Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Day 5 Part Two: Recovery and Blessings

 Day 5 Part Two: Hank's Miraculous Recovery

Hank has been sick and now it's time to nurse him back to health. After leaving the domain because of chest pains, and now battling dehydration, we were back in the room resting. Hank was drinking water and Sprite as we quietly reflected on our pilgrimage so far. Sitting on my bed, with Hank laying in his...I asked Hank, "What do you think of this trip?" He laid back and thought..."I miss home a little bit," he revealed, "But I am not ready to leave Lourdes." I told him I felt the same way. It wasn't until we got home and I had time to really absorb everything about the trip, that I realized those words held more meaning than I could have imagined at the time...

Convent of the Poor Clare's
With Hank wanting to sleep, I pulled curtains and darkened the room. While he slept, I pulled out my tablet to try to get online. With no luck, I journaled more of our trip and then slept too. Hours later, we both awoke...Hank was looking better and drank more water. Wanting to sit up and read, I asked if he would be OK if I ran over to the cafe to get online. With his blessing, I quickly set out to find WiFi access. I should mention that I did get out earlier in the day, after lunch with Christine and Dr. Jim, who took me shopping for souvenirs and Order of Malta swag! We went up to the Convent of the Poor Clare's and I was able to purchase rosaries and medals to bring home. Dr. Jim reminds me of my own Uncle Jim, the same wit and dry sense of humor...and I am pretty sure they both feel the same about shopping! But even so, he patiently put up with my need to look in almost every store!

At dinner time, I ran down to the dining room and brought soup back for Hank, not really liking it, he settled for bread, and pastries. While he ate and played on his phone, I went back to the dining room for a quick meal. Dr. Jim and Christine were downstairs and asked if we would like to go somewhere. I told them that Hank and I had talked about going to the grotto since we missed it earlier in the day, but I wasn't sure if Hank was up to it.

When I returned to the room, Hank was awake and looking great! I asked if he wanted to get out of the room and go to the grotto. He said yes, and got dressed. Joined by Dr. Jim and Christine downstairs, we started our walk. It was just getting to twilight and crowds were already filling up the Domain for the nightly rosary procession.  Instead of walking across the concourse, we took the ramp up to the upper level of the Rosary Basilica. (We would be taking part in the procession the following night)

Looking over their shoulders at the start of the procession below.
There were people lining the edges, looking down at the crowd below, and as we made our way up, the voices of the pilgrims reciting the Rosary en mass, gave me goosebumps. Standing at the top of the square, we squeezed between the others, to get a better look. Below us were hundreds of people holding candles, and walking the length of Rosary Square and back. Following behind a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, carried on the shoulders of 6 strong men. The Rosary was being said in Italian, with every few "Hail Mary's" being said in another language. At the end of each decade (one Our Father, 10 Hail Mary's and a Glory Be), the choir would lead the crowd in song. I rejoiced as I heard the strains of "Immaculate Mary" sung by so many and joining in with them, my breath caught as they raised their candles high in the air each time they sang, "Ave! Ave! Ave Maria!". I found myself in tears at the beauty of faith before me. I looked at Christine, who also had tears in her eyes. "I am in tears every time I see it," she later told me.

I did not want to tear myself away, but we wanted to get to the Grotto before the crowd below us dispersed and joined us there. Walking down the ramp, I joined in the Rosary with those below, and
realized all those around me, where doing the same. A few minutes later, we took our place in line, to walk through the Grotto. The feeling here was different. Even though we could still hear the voices and the music, it all seemed so distant. As if a heavy cloak were draped around us, enveloping us in a warm embrace. The line moved quickly and quietly, and as we edged closer, I once again was overcome with great love and emotion. This had a much different feel this time. It was more personal...(just writing about it now, I am once again in tears) The spring that Bernadette dug, which feeds the baths, was clear through the plexi-glass; rushing over the rocks, as it has done since 1858. We continued our slow walk through, each in our own silent prayer. As we came out and walked under the spot where Our Lady appeared (and a statue of her stands today), I paused and turned to her. Radiant in the light, and so clearly visible against the dark of the grotto, I saw her as St. Bernadette saw her all those years ago. "A lady dressed in white with a blue sash and a rosary. A yellow rose was on both of her feet."

Lighting Candles
We left this part of the grotto and continued towards the baths, where numerous candles are set up. All sizes are there...some which can burn for a month. Jim and Christine generously purchased candles for Hank and I to light. We each took our candle and searched for a place to put it. There are numerous "boxes" which hold a multitude of candles...just finding empty spots was the trick. We found somewhere to place them and lit our candles. I placed mine in and stepped back to say a prayer. Hank went next, lighting his candle and doing the same. I caught his face in the candlelight...reflective and prayerful, and something else. "Something is different", I thought to myself. Something that I didn't know but felt...

