Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes

Dear friends, you may remember when I wrote about going on a pilgrimage a few months ago. At the time, lovely reader Paige commented that she was going on a pilgrimage herself soon, to various holy sites in Europe. 

I asked her if she would be willing to share her adventures with all of us, and she kindly obliged with the following post. Many thanks to Paige for the photos and write-up, and I hope you enjoy her stories as much as I did!

Recently I had the amazing gift of making a pilgrimage. It was the first I have ever made, and it was an unforgettably beautiful experience.

The first place I visited was Fatima, Portugal. From May 13 to October 13 in 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children from this small village. Her message included asking people to pray the rosary for the conversion of sinners, world peace and the end of World War I, and for the conversion of Russia.

Mary appeared at a place called Cova de Iria, which was at that time just an open field where the children's sheep were grazing. There is now a large cathedral built nearby and a large outdoor chapel called the "Apparition Chapel." Inside is a statue of  Our Lady at the exact site where she appeared.

On both nights I was there, I was able to pray the rosary with many other pilgrims in this chapel. We all spoke different languages, and the rosary was led in many of those languages for the different decades, but we were all unified in our love for our Mother. We held candles as we prayed, and at the conclusion of the rosary, we walked in a candlelight procession behind the statue of Our Lady, singing hymns in her honor. It was a beautiful experience that I will never forget.

I also got to visit a place near Fatima called Valinhos. Our Lady appeared to the children here on one occasion because they were being held in prison by an anti-Catholic government official at the time she was supposed to appear to them at the Cova during the month of August. This place was surrounded by a grove of beautiful olive trees and was absolutely filled with peace. There is just a small grotto with a statue of Mary marking the place that she appeared. I also got to visit the homes of the children. I was amazed to be walking through the same rooms in which they lived their short lives, and as I did so, I asked them to intercede for me and my pilgrimage intentions.

The other Marian apparition site I visited was Lourdes, France. In this humble French village, a 14 year old girl named Bernadette was visited by Our Lady multiple times in the year 1858. Her message again included urging people to pray the rosary. During her apparitions she also led Bernadette to discover a miraculous spring which has been the cause of many healing miracles over the years.

The grotto where Mary appeared is very simple and as I knelt there, looking up at the niche where are Lady appeared, which now holds her statue, I could imagine Bernadette kneeling right there, many years ago, talking to Our Lady. I cannot begin to describe the beauty of this place! I had the privilege of attending mass there on Sunday morning and I could not hold back the tears of joy and awe that filled my eyes as I received our Lord in this holy place.

After Mass, I was able to walk slowly through the grotto, trailing my hand along the rock, and seeing the source of the spring. I was able to leave a picture of my loved ones in the prayer intentions box there, and pray for the people I love. Later that day I was able to bathe in the icy Lourdes water. This was a deeply moving experience and it is difficult to find words to describe it.

Lourdes is a busy place with all the pilgrims constantly coming and going. But despite that, it was so peaceful! I was able to pray and bless myself at the baptismal font of St. Bernadette. I also got to visit her home at the time of the apparitions, a building that used to be used as a jail—her family was extremely poor. I was amazed at how humble it was and that there were still bars in the window.

I visited several churches in Lourdes, but my favorite was the Rosary Basilica. It has a small chapel with mosaic representations of each mystery of the rosary (except for the recently-added Luminous Mysteries). I wish I could have spent more time there, as I could have gazed on each mosaic for hours! And of course the crowning experience was another rosary procession with my fellow pilgrims, very much like the ones in Fatima.

Making a pilgrimage is an amazing experience, and one I will never forget. I was so blessed to be able to visit and pray at these holy shrines. If you ever get the chance to go on a pilgrimage, whether it is to Fatima, Lourdes, or to a holy site close to your home, I believe you and the people you pray for will reap great rewards and blessings from the experience.

Thank you, Paige!

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