By Rikki Koebler, Geoff Burdell and Susanna Floyd
During our second week in Ireland, Teach Bhríde Dublin had the amazing opportunity to join the Dublin Diocese on its annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. A group consisting of about 2,000 members, from sick pilgrims to helpers to chaplains and beyond, the pilgrimage is an incredible display of faith, compassion, and love in action. Below, members of House of Brigid share some highlights and significant moments that occurred during their Lourdes’ experience:
While in Lourdes I was immensely and consistently struck by the visibility of God’s incarnate Love, especially in and through the people we encountered. This love was first manifested in our small travel group, comprised of Fr. Gerry, four pilgrims from the parish, and Teach Bhríde Dublin. Throughout the week we were fortunate enough to share every meal with this group and I quickly grew to cherish this time together. Hearing stories, learning more about Irish culture, laughing, singing and going out for late night eggs and chips were undoubtedly some of the most memorable and joy-filled moments of our trip. The people we met and worked with in Lourdes also exemplified Love incarnate. I was incredibly moved by the priests who led the school and youth groups and who mentored us throughout the week, along with friends we made who helped coordinate these groups. Observing and receiving the fruits of their caring, dedication, self-giving love and fun attitudes helped us better understand the deeper meaning behind the pilgrimage and behind Lourdes itself. The chance to see hundreds of young people voluntarily giving up their time and resources to serve pilgrims was another powerful part of my experience in Lourdes. By caring for patients, transporting them around the grounds and to ceremonies and meals, and offering companionship through chatting, listening and singing along at parties, the volunteers truly demonstrated God’s Word made Flesh.
Leaving Lourdes, I have a new respect and understanding of what “Church” means as a community of believers, and I have now experienced the peaceful consolation and communion that can come from a commonly held conviction, a steadfast trust. I think prior to pilgrimage, I conceptualized prayer primarily as that which comes out of the silence of a personal communication with God, and in many ways I still hold deeply to that style. But with Lourdes, I am assured through an experience of pilgrimage that prayer is deeply communal as well, and that the “outer peace” that emerged for me, though vastly different from what I am used to, all the same comes from Christ. It is with this new insight into prayer, and a renewed devotion to the Blessed Mother, that I return to Dublin, to Harold’s Cross, ready to embody that particular peace of Christ for and with the larger parish community, by first receiving it from them.
Lourdes was unlike any other spiritual experience I have ever had, in that while I was entering into and participating in many spiritual services I was accustomed to, everything looked different in this holy place. I was attending mass, but I was attending mass at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the exact place where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette over a century and a half ago. I participated in the Stations of the Cross, but this entailed a steep hike up a hillside, pausing at each station in front of lifelike figurines positioned to emulate Christ’s Passion and Death. As I reflected back on the week spent in Lourdes, I realized that the ordinary was made extraordinary through the power, beauty, and faith of the place. The location of Lourdes itself brought the sacraments, processions, and spiritual moments alive in a way that allowed me to experience their graces and richness more fully. Going away on a pilgrimage, to an unknown place, allowed me to focus more attentively on what was going on around, before, and within me.