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.

1 comment:

  1. A life long life changing experience and memories for you both!