The Way of the Jubilee at Lourdes

By Archbishop John Vlazny
Catholic Sentinel
May 22, 2008

It has been 150 years since the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes. There in southern France the sesquicentennial jubilee is being observed with great joy and solemnity. Eighty-nine pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Portland gathered there on the weekend of April 26-27 to participate in the way of the jubilee. It was a faith-filled and unforgettable experience.

We pilgrims left Portland on April 21 and along the way we had many opportunities to honor the Mother of God as we traveled around France. Many churches there are named in honor of Our Lady. We celebrated Mass at the Notre Dame Cathedrals in Rouen and Chartres. We visited Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Everyone agreed that the centerpiece of the pilgrimage was our Sunday morning Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes. We were joined by a group of people from Scotland. It was there that Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette on eighteen different occasions between Feb. 11 and July 16 in the year 1858.

The Most Rev. Jacques Perrier, the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, tells us that six million people come to Lourdes every year. They come because it is a place where Christians can freely express their faith, where the sick and people with disabilities have priority, where prayer, service and fraternity between people is so evident, where children and young people find special delight and where any person can be open to God.

We pilgrims from the archdiocese went to Lourdes to pray for healing, reconciliation and peace in our families, in our church and in our world. Like Pope Benedict XVI during his papal visit to the United States in April, we too were especially mindful of all those who were victims of child sexual abuse for too many years in our own church community. We turned to the Lord for the wisdom, compassion and understanding we need to become instruments of healing for all who have been aggrieved.

Pope John Paul II once said that "Lourdes is the spring where the conscience becomes clear and clear again." Pope Benedict XVI plans to come to Lourdes in August. There he will meet with the bishops of France as he met with the American bishops in D.C. during his pastoral visit this past April. Both of these remarkable pastors, like all visitors to Lourdes, look upon this world famous shrine as a place of spirituality that helps people live in our world today. As Bishop Perrier observed, the story of Lourdes is written each day by the pilgrims who come here. It is a living story.

Our Portland pilgrims arrived late on Saturday afternoon, April 26. After supper at our hotel we participated in the nightly torchlight procession during which many languages are used in the praying of the rosary and the singing of the "Ave Maria." There are six official languages at the sanctuary: French, Italian, Spanish, English, German and Dutch. It was a wonderful preparation for the splendid Sunday with Our Lady which was to follow.

After Sunday morning Mass at the Grotto, most of our pilgrims participated in "The Jubilee Way." This is a "mini-pilgrimage" all around the sanctuary which was designed by the people of Lourdes in order to help pilgrims experience the jubilee. Along the way there are four stages at which pilgrims pause to pray and to accept a sticker for their jubilee badges. When all four stickers are received the badge is complete. I shall treasure this jubilee insignia and I know it will be a special reminder for all of those prayerful days in Lourdes.

The first stage of The Jubilee Way was the parish church where we saw the baptismal font in which St. Bernadette was baptized. We saw a facsimile of Bernadette's baptismal certificate which had been slightly damaged in a fire. A beautiful reredos invokes the life of Bernadette. We were reminded that even before she became a visionary, she was a Christian. The sticker we received represented the Baptism of an infant.

The second stage was the "Cachot," an abandoned prison cell where the Soubirous family lived at the time of the apparitions. Bernadette's family, her parents and their four children, lived in this single room, a humid and dark place of misery and shame. Our God seems to delight in calling upon the poor to be his special messengers. There we pilgrims received a sticker representing Bernadette.

The third stage was the road to the Grotto from Bernadette's home. Before reaching the Grotto we were able to walk by the fountains whose water comes directly from the Grotto. During the day most of the pilgrims washed and drank this water. Some even went to the baths in order to be cleansed spiritually and physically. Every pilgrim received a sticker which represented the Blessed Mother.

The final stage of the Jubilee Way was the Hospital Oratory where Bernadette made her first Holy Communion on June 3, 1858, in the midst of all the apparitions. It was there that Bernadette met the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the community which she eventually joined and among whom she lived in Nevers, far removed from Lourdes, until her death on April 16, 1879. There every pilgrim received the sticker representing Holy Communion. The Jubilee Way began in Baptism and ended in the Eucharist and service. Such is the Christian life.

During her apparitions to Bernadette the Blessed Mother often spoke about the need for contrition and prayers for sinners. She asked Bernadette to look for water. Bernadette did and found a wellspring that was running clear and still does so today. This water is still a beautiful sign of conversion, a sign leading us on the path to joy and reconciliation.

All of the holy places in Lourdes helped our pilgrims to express and experience their sincere desire for reconciliation. Many took the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Penance. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is prominent. There are several places at the shrine where this takes place. Most impressive of all, in my judgment, is the fact that persons with disabilities, physical, mental or psychological, are given a most gracious welcome to the shrine.

My sisters and brothers from the archdiocese experienced that welcome in late April. It was an experience we shall never forget. I pray that the graces of The Jubilee Way will be shared with all our friends and neighbors now that we are back home. Ave Maria!


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