We walked back by the Grotto, pausing to stand back and take it all in. The lights shining on the statue, the illuminated spring, the long line of pilgrims waiting to walk through, the people filling up all the benches facing the Grotto. The crowds of people, like us...just soaking it in. And the many people...kneeling on the groups of two...or just individuals, with their heads in their hands, prostrating themselves before the Virgin Mary. So much love much much much peace. And all of silence...
The draw of the Grotto was strong for both Hank and I ...and we would continue to go back again and again, during our trip.

We slowly walked back through the domain, where the crowds were now sparse, and made our way through the streets of Lourdes and back to our hotel. "Thank you Hank," I said as we walked, "I know you did this for me." He smiled slightly, "Yeah...I know you really wanted to go to the Grotto, Mom" he said. Here was this sick just hours before...and making this sacrifice for me... We said goodnight to Jim and Christine, thanking them for taking us out. Hank and I made our way up to our room...and I thanked Hank again for going. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and draped his arm around my shoulders..."I wanted to go too..."

*up next: Mass in the underground basilica, the teen retreat, candlelight procession...oh and machine guns...!
View of the Rosary Procession from above.

The spring in the grotto

The Grotto at night

Candles between the grotto and the baths.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Day 5 Part One: In Lourdes and Hank is Sick!

Day 5 Part One: Saturday May 2, 2015: Illness, Medals and Adoration

Hank is sick and it has gone from bad to worse. Somewhere around 1:00 am, Hank woke up and made a mad dash for the bathroom. An intestinal bug had taken hold and he was in a bad way. I didn't think there was anything left...and yet he continued to be sick. He finally laid down, groaning in pain. I was at a loss with nothing to give him. No cell's the middle of the night and I am here in France and I just want to call home. (It's only 4 pm there, after all...)

"Hank, I only have water for you...maybe I should go get the doctor," I said. "Yes! Call the doctor, Mom!" Hank moaned. That was all I needed to kid wants the doctor...
Luckily, the Order of Malta has a huge medical team, with doctors on each floor. I went out into the hallway to look for help. I stood outside the door marked "Medical"...and then stood outside the door marked "Emergency". "Which door do I knock on?" Maybe I should check to see who is in each room. There was a list of names and room numbers inside the elevator, so I pushed the button and waited. Inside the elevator, I quickly scanned the names...I tried to be quick as I did not want the elevator moving and risk being caught in my Spongebob pajama pants...(Why did I bring Spongebob pajamas to Lourdes?) The doors to the elevator don't stay open by pushing the door open button, but rather by an electronic eye at knee level. I stood in the elevator, swinging my leg to keep it open...realizing that whoever is manning the security camera was getting an entertaining show...It was too hard to read and keep the doors open...I abandoned the elevator and ran back to the room to get dressed. "Did you bring the doctor?" Hank muttered. "Not yet...on my way to get him," I replied.

Dressed is sweats, I headed down to the bar with the intention of asking if anyone was a doctor...that way I wouldn't be waking anyone up. I saw our assistant team captain, Katherine, and headed straight for her. She saw me coming and stood up...the minute we made eye contact, I broke into tears. "What's wrong?" she asked with a worried expression. "It's Hank..." I sobbed, "he is sick...throwing up...and more." (I have no idea why I was crying...all I can compare it to is seeing your mom and crying in relief) Katherine took charge with a "let's go get the doctor" and up we went. She went right up to the door marked "Medical" and knocked on the door. An almost immediate response as the door opened and the doctor stood there. "Sorry to bother you...we have a sick Malade..." He invited us in and I told him Hank's symptoms. He gave me Imodium, something for nausea and pain. "Give him this now and another if he gets sick again," he directed. Quick and professional, I felt more confident immediately.

Back in the room, Hank was once again asleep. I went into the
bathroom and cleaned it up in preparation for his next bout. I laid down in bed knowing that there probably would be no sleeping. At 4 am he was up again and heading for the bathroom. I got out the medicine and grabbed a water bottle...and then I saw it...the small plastic water bottle with a picture of Our Lady of Lourdes on it. It was left here for us when we got in our room on Wednesday. I opened the Lourdes water and poured it into a glass. "Here Hank...this will make you feel better." He took the pills and finished the water, laying down and falling back to sleep. He woke up at 7 am feeling better, and I headed to breakfast in search of something he could eat. Crackers? Soup? Something light... I was worried about dehydration...we were already 1,000 ft above sea level and were told to stay hydrated...

Downstairs, I ran into Maura, the wonderful nurse for the Red Team. "How is Hank?" she asked. I filled her in on the night's events. "He needs ginger ale...I will go find some." And with that, she was off. As I quickly grabbed some food for myself and sat down with the Burkart family, John B. asked, "Where is Hank?" I explained the situation and told him that I needed to head to the grotto for more Lourdes water. "I'll go!" he said and quickly jumped up. And with that...he was off. Numerous others now started to inquire about Hank as word spread quickly. Soon, I was armed with a liter of Lourdes water, an armful of Sprite (ginger ale could not be located) and a french roll. I headed back upstairs to see the patient as the rest of the pilgrimage got ready to head to the grotto for morning Mass. (I should add that a few of our party offered to stay with Hank and let me go to mass, but I knew where my heart was and if I were sick and age 13, I would want my mom...)

