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Monday, April 24, 2017

March 19, 2017…Back from Lourdes.
Ha, now it is March 24th. Time flies (usually away, Ha.)
    Well, here goes. Before we left, someone phoned to ask if I was sick. I was surprised. No, I don’t think so, why. Well, she heard that I was going to have an operation. Oh, yes, not an operation but a “procedure”, on my left knee. The Doctor, as you know, had taken an X-ray which showed that the cartilage in my left knee was pretty much gone. (too much praying, you know!) Well, as I mentioned in the last Blog, the group ordered a wheel chair for me at all the airports. They meet you as you arrive and whisk you through customs and immigration and right up to the door of the next plane. Wow. Nice, but very embarrassing as you fly by the rest of your gang who are trudging a few miles to the customs queue and then to the immigration queue, etc. However, I asked God to forgive me for my laziness. You know, at these new airports, the distances from one gate to the other can be a real challenge for us seniors, or those who have arthritis or whatever. Anyway, It was appreciated but I am not sure if I will do that again next time. We shall see. (Maybe it hurts my pride too much, Ha)
     Well, we expected to go directly from Durban to Doha in Qatar, but we flew to Joburg first. Some of our gang had come from Mpulalanga and it would have been much easier for them to climb aboard at Joburg but they didn’t know. Next time.
     So we got to Doha (very fancy, lots of money here) and got on the plane from Doha to Paris. About 8 hrs. I long ago lost my enthusiasm for airplanes that keep you cooped up for more than two or three hours, but….
We arrived (having had little sleep from our overnight flight from Durban to Joburg to Doha, in the early afternoon. We arrived  at DeGaulle airport (also very fancy). There was a bus waiting for us (good organization) that took us to a pilgrimage place where St. Catherine Laboure had a vision of the Blessed Mother who told her to have a medal cast with the words “Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The so-called Miraculous Medal. It seems that many “miraculous” cures took place for those who prayed to Mary as she had asked. The body of St. Catherine was found to be preserved, uncorrupted after many years in the grave. This all took place starting around 1814 or so. We took time to pray there and had Mass for our group (we had to book a time in their chapel) and then caught a bus to the hotel where we stayed overnight. This was Palm Sunday night.
     Monday after Palm Sunday, another bus was waiting for us to take us to a place called Nevers (about a 3 and ½ hr. drive more or less North of Parish ---I think) where St. Bernadette, the one who saw visions of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes, came to join the convent when she had grown a bit. She lived and died here without ever going back to Lourdes, as I understand it. Hers is the second body that I saw that is still uncoruppted after all these years. Again, we said Mass for our pilgrims and spent the time having a look around and taking time to pray again.
     Tuesday morning of Holy Week, caught a bus back to Parish (another 3 and ½ hr. drive but this time to Orly Airport (mostly local flights within France, whereas De Gaulle is for International Flights) where we caught a plane to a place called Pau, not far from Lourdes, where we met another bus that had been waiting for us to take us to the Hotel in Lourdes. It was about an hour’s ride. At the Hotel, our leader explained what we were going to do so we had supper and a good sleep.
      Wednesday, of Holy Week, we were given a kind of tour, a look around, at the grounds (pretty big grounds) at Lourdes. Then, those who felt up to it were invited to make the Way of the Cross which goes up the mountain behind and above the grotto. In spite of my trick knee, I was able to hold my own and even to outpace some of the others who are not used to walking a lot or climbing hills. The stations are statues that are more than life sized and really catch your attention. Someone read off a meditation while we reflected on each station. I thought that I would have updated the more pious one that we used by reflecting on the Way of the Cross that Jesus carries today in Iraq and Iran and Syria and Pakistan and Egypt and Palestine, and even in the USA under Trump. The Jesus that suffers and falls and gets crucified today in His people. Maybe next time, if there will be a next time.
      The rest of the day was free for us to do whatever we wanted. There are at least three basilicas and many chapels that attract people, but I was drawn, like a magnet to the Grotto, where the whole story began. I had promised to bring my whole gang from Savannah Park, as well as all my relatives and friends and all who needed healing either in body or in spirit before Mother Mary to place them before her and ask her to pay attention to them and their needs and to ask her Son to bless them and make them strong in their faith.
     I did that every day for several hours, just sitting there in front of the grotto where the spring sprang up and where there is now a statue approximately where Mary showed herself to this young, simple, uneducated peasant girl, eventually revealing herself, when the girl, Bernadette (now St . Bernadette) asked what he name was, by saying that she is the Immaculate Conception. When the girl told her parish priest that she had seen this lady in several visions, he had doubts about whether she was dreaming or hallucinating, but when he asked who the lady said she was, and when she said “The Immaculate Conception”, he knew that this really happened because she, Bernadette, wouldn’t have a clue what “Immaculate Conception” was. So that was the beginning of the story about Lourdes. The Mother Mary asked Bernadette to dig in the cave (where pigs used to shelter) through the mud and pig dung and there a spring sprang up. It is still there today and that is about 180 yrs. ago. The water has been piped to various places so that people can drink or take some water home or eve have a bath (it is ice cold…I was chicken so I just washed my face and neck). Most people also brush their hands along the damp wall  of solid rock asking to help their faith to be as strong as the rock.
