Lourdes is a Catholic shrine and significant pilgrimage destination in the foothills of the Pyrenees. I go twice a year, in June as a volunteer in the Sanctuary and in July as part of an organised pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage for the sick
Sick and disabled people from around the world come here in their thousands. Pilgrims join them to provide care and support and help with the many activities at Lourdes.
Like much of the rest of the world, Lourdes has had its setbacks over the last two years, so seeing so many people here last week was a joy. Mercifully, the town and Sanctuary appear to be getting back on their feet after the pandemic. However, I feel that it may take a couple of years before full normality returns.
Realistic expectations of healing, not cures
If you know a little about Lourdes, the word ‘cure’ probably comes to mind, and I am often asked if I witnessed a ‘cure’ on my return. (I haven’t.)
For those who know much about Lourdes, the word ‘healing’ probably comes to mind. Healing is a familiar experience for all pilgrims, sick and able alike. It stems, in my view, from letting go of external worries, embracing the joy, fun and spirituality of Lourdes and, above all, being a part of a community dedicated to the service of others.
The importance of realistic expectations
Which makes having realistic expectations for assisted and able pilgrims alike so important. So we go to Lourdes with no expectations of anything dramatic.
We expect and come across organised chaos as volunteers from around the world speaking different languages attempt to arrange the ceremonies and other activities. However, we also know that things generally work out, and we can give each other a pat on the back and say “well done”. This achievement alone provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose.
We come to Lourdes expecting very little. We definitely don’t see cures. But instead, we find tranquillity, peace and a sense of purpose from being of service to others. This consistently exceeds our expectations and makes this one of the most meaningful weeks of the year for us.
Attributions and references
Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age by Ruth Harris and Alone of All Her Sex by Marina Warner both make excellent background reading around Lourdes
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