Hank was awake when I got there and still looking gray. "Are you hungry?" I asked. He shook his head. I poured a glass of Lourdes water and gave him his medicine. I asked how he was feeling and he said, "better" but not great. Our voiture team (French for "cart") Dr. Jim and Christine, stopped by to see how we were. (Dr. Jim had taken care of my bout with the flu) I assured them that we would be fine and they said they would check on us when they got back. After talking for a few minutes, I shut the curtains and let him sleep, as I tried in vain to get an Internet connection. I was very disappointed that we were not at the Grotto Mass. To be in that holy spot with the holy Eucharist...but I could see it was not to be...
Malade and Companion Medals
The next event was not supposed to take place until 11:45am, when everyone would head to the Salle
Notre Dame, where malades and companions would receive their medals. This was a big deal. The Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Fra' Matthew Festing, would be arriving and handing out the medals. Something I knew we didn't want to miss...but it would depend on Hank's illness. (or lack of illness!) Hank woke up feeling better and said he wanted to go. He took a quick shower and I let our cart pullers know that we would be there. Hank and I headed out the front door of the hotel where our cart team had assembled. Everyone else had gone from the grotto to the site and we were the only ones at the hotel. With Hank situated, away we went at a fast clip to get there in time. Down the street, across the Domain and to the hall. As we rounded the corner of the building, all the voitures were parked and all the malades and companions were inside. But our red team leaders were out front and cheered when they saw Hank. "You made it, Hank!" they cheered. Bishop Soto came over and asked, "How are you doing Hank? Glad you made it!" Hank mumbled a response and I shot Bishop Soto a grateful look.
Hank receives his medal from the Grand Master.
With smiles and hugs we were led into the hall, where room was made for Hank and I to slide into a row with the rest of our team. It was a nice day, but Hank was cold. "Let me get you a blanket from the cart," I said. "I'll get it!" came from the row in front of us. Nineteen year old Keanu, companion to his mother, Sandra, another malade, jumped up. A moment later he returned with a blanket that I wrapped around Hank. "Better?" I asked. Hank nodded but couldn't seem to really warm up.

Ten minutes later, the introduction of the Grand Master was made to the applause and cheers of the room. A large man with a British accent, Fra' Festing seemed strong, humble, jovial and serious...all at once. Although from England, he lives most of the time in Rome, where the headquarters of the Order is located. With a blessing  of the medals by Bishop Soto, the ceremony started. Row by row, the Grand Master made his way through the room. We handed each other our cameras, in hopes of getting the rare photo of the Malade with the Grand Master. As he approached our row, our excitement grew, and then he was there...he reached me first and as he placed the medal in my hand, he clasped both my hands around it. I have no recollection of what he said, if anything, but I was completely starstruck and grateful to be there. Hank was next and Fra' Festing talked to Hank, but I could not hear what was said. But although fleeting, the moment was longer, he lingered...and Hank smiled.

As we pinned our buttons on, I could see Hank was rapidly declining. "How are you feeling?" I asked. "Not good...I have a headache," was the response. He laid his head on my shoulder...his head felt clammy. With the ceremony over, we once again loaded up the carts...but last one in seemed to mean last one out...and so we sat on the steps and waited. At last our voiture was free and Hank was loaded up. Well, not only did we have the Hine's as our team for the day, but we also had the Most Reverend Bishop Jaime Soto. "All set?" he asked as he grabbed on to the back of the cart. We joined the procession and made our way back to the hotel. Hank and I headed up to the room where Hank changed back into his sweats and I headed down to lunch, in search of something he could eat. I returned with a bowl of soup, french bread, banana and crackers. (I had a lot of help from Nurse Maura, gathering up things) Hank did not like the soup, (neither did I) and accepted the bread and crackers. He was happy that his phone was getting Internet and didn't even respond when I told him I was going to run down and eat lunch.

There was free time after lunch today and Malades and companions were encouraged to rest. Perfect! Just what we needed. The next event was not until 3:30, when we would gather in the garage to head over to the Domaine for the Blessed Sacrament Procession and Adoration and Blessing of the Sick. After a quick lunch, and contact with Bishop Soto and the Hines, I headed back to the room. Hank was still awake and feeling better. We had a chance to just chat with each other and reflect..."What do you think of all this?" I asked. Hank sat quietly for a moment. "I feel stronger in my faith," he said. We talked about the boys he had been hanging around with. "Are they nice? Do you like them?" He responded with enthusiasm, "They are SO nice. I really like them. They inspire me to put on the uniform they are wearing (The Order of Malta) and come back here." What more could I ask for? Although tired and not feeling well...Hank was happy, full of faith and inspired. Healing comes in many forms...