    There are benches to sit and kneel in front of the grotto, and there is a huge candle stand where candles are burning night and day as a symbol or the burning faith of Bernadette and those who come here in faith to pray.
It is said that there have been 69 cures that have been recorded, miraculous, since Bernadette’s time. That is, Doctors, many of whom are skeptical about cures like this, investigate what happened and eventually came to the conclusion that there is no earthly explanation as to how these people could have been cured, like a cancerous tumor that is there when the person comes and, in an instant, after praying to Mary or bathing in the water, the tumor just disappears, finished. No explanation. Something like that.
     Well, as I said, I used to come in the morning and in the afternoon to pray and meditate in front of the statue of Mary, at the spot where she showed herself to little Bernadette. There were lots of people around, all day long going through the queue to the grotto and sitting or kneeling at the benches in front of the grotto. I just  tuned them all out and didn’t see or hear a thing while I was doing my thing there. The conversation was probably one-sided as I did most of the talking to Mary, but I think that she heard me and I felt a kind of closeness to her through that.
      We were supposed to have said Mass together that Wednesday, but booking difficulties got in the way so we just had to let it go.
      Thursday, Holy Thursday, there is only one Mass, an International Mass, where all the pilgrims from all over the world (every Continent I am sure from the looks of things) came together in the underground basilica of St. Pius X. We were reminded by the readings of 1) the Institution of the Eucharist, which has been passed down to us to this day… do this in memory of me   2) the Institution of the Priesthood, so that the message cold continue to be told after Jesus returned home…it is the day when priests renew their vows, promises, to be good servants and shepherds of God’s people   3) The great commandment, via the foot washing, love one another as I have loved you.  WE ( some of my fellow pilgrims who had been there before, grabbed me and told me to go with them now to be able to get a seat up close. I think we were in the 4th pew behind some others and a whole row of wheelchairs who sat right up in front, where they should be. However, there were screens where the service was televised, so that no matter where you were sitting (the church holds 30,000 people sitting) you were in touch with what was going on. The main service was in French but the reading and some explanations were in various languages. Some of the readings were also shown on the screen, in German, or Dutch, or English or Spanish or whatever. It was really well done, under the circumstances, to try to keep everyone in touch with the heart of the service. At communion, I am sure that there were probably at least 50 priests who mingled with the crowds to bring communion to everyone.  The service started at 8:30 and ended just before 11pm. Off to bed with sweet dreams.
     Friday, Good Friday, The leader of our group caught me in the morning after breakfast and said he would take me to visit an Oblate priest (OMI), Fr. Paul Horlocks, whom I knew years ago as a seminarian and who has been a part of the chaplaincy there in Lourdes for some years now. He took me to a building where many priests are busy hearing confessions most of the day, and one of them was to be Fr. Paul. It was a great reunion, and we had time to catch each other up on our lives and then I took the opportunity to make my confession to him to get myself cleaned up for Easter. It was a good morning.
     I then spent some time, again, at the grotto, and after lunch, joined a few other of our pilgrims to get a good place up front for the Good Friday liturgy which was to start at 3pm. Again, the church was full, and we were able to follow the Passion, which was acted out, in front of us and when, on the other side, visible on the screens overhead. Once again, there were many priests on had to hold a cross for all  30,000 of us to venerate and, after that, to distribute communion, making us one with the suffering Christ on that sad, sad day.
The rest of the day I spent trying to imagine how Mary felt and how the Apostles felt now that their leader whom they loved, respected and looked to for guidance was now gone. Now what? Is what I thought they thought. We thought that he was the one who was going to save Israel, but look….. what a disaster.
(I forgot to mention that we usually had a European breakfast, e.g. maybe some cereal, some yogurt, plenty of French bread with some cheese and maybe a slice or two of lunch meat. Well, we got into the habit of grabbing a few slices of break, some cheese and a slice or two of the lunch meat and a cup of coffee and sat down with some others for a breakfast together. As I was happily munching on my cheese and ham sandwich, I suddenly became aware that this was Good Friday… of the two days –the other being Ash Wednesday—when the Church asks us to refrain from eating meat. Ha. I guess that there are quite a few of us who will be going to hell, and imagine this, that we were on pilgrimage. Ha. I hope that the Lord forgave us.)
