Fr. Wayne Watts, a priest in residence at Queen of All Saints Parish in Chicago, has taken groups of teens to Lourdes for the past eleven years. A couple of years ago he began to offer the opportunity for pilgrimage to adults.
When we saw the notice in our parish bulletin that an adult pilgrimage was scheduled for September 28 through October 5, we jumped at the chance. We had talked frequently about broadening our pro-life perspective beyond our usual anti-abortion activities. Lourdes would offer both an opportunity for personal prayer and renewal and a chance to serve others.
Seeking Joy and Hope at Lourdes
The invitation to join the pilgrimage was extended with a requirement to submit a written explanation of our reasons for wanting to go to Lourdes. In addition to our desire to serve we expressed a need to be in a place where hope was a predominant attitude. The abortion mills are such places of despair and fear that we were eager to witness the joy and hope that prevails at Lourds.
Joy and hope are what we found. Starting with the pilgrimage group of twenty-four caring, thoughtful and fun-loving people, the whole experience was upbeat and hopeful. A good friend of Fr. Watts directs the music at the Lourdes shrine and invited our pilgrimage group to join the choir, which we did on several evenings for the procession.
The choir consists of volunteer pilgrims from all over the world, taking turns singing verses of “Ave, Ave” and other hymns in their native languages. Members of the choir are chosen to lead the Rosary, and we were privileged to lead the prayers and introduce the mysteries in English.
We also had the opportunity to help some of the malades—the infirm who come to Lourdes out of deep faith—at the train station as they come and go from hotels and nursing facilities near the shrine.
It is awe-inspiring to see the hundreds of people in wheelchairs and carts, attended by family and friends, gathering each afternoon for a Eucharistic procession and each evening for the Rosary procession. They have come by the thousands, day after day, for the past 150 years, in the corner of a nation that has otherwise abandoned its Christian roots.
Pro-Life Center Director Welcomes Scheidlers
One afternoon, while visiting the places where St. Bernadette was born and lived, we stumbled upon the International Pro-Life Center and stopped in to visit. The center was manned by Mike Gorvel, a Canadian who spends three months each year working at the pro-life center in Lourdes. He was delighted to welcome us and showed us copies of the French translation of Joe’s book CLOSED on the shelf.
Mike invited us to walk with him in the Lourdes procession that evening. He explained that each evening he takes a beautiful pro-life banner to the procession, but that he had recently injured his shoulder and would be grateful for help carrying the banner. We were happy to help Mike out and arranged to meet him later.
When the procession started we were overwhelmed to find several members of our pilgrimage group had decided to join us with the pro-life banner and to take turns carrying it. The banner is embroidered with a Rosary laid out in the shape of a fetus and the inscription, “Pray, Save Life.”
That small gesture of thoughtfulness is typical at Lourdes. Everywhere people are looking for ways they can be of service. It is a beautiful experience—one that renews faith and hope in a world that often seems so devoid of these wonderful virtues.