Thursday, June 21, 2018

Honeymoon in France - Day 5 (All about Lourdes)

     We woke up around 6am because we had to get the rental car back to the airport by 8am.  We found our way to the car return and turned it back into Hertz.  It was at that time we realized that we should have probably made arrangements for a taxi to be waiting to pick us up.  The airport was nearly empty with exception of one tour bus that was loading people.  There was not a taxi to be found.  We tried to call the taxi services in Lourdes and Tarbes but je ne parle pas Francais was problematic. As good fortune would have it, or someone's guardian angel, a single Mercedes taxi showed up at the airport.  We got in and we were back to the Hotel.

     We opted for the grand entrance and walked to the main entrance instead of the closer St. Joseph entrance.  In the morning light, the church was a magnificent sight.  Surrounded by trees, grass, high hills and the flowing river, it was something to see with our own eyes.  We made our way to the shrines in front of the church, eventually arriving inside of the church where daily mass was starting.  There was supposed to be an English mass at the Grotto, but that was nowhere to be found.  So we settled for the French mass.

     I can't tell you how many times Jennie repeated the words of the Theotokos to St. Bernadette "build a chapel and come to me in processions".  I'm not great at estimating the number of people but we saw at least 6,000 people in and around the shrine that morning.  We spent most of the morning taking in all that the shrine offered.  We sat by the flowing Gave de Pau, watched hundreds if not thousands of wheelchairs touch the grotto of Massabielle then get in line to bathe in the waters.  It was a humbling and sacred experience.

     We left the Shrine and walked into town to look for lunch.  We found a nice little bistro with a deck overlooking the river.  As we sat outside we watched the crowds making their way back to their hotels from the shrine.  It was people watching at its finest.  We finished lunch and made our way to a tour of Lourdes on a train pulled by a tractor. We decided to get off the train at the Pic du Jer and make our way to the top.

     The Pic du Jer is a summit in the Hautes-Pyrenees that is located 951m or 3,120 feet above the city.  The mountain is accessible from a funicular which has been in operation since 1900.  The funicular follows a 1,100m route with slopes ranging from 27% to 56%.  The view from the top was awesome with all of Lourdes to the right and the snow covered Pyrenees to the left.  We spent 30 or 40 minutes exploring the top and made our way back down to Lourdes to catch the wagon train back to our hotel to get ready for the evening events.

     There is a nightly Eucharistic procession at 5pm and a candlelight rosary procession at 9pm.  We tried to find the Eucharistic procession but were unsuccessful.  We asked and were told that due to concerns about weather they had moved it underground to the Pius X Basillica.  We found the Benediction but where underwhelmed by it.  The Basillica is a large concrete open space that is looks more like a big gymnasium than church.  It was cold and we got out pretty quickly.  We found some dinner and came back to the Shrine to fill up the holy water bottles. We returned the holy water to our room and came back for the candlelight rosary.

     As we had a little time before the procession started, Jennie lit three candles, one for her parish priest, one for my mom and one for the husband of a friend of hers.  After that we found a place near the front of the procession and blended in with a group of religious sisters.  During the procession, and depending on the day, pilgrims recite the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.  Since it was Friday, the Sorrowful mysteries were prayed during the procession.

     At the beginning of each decade, words in several languages give direction to the prayer and offer a point for meditation.  In the calm of evening, each pilgrim carried their own personal intentions along with a candle.  The procession ended in front of the church where the Ave Maria was sung for the final time.  Afterwards, pilgrims dispersed and went back to their hotels for the night.

Candle Light procession at Lourdes from Patrick Cullen on Vimeo.

     We ended the night back at the Grotto of Massabielle where one more time we touched the walls and water seeping from this holy spot.  We went back to the hotel, made arrangements for an early morning taxi and called it a day.

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