Heather in Rome

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. - St. Augustine

Saturday, January 7

3 Days in Lourdes

On the morning of the 30th I caught a bus to Toulouse, France. The ride was 6 1/2 hours and I spent the first part talking to a girl who was traveling home with her boyfriend to visit her family. She was interesting. Definitely the hippy/alternative lifestyle type who had an American father and French mother and spoke lots of languages, including Esperanto (a language created to unite the world that would have no irregulars and be phonetically correct). She was nice and our conversation occupied at least an hour of the trip.

When we arrived in Toulouse, I had to catch a train to Lourdes. Train stations are different than airports in that you can arrive 3 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave and still catch the train. I didn't realize this and ended up missing the train I had a ticket for. I actually wanted to catch the second train anyway to be on time with the woman picking me up in Lourdes so it wasn't a problem. When I arrived in Lourdes, the woman was waiting for me and she took me to St. Therese House, a lodging house for pilgrims run by the Emmanuel Community. I got there in time for dinner and after the dinner was over, the head lady looked at me and asked if I would like to sing a song to end the meal (the EC is big on singing before and after meals. It's really nice). I was the only one who didn't speak French so I started singing the only EC song I know in French. I expected others to join in with me, but only 1 or 2 did. Yikes! I was singing in front of everyone in a language that is not my own. I was initiated into the group right away.

It would be boring to write down my schedule for each day because it was a lot of praying at the basilica, hanging out at the house, and learning some French words. There were many special moments though. The first full day I was there was the 31st and I tagged along with a group of Boston seminarians that were at the Emmanuel house. We went to the basilica and grotto together and the priest said Mass in English in the crypt level of the basilica. I was glad to have English speakers who knew home and they might have been glad to have a female presence for a bit of time. In the afternoon I helped a married couple (Gilles and Christine) set up the dining room for the New Year's Eve festivities and then we moved into the kitchen to prepare dinner. It was so much fun. I learned some words and so did they and we would be talking and then say, "Hold on," and run to the translating dictionary to understand what we were saying to each other. It may sound frustrating, but everyone knew enough English that we could have basic conversations and learn about each other's cultures.

That night there was a big party. Dinner consisted of toasted bread squares topped with cheese or creamed fish (sound gross maybe but it was yummy), followed by salad (prosciutto ham, melon, onion, asparagus, tomato, and lettuce), followed by meat and vegetables (although I can't remember what). After the main course, following the French way, cheese cubes were brought out. I had wondered why more bread was put on the table, not realizing that of course cheese would be next. The key to eating cheese, I was told, is to chew it and right before swallowing, drink some wine. I kept forgetting to drink before swallowing, but when I finally did it, I almost choked. Not my style. After cheese (I was thinking that was the dessert), we had dessert, but I can't remember what that was either. What a meal! It was so great not only because of the French dining experience, but also because I sat next to a couple from Spain and got to speak Spanish with them and also talk more with the French couple from earlier. The environment felt like a family with everyone talking, laughing, and joking with each other.

After the dinner, close to midnight, a bunch of people from the house loaded into cars and went to the Grotto (where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette) for Mass at midnight. I was there and didn't understand a word, what with the language and the rain making noise on umbrellas. Because I didn't understand what was being said, I had an hour to pray and reflect on the past year and the many blessings I was given. All I have to say is God is good. Never did I expect to be where I am in life and it is amazing. I told God He better take me some place cool after staying in Riverside a year longer than planned, but I never thought it would be Rome, Portugal, Spain, France, England, the Netherlands, Ireland, etc. What a reward for trusting His call!
After the Mass we all went back to the house and drank hot chocolate and people started dancing. It was crazy in a good way. All the kids were up and celebrating and I could see the love the families shared. It was wonderful to see.

As far as the Shrine goes, it is beautiful. The outside of the basilica has got to be my favorite of all the churches I've seen in my life. I have a postcard of that so I can scan it in a couple days and post it. It is undescribeable. Every time I would walk by I would sigh at the beauty of the church. And it's such a holy place too. For a recap of the story of the appirition, Mary appeared to Bernadette when she was a teenager and told her to wash her face and drink the water in that place. There was no spring so Bernadette started digging and drinking the muddy water that surfaced. Soon a real spring bubbled to life and people are healed when they bath in the waters at Lourdes. There is more to the story, but that is a quick summary. It's a powerful place spiritually.

So for the three days I was there, I walked to the Shrine to pray, took a dip in the cold spring water, hung out with Gilles and Christine and their family at the house, walked through the small town which was pretty shut down for the holidays, and just relaxed. I slept in, went to bed early, ate lots of delicious French bread. I did get tired of the rain though. It rained every single day so my daily outfit included a big snowboarding jacket, poncho, beanie, gloves, and scarf. I don't want to wear that jacket the whole 11 days I'm back in Rome before leaving for Ireland. I've had to wear it too much while on vacation.

I might take a typing break, but Grenoble and hanging with Carole and her family is next.


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