By Angela Fernandez, Italy
Lourdes is a small market town at the foothills of the Pyrenees in the southwestern part of France, rich in natural and cultural resources and aptly called “where heaven touches earth.”
It is a bastion of spirituality - the apparition site of the Blessed Mother Mary to peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous between February 11 to July 16, 1858. In the first of eighteen encounters when asked by the fourteen-year-old Bernadette who she was, Mother Mary replied that she was the Immaculate Conception.
Bernadette received other messages: on the virtues of poverty and humility, of personal conversion and, more importantly on the power of prayer, especially the rosary.
Since then, Lourdes has become one of the most important Marian shrines in the world visited each year by five million faithful from over 140 countries that come to seek both physical and spiritual healing.
In the spring of 2017, a high school classmate from the College of the Holy Spirit announced that The Volunteer Group, organized by a former teacher, had a free spot for Lourdes. Bored with my daily routine I readily filled out the application form.
On September 5 of the same year, I set foot for the first time on sacred ground. The topography of Lourdes is incredibly impressive, with its river, lush fertile flat lands and hills and, of course, the Grotto of Massabielle where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette. Strolling through the park I was imbued with a feeling of inner peace and a real sense of belonging.
As a first time volunteer there was much to discover. It was mandatory to attend a formation course where the “hospitalier spirit” was instilled in us; the right attitude to performing our assigned tasks no matter how menial they were. Volunteers came from all corners of the globe. In my group were many Filipina collegialas who had migrated abroad - to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, the Philippines, and myself from Italy. Our group was directly under the Administration of the Lourdes Sanctuary that ran the daily activities, both religious and non-religious, of the place.
There are several tasks for the volunteers. Some accompany the sick pilgrim groups from their country of origin. They are normally housed in the Hospitalite Notre Dame di Lourdes a big modern architectural structure on the grounds. Most first timers are assigned to help in the kitchen, but the meals themselves were catered and delivered.
The busiest time for the volunteers is assisting the pilgrims who dip in the miraculous waters of the Baths. There are always long queues throughout the day and the volunteers make sure that the process is as smooth and peaceful for the faithful, taking special care that the sick pilgrims are aided in the best possible way.
The Sanctuary grounds have many churches and chapels where one can attend one of the numerous Holy Masses being said. There is a daily procession of the adoration of the Holy Eucharist, and the breathtaking evening rosary procession where thousands of lit candles line the streets of the sanctuary whilst the Holy Rosary is being recited in different languages.
I may have started out taking part in this experience for the wrong reason but I can emphatically state that for me, the Lourdes experience has been both enriching and rewarding and has made me a returning volunteer. R&W
About the author, Angela Fernandez
I was born in Dagupan City and earned my BSBA degree from the University of the Philippines. As an active member of international student organization of business and economics - AIESEC, I came to Europe to undergo company traineeships in Berlin, Zurich, Milan and finally Rome where I currently live. I worked as a Market Analyst at the Trade Office of the Philippine Embassy in Rome. I am married to an Italian and together, we raised two daughters now working in London.