The size of the crowd
Hank slept the afternoon away. I woke him up before adoration. "What do you think about going?" I asked. "OK," he said. I plied him with more Lourdes water and we headed down to the garage. Loaded up, we were once again on our way. With Jim as our puller and Christine and Bishop Soto as our pushers, I walked alongside the voiture, where I could talk to Hank. It was clear skies, although humid...and a bit hot. As we got to the concourse, they separated Malades and companions. The pullers brought the voitures in and parked them side-by-side in long rows. The next row of voitures were parked directly behind, again in long rows. I had a moment of panic when I realized Hank was locked in! Knowing that he wasn't feeling his best, I wondered..."what will happen if I need to get him out of here?" Katherine saw the look of fear in my eyes and I said, "Hank's locked in..." She put her arm around me and we made our way through the crowd to where Hank sat. "How are you feeling?" I asked. "My chest hurts," he replied. I gave him to some more water and chatted with those around us. The afternoon was warming up and the humidity made the air seem heavy.

A few minutes later, I looked over at him. He didn't look right...something is wrong. "Hank, what is it?" I asked, trying to keep the alarm out of my voice. "My chest hurts, it's hard to breathe," he responded. I grabbed the nearest Knight. "Hank's not well! His chest hurts! It's hard to breathe!" Nurse Maura was at my side immediately. "Hank, how are you? What is wrong?" Once again Hank answered, "My chest hurts." "We need a doctor!" Maura said loudly...and off she went to locate one. Within a minute, she was back with a doctor in tow. He listed to Hank's heart...and then he listened again. Those around us stopped talking and a hush started to go through the crowd. "His heartbeat is rapid..." said the doctor when he finished. "It's too fast...we need to get him out of here." And there it fear. Locked in with no way to get out. But I should have known that the quick thinking Knights of Malta would have a plan. They quickly had Hank switch carts with a malade who's cart was on the end. As the others looked at us with alarm, "He'll be fine," they called, "we are praying," I heard. Hugs and and hand holds...they disengaged the voiture. Bishop Soto appeared at my side and grabbed the back of the cart. "Oh Bishop Soto!" I said, "You don't have to go with us! Stay here and enjoy!" Without releasing his hands, he said, "Oh no...I've got this! Let's get Hank back!" and we started making our way against the flow of traffic..with thousands of people here, this was not the easiest tasks. The doctor who listened to Hank's heart accompanied us back to the did Katherine the Red Team's assistant team captain, I felt terrible that they would be missing adoration and making this walk all the way back, but they assured me that all would be fine.

Back at the hotel, Dr. Jim, Katherine and another doctor, all escorted us to our room as Bishop Soto and Christine took care of the voiture. Soon the doctor we woke in the middle of the night,along with another doctor showed up and there we were...Hank and his team of medical professionals! As the one doctor listened to his heart, the other three stood attentively watching. "I think he is dehydrated," said one. They all agreed. I so wanted to step back and take a photo....when do you have FOUR doctors come to your room to treat you? And they weren't in white coats, but in the black uniforms of Malta...but would I look like an uncaring mother? "Excuse me...could you all get around Hank and smile for a photo?" yeah...didn't think that would look very good...but I bet they all would have done it!

With all in agreement that Hank was dehydrated, they stood and waited for Hank to drink the glass of water by his bedside. "Don't worry," they told me. Just keep making him drink water and he will be fine. All left but Dr. Jim, who said, "Let's leave the door to your room open and the window and get a cross breeze. I did as was directed and sat down on the bed next to Hank. "You'll be fine," I told him. He nodded and drank the water. A few minutes later, Dr. Jim appeared with a glass of ice. "This will help make that soda easier to drink," he said, "it has some calories in it, so see if you can get him to drink that as well." He said he would be down in the lobby if we needed him and left.

Hank and I once again had a chance to relfect. "You know," he told me, "I had no idea there are so many good, kind people in this world." I had to agree...although I think I knew...I just didn't expect them all in one place...!
Companion Medal

Mass at the Grotto.

Adoration Procession

Procession of Adoration
Another mother/son on our red team.

In front of the Rosary Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Knights of Malta in their robes

Knghts of Malta

The Most Reverend Jaime Soto

Adoration Procession

Dames of Malta. Nurse Maura in the middle.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Day 4: The Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, France

Friday, May 1st, Day 4: The Grotto of Massabielle

Our second full day in Lourdes, and I awoke feeling good...finally! I could use a cup of coffee! Hank told me to hang on and just get to the Baths and I would feel better...and he was right!
Hank and I got dressed and headed to the banquet room for breakfast. Today we would be with a different team with us and would be visiting the Grotto as well as the "Anointing of the Sick" Mass. After breakfast, we had team activities. Our team was to have a historical talk, which Hank was not interested in.. Instead, we met up with our voiture (French for "wagon" or "cart") team and discussed what we would do. Since Hank and I had not been able to get online and I was desperate to post on the blog and Hank's Facebook group, we headed up to "Cafe New Orleans" of the few cafes that advertised free WiFi. Today's team was another family and we were thrilled! Dad and Mom: Mark and Patty, and their son Rod and wife, Laura. All of them personable and engaging and interesting...and I could see Hank take to them immediately. (as did I!)