      Holy Saturday, I did my usual visit to Mary at the grotto and also decided to buy a few items ( remembrances) for the people back home, including a small statue of Mary for our humble parish at Savannah Park. I had exchanged a few dollars I had for some Euros and was also helped by some of the pilgrims in our group.
    Twice, I was invited out of lunch (we were served breakfast and supper at the hotel, but had to fend for ourselves for lunch. Usually I just skipped it because I have a good constitution and also because, for most of the time it was still Lent, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of penance. One of the meals was at an Indian Restaurant where we had a delicious Curry meal. I am addicted to Indian curry and was very happy with this gift.
       That night, the Easter Vigil Service stated at 8pm and I sat in the front pew with one of the pilgrims who saved a place for me. The weather had been beautiful all along except for today, overcast and kind of drizzly. Being at the foot of the Pyrenees, it was cold in the mornings (6C, with snow on the mountains) but nice during the day.
      Again, the service was mainly in French but with readings in different languages, catering to all who were there. Well done. It was said that there were 35,000 attending the service that evening as the benches were full but thousands of people were also standing. Christ the light. We all lit our candles at the right time. The song praising the Easter Candle is done much better here with us in Africa where there is a tradition of Praise singers who do just that, making up their own words in praise of someone…the king, the chief, a newly ordained, one who has just taken his or her vows, a birthday person, etc….He or she is called and Umbongi, and we could show them how it was done, I thought.  But we were happy to know that the crucifixion was not the end of the story, but that His love conquered sin and death and brought Him new life, which He shares with all of us. The impossible happened. It sets a standard for us Christians. There is nothing that is impossible when we stick with God, nothing!!!
   We got to bed very late, about 1am, and we had to be up at 6 am to get organized for our return journey home.
Easter Sunday…I was up at 4am, my usual time, packed and ready to go and preparing a short service for our group in the sitting room of the hotel at 6am. Then we had breakfast and climbed on the bus at 8am to be whisked off to the airport at Pau, about an hour’s drive away, reluctantly saying goodbye to Lourdes. From that airport we flew back to Orly and were met by the last bus we were to use that took us for a short tour of Paris. Unfortunately, since it was Easter Sunday, it was a holiday, and many things were closed so we only saw the outside of the Louvres, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and other places that our guide pointed out to us. I managed to get a good picture of the Eiffel Tower but we had no time to climb up there.
     Our guide has booked us a trip on the Seine river for about an hour where we were able to see and hear an explanation of what we were seeing as we went along.
    Then we climbed back on the bus and headed for De Gaulle airport to begin the long flight home. The flight only left at about 10:45 at night so we tried to get some sleep (not too well) and when we arrived in Doha, we only had a short time to catch our flight to Durban. After a short stop in Joburg to let those passengers off, we finally arrived in Durban on Easter Monday evening about 5pm. Thank goodness, Bishop Khumalo, faithful friend and brother, was there to fetch me and take me home. I didn’t bother with eating anything but just unpacked my things, got myself organized for the next day and hit the sack.
So that is the story of the Lourdes trip. A bit long but you can skip it if you like.

The next day, Tuesday, I was up at the usual 4am to get ready for the 6 am Mass at St. Mary’s hospital. I had promised that I would be there and I kept my promise.
But the next few days I was a lazy guy. Lots of lying down time and sleeping, probably more that 10 or 11 hours a day. Now work until Thursday and Friday and Saturday when I got myself back into working in the garden, not overdoing it, but maybe an hour and a half to two hours. Again, a lazy guy.
    Since then, since my gang at Savannah Park, an outstation, was going to be up at the mother church on April 30th, I contacted my neighboring priest and offered to help him that Sunday. Well he not only grabbed at the chance ( he actually has three parishes that he has to look after every weekend. It is too much and a no win situation since each of them has many families. Priest shortage. I feel sorry for these young guys who are put into such a no win situation, and who try to do their best)
    Well, since he was able to hook me for that Sunday at one of his parishes, he also asked if I could take the evening Masses at another of his parishes, last Saturday and next Saturday. OK. So I don’t have too much time for mischief again.
     I said the Sunday Mass at Savannah Park yesterday and was helped by  a young deacon from the Sacred Heart religious community. He wanted to try to preach in Zulu and he did well. He is from Madagascar. We then had lunch at Mike and Net Pillay’s, as usual, with their children and called it a day after that.
      Today I got a document from my optometrist to say the I can see ok to drive. But, I realize that I don’t need it because tomorrow I am going to get in the queue to get my car registration done. It expires at the end of the month. I want to get in the queue early, maybe 7am, so that I don’t have to wait all day.

    Well, that is a lot. I think that you had better go to bed now, like I am going to do. It is 9:45 pm and I will be up at 4 am again so it is time to say good night. Cas. 

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