This morning we wake to grey and drizzly skies. Sue has scheduled a walking tour offered by the hotel we are staying in (La Solitude) of the Domain and all that is contained therein. We learn the history and timeline of the evolution of the Grotto. There are no less than 5 main churches, and within each church are several chapels in which to perform adorations or mass. The first of the churches (the Crypt) was built atop of the Grotto as a result of Bernadette’s Marian apparitions, 8 years after her first apparition (February 11, 1858).
Two more are essentially stacked on upon the other above the Grotto and around the Crypt. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or the “Upper Basilica” was completed in 1866 to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims sojourning their way to Lourdes and the Grotto for healing and renewal. The third church was dedicated nearly 25 years later (Rosary Basilica) in 1899/1901 and holds up to 1500 people.
The mosaics commissioned within are some of the most visually stunning and emotionally touching I’ve ever seen.
On the 100th Jubilee, after Bernadette’s first Marian apparition, a new Basilica, the Basilica of Pius X, was completed.
This engineering marvel houses 25,000 people, and on holy days and special occasions and masses is filled to the gills with the faithful from all over the world. Another more recently built church, the Church of Bernadette, is dedicated to the infirmed and holds up to 5,000 people. Thousands of volunteers come annually, mostly at their own expense, often as a pilgrimage of their own, to care for and assist the infirmed and elderly, who appear to be the majority here. The foul weather does not appear to dampen the resolve of the faithful, some of which who have saved all their life to make this pilgrimage. Many at the evening’s end endure the procession as it proceeds from Easter through October each night at 9pm regardless of weather, through pouring rain.
Being at Lourdes for the beginning of our Camino holds a special significance for Paul, Sue and Jerry having been raised Catholic. For me, it’s purpose, intention and design has evolved somewhat, for two reasons. One because my beautiful daughter suffers from fibromyalgia, and two, because at the start of our summer league of which I am an assistant coach for the JSerra Catholic High School Boy’s water polo team, we learned that one of our fine young men (just barely 15 yrs old) broke his neck while vacationing in Florida upon unknowingly diving into shallow water. His injury left him paralyzed from the chest down. It was unclear initially as to whether he would survive and/or ever regain any useful motion. This young man (Austin Brotman) and his family however, are strong of spirit and faith. Our Boy’s water polo team and the community of JSerra immediately rallied with prayers, well wishes and words of encouragement. As Austin was always known for never missing an opportunity to flex his muscles and show how strong he was, we coined the slogan of “Be Strong! Austin Strong!” as a battle cry. The boys have taken it on as a means in which to push through their gruelling workouts, figuring that this was nothing compared to the work and determination that Austin must and is enduring. Not a whimper, not a complaint was uttered. Some pushed to and through point of injury not wanting to betray the inspiration that Austin has brought to the team.
Before this happened I already had our trip planned and booked. Once this happened, and my daughter’s diagnosis, our visiting Lourdes has taken on a special meaning, one of reflection and at times overwhelming emotion.
Often and without explanation or understanding, I am overcome with emotion, of which feelings, I can not place. I think of my two children, especially my daughter and Austin each time we pass through the Grotto;
as we view the intricate stained glass and mosaics that adorn the interior of the churches and Basilicas we tour; as we walk in the evening’s procession; as I sit waiting patiently for my opportunity to “bathe”, if only for a moment, in the healing spring water;
as we light candles in offering for continued prayer. I pray for myself, that my body will hold out on this walk as ironically I awake this morning with near debilitating sciatica… What a better place than Lourdes to have this test of faith. I wonder if my faith is strong enough and if my prayers for the healing of those I love will be enough to provide respite from their suffering. Will I recognize the windows of opportunity placed before me and will I have the faith to walk through doors, open but a crack, to enjoy the possibilities that lie behind them. I find that without forethought this journey, our Camino, has begun to take on greater meaning and purpose than a “shorter” long walk along a historical path through the beautiful countryside of Spain. Go figure.
Be Strong! Austin Strong!