It was raining as we headed out the door, leaving the voiture behind, since it was a short walk. We settled down into a comfortable table and started to get to know one another as I desperately looked for a signal. Part of our visit to the Grotto would entail leaving our petitions there. We all took time to write our prayers down...why are we here? Who are what are we praying for?  Hank had a list and so did I. We pretty much included everyone we know! Of course we had special intentions...for Hank's healing, and for other people in our lives who are ill and in need of healing or cures. I had a stack of papers... We finished our coffee (the first of many French Cappuccino's for me), I posted a quick update to the blog and Facebook and headed back to the hotel garage to start our journey to the Grotto.

The Read family escorts Hank to the Grotto.
 The walk was wet and it was the first time that we had to pull the cover up on the voiture. This brings a different feeling to the walk for Hank. No longer is he able to take in the scene from all sides or to have conversations with those pushing the he is isolated and his only view is straight ahead. I knew he didn't like it, and tried to stay within his line of sight, so we could talk. Our puller, Rod, was great. He would turn around and talk to Hank quite frequently, to keep him engaged. I could see everything though...and the procession was quite beautiful. somehow, we were in the front of the group, following directly behind the American flag and the Order of Malta flag.

As we walked through the bustle of the domain and headed in towards the Grotto, the feeling in the air changed. The talking ceased and the feeling of reverence was obvious. As we edged closer to the Grotto where Our Lady appeared, we could reach out and touch the rock of the cave walls. They were wet and I noticed people placing their hands in little streams of water as they ran down the rock. I wasn't sure if this was what we are supposed to do, since it appeared to me to be just the rainwater running down the cliff.

Hank waiting to pass through the Grotto for the first time.
All of a sudden it was our turn and as we turned the corner we could see the spring that Bernadette dug at Our Lady's request. It was covered with a plexi-glass covering which seemed to be a little fogged up, not giving us the best look, but we could definitely see the water moving quickly and running down over the rocks. Here, is where we deposited our prayer intentions...or so we thought. Turns out the woman who grabbed our petitions from our hands and placed them in the intention box actually stuffed them in the donation box...which we realized when we saw the next box clearly marked with the word "Intention" (turns out the word is the same in English and French) ARGH!! I guess she was trying to help...but we were disappointed and would subsequently redo our intentions and return to the Grotto with our revised list. (adding more names and being more specific)  The line was long and since we were in front, the Hospitalite' rushed us through, not giving us as much time as we would have liked...As we passed through, I looked up to see the statue of Our Lady, placed in the exact spot that she appeared when she told St. Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception" all those years ago. I was awestruck and desired to just stay stand and be with Our Lady, to pray and talk with her...but it was not to be at that time...

St. Pio
With lots of time before lunch, our team asked if we would like to go elsewhere. Hank said yes. They took us to the Museum of St. Bernadette, where we saw pictures of her family, her house, articles of her clothing as well as the construction of the basilica. Next door to the museum is the Basilica of St. Pius X, the largest church in Lourdes, constructed almost entirely underground. We would be attending mass there on Sunday with the 25,000 other Order of Malta groups from around the world, prompting everyone to call it "The Superbowl Mass". We left the museum and entered the underground basilica. There was an obvious drop in temperature as we walked in. The church is built with pillars and rafters that look like an inverted boat. Tapestries hang along the concourse, depicting the lives of the saints, and the tabernacle is the largest I have ever seen. Mark was very well versed on the stories of the different saints and shared the information with us. We stopped at the banner depicting St. Pio (Padre Pio, before he was beatified), a very humble Italian priest who bore the Stigmata of Christ, could bi-locate and who resided in Italy until his death in 1968. I read about Padre Pio when I was about Hank's age and loved him ever since. As we talked about the amazing life of St. Pio, Hank whispered to me, "How come I don't know about him?" I explained that I had many books that he could read and he said, "good, I want to!" And as Mark went on to talk about other saints and their lives, I watched Hank listen intently, enamored with what he was hearing and realized another gift had been bestowed on us as a new world opened up before Hank.

The church was vast, with an altar right in the middle. The altar could be seen from all angles and a very modern crucifix stood there as well. Not all the lights were on, and so I could only imagine what it would look like fully illuminated. Mark pointed out an area behind the altar where all the clergy would sit. There were rows and rows of seats, and I couldn't picture them all filled but Mark assured me, they would be.

After spending more time walking around and sight-seeing, we headed back to the hotel for lunch, where we were joined by many others from the Order of Malta. Among them, Monsignor Kidder...a good and holy priest, who I would later have the honor of getting to know better. Also seated with us was another Malade, Jonathan as well as his mom. Jonathan is just 20 and the most positive young man I have ever met. I felt very fortunate to be in such great company and the great conversations and laughter was just what we needed. A quick visit from the Bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento was a real treat. He said hello to Hank and asked how he was doing. Bishop Soto had just flown in the night before. As the Chaplain of the Red Team, he had some catching up to do and was greeting each table.  We have met Bishop Soto before...through our wonderful priest, Fr. Terry Fulton, pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Elk Grove. (Fr. Terry passed away in Nov. 2013 and we miss him deeply). But I know that these men meet a great many people...and would not remember us...but was thrilled to see him!

After lunch we once again loaded up into the voitures and headed to the domain. We would be lining up for the group and team photos and then heading to St. Bernadette's for the "Anointing of the Sick" mass. It was a well-choreographed dance of placing the voitures right in front of the steps of the Rosary Basilica, a beautiful backdrop for our photo. I took position behind Hank, as did the other companions...taking their spots behind their Malades. Bishop Soto joined the rest of the Red Team and took a spot right next to me. He checked in with Hank and was met with a huge grin...Hank was slowly getting used to people asking him how he was doing and was so pleased to see who it was! Little did I know just how many times we would interact with Bishop Soto and how close we would all become in a short time.

The photo was quick, as was our team photos. After our photo, we had a few minutes while we were waiting for the other teams. All of the Malades had been given flowers in honor of May Day and Hank was going to give his to Our Lady. In the middle of the domain stands a huge statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. May is Mary's month and on the fence surrounding the statue, people had already started placing flowers...As Hank stood before the statue, I had tears in my eyes. We had crowned Mary many times over the years on May 1st...but never did I imagine that Hank would be placing flowers before Our Lady of Lourdes! What a special moment and something I won't soon forget!

With pictures complete, we were quickly underway to St. Bernadette's Church, the same church that we had the washing of the feet. Upon entering, Malades and companions were led to the pews...leaving every other one empty. Mass was celebrated by Bishop Soto, were he was accompanied by at least 40 members of the clergy...from priests to the Archbishop. It was a beautiful sight and I briefly wondered how would I ever enjoy Mass again, with just one priest celebrating the Mass? (I was getting spoiled!)

The Anointing of the Sick got underway as the clergy were sent off into the church, each taking a section. I looked down the aisle and watched as the priest blessed Sandy, a Malade that we had gotten to know quite well. Once again I had tears in my eyes, and with blurry vision, I snapped a photo for her...knowing she was just as amazed at being here, as I was! The priest made his way to Hank, where he anointed Hank's head with oil as well as the palms of his hands. Hank has been blessed in this way before every surgery...but something about being here, in Lourdes, made it so different. I started to see companions and Knights and Dames start to line up for a blessing, so I quickly joined a line and was blessed as well. ("OK," I thought to myself..."With both of us blessed...there is going to be some serious healing happening here!")

We had a nice dinner and then Hank took off for Gelato with the other teenagers and some parents. They came back and took up some seats at the bar...which I will call "lounge" so it doesn't sound as bad... I sat in the "lounge" as well and talked and visited with others. (all while keeping my distance from Hank, so not to embarrass him, but close enough that he knew I was there) Hank came to me the and asked to go to the Grotto with some of the other kids. As long as John Gabriel (the 17 year old son of the Knight who pushed Hank's cart the day before.) was going, I said OK. Sometime later, Hank was back, enjoying pizza with the rest of the group. He turned in around 10 pm and I followed up about an hour later. I got in the room and I knew...Hank is sick! He had obviously vomited and was now curled up and asleep on his bed. "Oh no!!", he had caught my bug. (I am pretty sure that I am "Patient Zero"). This can't be good...I am a very sympathetic vomit...I vomit. UGH! Alone with my sick child in cell service, no Internet. Well maybe that was time and he is good, I thought as I cleaned up the bathroom.
I couldn't have been more wrong...and the next 24 hours had me scared...

Hank hanging out with the other teens.

Hank seeing the Spring for the first time
Rod taking Hank through the Grotto

The Grotto of Massabielle

Waiting for the big group photo
Getting ready for group photos

The Red Team!

Visiting with Most Reverend Bishop Jaime Soto

Hank and his team for the day: L to R: Patty, Rod, Hank, Laura, Mark

The procession to the Rosary Basilica.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Day 3 Part Two: The Baths of Lourdes

Thursday April 30: Day 3~Part 2: The Baths of Lourdes

After a busy morning, we had a nice lunch and prepared to go to the Baths. This is what everyone looks forward to...a chance to bathe in the sacred waters of Lourdes.
We met once again in the hotel garage and loaded up the voitures. We were apprehensive and excited at the same time. This is how the Order of Malta explained the Baths to us:
The Grotto, where Our Lady appeared and the spring that feeds the baths is located.
When Our Lady led Saint Bernadette to discover the source that now feeds the Baths, she instructed Bernadette, to "Go, drink at the spring and wash yourself there." Since Our Lady did not instruct Bernadette to bathe in the water, but rather to wash in it, pilgrims do not have to take the bath if they do not wish to do so. It is possible to follow Our Lady's instruction by simply and reverently splashing oneself with the spring water at the taps below the Rosary Basilica. Many people, however, do wish to immerse themselves in the water, and the only place to do so is at the Baths. 

John and Valerie Burkart escorting Hank to the Baths.
Water for the Baths is drawn from the spring itself. Hence, it is very cold. The water is continually filtered during the time the Baths are in operation and is changed twice a day. The water is tested frequently by qualified medical personnel and has never been know to cause disease, even though many people use the same water as they do, for example in a swimming pool . 
The Baths are operated by the members of the Hospitalite' de Notre Dame de Lourdes, a group of dedicated, respectful men and women who follow strict procedures to ensure a reverent and deeply spiritual use of the spring water. Gentle and caring, they are experienced and skillful in working with all pilgrims.

A blessing from Monsignor Otellini
As we made our way towards the Baths, each Malade was given a special blessing before crossing the bridge. Only Malades, Companions and their cart puller was allowed to go the Baths. I had talked to Rick, the Red Team's Captain, about Hank's experience in the Baths. I wanted him to be able to immerse his head in the water since that is where his illness is. Rick said he would check with the Hospitalite to see if it was possible. Rick came and found me as we were in line for the Baths. He said that although Hank would not be able to immerse his head, they would provide a cup of water for him to pour over his head. Rick offered to go with Hank and we agreed. We were separated with the men going to one side and the women to the other. Hank and I went in at the same time, and I was sad that I did not hug Hank or talk to him before he went in. I found myself very tearful over it...but wasn't sure why.

We were taken from the line and sat in little blue chairs with wheels on them...pulled over to just outside the door to the dressing rooms in rows of two's and sat waiting. There were many benches filled with pilgrims behind us and along the wall...all waiting for their turn to enter the baths. In our group, just the 50 Malades and companions were allowed in...with the rest of the Order able to return on Tuesday.  As I sat and waited, I chatted with some of the other Malades and companions. This is where I learned why some of the others had come to Lourdes. I knew that Hank's illness would not compare to what other people were experiencing...and yet I know Our Lady chose Hank for a reason. But sitting there, listening to the ailments of these women, or of their heart hurt and I prayed for them as well. The young woman with brain cancer...the mother who is a surgeon
with two children...diagnosed with a ferocious bone cancer...the woman who's child has a pulmonary condition and is not eligible for a heart transplant at this time, the woman with breast cancer and more. As I listened and silently prayed...I asked Our Lady to intercede for all of us, and heal the many gathered here.

The waiting area
It was finally my turn as they pushed my chair in, the other women waved farewell to me. I was pulled into a  hallway, just outside a curtained off room. They helped me from my chair, opened the curtain and placed me in a chair. "Italia?" a woman in a blue Hospitalite apron asked. I shook my head. "Francais?" she asked. "English," I replied. "Ahh..Anglais!" she exclaimed. "Anglais!" She called to the other workers. A tall young woman with her blonde hair in a ponytail walked over to me. "English?" she asked. I nodded. "Stand up please." I stood and she held up a dark blue canvas curtain. "Undress please," she said. As I started to undress she said softly, "Please take off everything" and pointed to a hook hanging just outside the curtain for me to hang my clothes. "Hold your bra in your right hand." I did as was directed, "Give me your hands," and she took my right hand in her right hand and my left in her left...wrapping the curtain around me, with my arms wrapped around myself like a hug. She sat me down and I waited.

The room was small, with eight chairs placed against opposite walls. To the right was a curtained off area, where I knew the Bath to be. A woman, also a companion on our pilgrimage was brought in and went through the same procedure as I did. As I sat there in silent prayer, I noticed that she had flung her right hand out of her curtain with her bra hanging from her hand. "Why am I holding my bra?" she asked in a loud voice. The young woman ran over and tucked her hand back under the curtain, offering no explanation. I am such a rule follower, and although I wondered the same thing, I would never have thought to actually ask. I was so distracted and cracking up inside, that I couldn't focus on my prayers and all of a sudden, it was my turn. I didn't feel ready!

Photo from the Internet: we weren't allowed cameras
The women walked me to the curtain and led me inside. There, before me looked like a stone bathtub. They held up a white sheet and raised up my arms. They took the dark blue curtain off of me and unwrapped the white sheet around me. It felt like a well choreographed dance, leaving me feeling completely covered and not exposed, as I expected. They turned me around and told me to step down onto the first step of the Bath. As I faced the Bath they said, "Do you have a prayer to say to Our Lady?" I said yes...but honestly could not remember a thing as the shock of the cold water hit me. As I gathered my wits about me they started to move me forward. "Step down, step down," they said, moving me forward. "Walk forward," prodding me along and holding my arms on either side of me. There was a small statue of Our Lady that I kept my eyes on...and as I focused on my petitions, they told me to sit, as in a chair. My brain told my body "NO! it is COLD!" But my body obeyed and I started to sit, still planning on saying my prayer. But as soon as my legs bent, they had me falling back, into the water! Keeping my head out of the water, they gently placed me in the water and pulled me back up, using the sheet for leverage. And before I knew it, I was done. "Oh no!" I thought, "I didn't ask Our Lady my petitions!" And then I realized that she knows why I am here. And at the same time, I was struck with the enormity of where I was...I was in Lourdes! I had just bathed in the waters of Lourdes! What a once in a lifetime experience! What an amazing gift! And then I was back in the dressing room, getting dressed. And strangely, just as I was told...even though I had no towel, I was practically dry! I noticed some drops of water on my legs, but as I went to get dressed my legs were dry.

After the Baths...the Baths are on the right side of this photo...with the Grotto underneath the Basilica.
I was then placed back in a chair and wheeled out to where the rest of our party was waiting for those who had gone through the Baths. I came out and found John and Hank. I came over to Hank and he hugged me from where he sat in the voiture. John had a big grin on his face and said,exclaimed, "You look radiant! You are glowing!"  And I believe I probably was! I asked Hank, "How did it go?" "Good," he said. "I am glad Rick went with me and I could go first. It was weird...a bunch of French guys sitting around in their underwear, staring at each other. And the water was really cold!" Gotta love the way he thinks! I bet it was weird and it really was cold.  I asked if he was able to say a prayer before going in and he said yes. As I looked at Hank, he seemed different...more relaxed than I had seen him since we left home. His shoulders seemed to be have gone if he had been holding his breath all this time and had finally exhaled. In the coming days, I would hear this from others...that Hank seemed different...more at ease. I don't know if it was just the nervous anticipation of the Baths or if the waters had a profound effect on him...either way, something beautiful was happening here.

Mausoleum Chapel at the top of the Rosary Basilica
The next event on our schedule was the Tri-Association Mass, a mass where all three American Orders of Malta would attend: The Western Association, the Federal Association and the American Association. I think between the three groups, there were between 800-1,000 people taking part in the Mass. We left the Baths and headed to the Rosary Basilica, part of the area known as "The Domain". We had a little time, so we went to the top of the church, which is a mausoleum. It is lined with marble walls and is beautiful as you go into the inner chapel. Afterwards, we were able to stand outside the chapel and look out on the Domain...what a beautiful sight! We then headed down to the Rosary Basilica for Mass. We were seated and waited for mass to start. The church was full as the music started and the procession of the clergy got underway. The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan from NYC. (I have a Rosary that I bought at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, that has his image on the case...I SO wanted him to sign it, but never had the chance. I really should have stalked him a little better...) Attending Mass that is celebrated by a Cardinal is a big deal...Cardinals are appointed by the Pope and are the top of the Catholic hierarchy. I loved seeing the multitude of Priests, Monsignors, Bishops, Arch Bishops and Cardinals process into the church. I have only seen such things on TV, when watching the Pope celebrate Mass in Rome.

Cardinal Dolan said a beautiful Mass, telling us that "I am going to keep the Homily short, as we are all tired." I have to admit that a lot of us were falling asleep standing included...and being in the second row...I wonder if he noticed! Inspiring Mass in the most beautiful of settings. It was a big day...Distribution of Rosaries, Reconciliation, Washing of the Feet, The Baths of Lourdes and now this beautiful Mass...what an amazing honor that has been bestowed on us! As I am hearing about how others were nominated for this trip, I am learning that our situation is unique and the way Hank's nomination occurred was no coincidence. Our Lady chose Hank for this this time of his life...and I am sure the reason will be revealed as we go on this journey...

Cardinal Timothy Dolan at the Rosary Basilica
With Mass over, we headed back to the hotel for dinner, Hank in his voiture, as I walked alongside. Today was a turning point for Hank...getting used to the voiture, being surrounded by people whose sole purpose for this pilgrimage is his well-being. The love of Christ present in everything we are doing, and realizing he was hand picked by Our Lady for this journey.

We enjoyed a nice dinner with our cart team, and found out (sadly) that we would only have them for today...tomorrow we would have another pusher and puller...but we had already bonded and knew that this was a family that we felt so close to! And of course we would love the next group too...especially after they came over and introduced themselves. After dinner, Hank went with all the teens for gelato and then hung out with them in the lounge, while I kept an eye on him...and my Kronenbourg draft... Tomorrow would be another big day as we would get our first visit (one of many for me) the Grotto, where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette, and we would have the Anointing of the Sick Mass.
It was only our first full day here, and already I knew this was a place we would not want to leave...

Rosary Basilica

Above the altar at the Rosary Basilica
View from the Mausoleum above the Rosary Basilica, looking down onto the Domain
Hank and I across the river from The Rosary Basilica. The Grotto sits just behind us. The statue of Our Lady of Lourdes can be seen just to the right of Hank's head.

Recessional Processional of the Clergy. Notice the men in skull caps or miters...those are the bishops and cardinals.