Maltese Association Pilgrimage to Lourdes
3rd – 7th May
Maltese Association Pilgrimage Director
Marchesino Daniel de Petri Testaferrata
It was once again an immense pleasure and a great honour to chair the organizing committee of the Maltese Association Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I am particularly fortunate to be part of such an excellent team, under the guidance of our President Dr Philip Farrugia Randon. I am grateful to all the members of the committee, and indeed to all the team – Our Lords the Sick, pilgrims and personnel alike.
In Lourdes every activity has its place, and each one is extremely meaningful – whether it is a large international function, a Mass for the Maltese participants, or a few moments alone in the presence of our heavenly mother.
The breathtaking experience of participating in the Order’s International Pilgrimage is an annual experience for some of us, and a once-in-a-lifetime for others, yet each of us returns from Lourdes re-charged spiritually, ready to face our everyday realities with an improved vigour, with renewed hope, and a fervent faith in Our Lady. The joy on the faces of all our participants makes the many months of preparations more than worthwhile – it gives us the strength to get ready to do it all again twelve months later!
Maltese Association President
Once again hard work and excellent organisation paid well. This year’s pilgrimage to Lourdes was a resounding success where all pilgrims and Our Lords the Sick expressed their gratitude and satisfaction. There is always much trepidation before leaving since so many things can go wrong but then the Good Lady of Lourdes always sees us through the difficulties and helps us solve them. I cannot but thank all the volunteers and the members of the Lourdes Organising Committee for all their hard work but I must express a special gratitude to the Director of the Pilgrimage, who is also the Chancellor of Maltese Association , Marchesino Daniel de Petri Testaferrata. Last but certainly not least, I thank all those generous souls who financially helped Our Lords the Sick join us on this wonderful pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The Wards Experience
Working in the wards of the Accueil de Notre Dame
Hélène Zammit – Head of Wards
Working in the Wards for a number of years has been hard work but an extremely rewarding experience. Accommodating a good number of the Sick in the Accueil involves an ever-increasing amount of preparatory work. We now also pay home visits to each of the Sick before our departure, to ensure that their every need is catered for whilst in our care.
Three teams of enthusiastic volunteers, hard working nurses and dedicated doctors make sure that the Sick are medicated, helped to wash , dressed and are ready to attend the Religious functions One of our Chaplains is in attendance on the Ward floor to give them any spiritual guidance and support they may need. The Tisanerie is always well-stocked and constantly serving teas, coffees and snacks to the Sick or members of Personnel.
On their return from their outings often laden with water from the Grotto, souvenirs and big smiles the Sick find that all volunteers working in the Wards have been occupied making beds, washing floors and bathrooms. All has been disinfected and clothes patiently washed when necessary. We are then ready to sit and listen to many a sad story, getting to know them better or to recite the rosary with one of the Chaplains. Tired but unwilling to sleep since they have so much to share, they get ready for bed when the volunteers on the night-shifts come on duty.
It is sad helping them pack their bags on the last day, having got to know them during these few days of respite from the discomfort of their condition and constant medication. However most have found comfort in the presence of Our Lady and the knowledge that they are not alone in their suffering, hopeful that they may be lucky enough to be able to return to the peace of the Grotto sometime in the future.
The Refectory Experience
Helen Farrugia Randon – Head of Refectory
Every year managing the Refectory offers new challenges but also many satisfactions. The whole exercise requires a lot of preparation to meet the new requirements of Our Lords the Sick whilst ensuring a humane contact with each individual. The team’s duty is to see that each person is served in time, with the best food possible and in a manner which enhances human contact. I always emphasise the importance of retaining an individual rapport, thus leaving a mark and a sweet memory in each of our guests. This year again, I felt proud of having been assisted by an excellent team of volunteers who I thank most profusely.
Lourdes 2013: Pilgrimage with The Maltese Association in The Year of Faith
An Unforgettable Experience for Sr Christine Maria Vella OSJ and Sr Giuliana Portelli OSJ Jerosolomitan cloistered nuns of the Order of Malta
Sister Giuliana Portelli’s experience in Lourdes
I am a Gozitan from Nadur. At twenty years of age I entered the cloistered Monastery of St. Ursola in Valletta. On the 9th June it was my 45th anniversary in the cloister.
This year a big grace was granted to me when on the 3rd of May together with Sister Christine Maria Vella I was lucky to visit Lourdes with the Knights of our Sovereign Order of St. John the Baptist. I had never been overseas in my life, so for me it was a beautiful experience that at the age of sixty-five, I have been in an aeroplane for the first time. We had a very calm flight and in Lourdes during the four days there we had beautiful days in every aspect.
We were with the sick that the Knights take there once a year, part of their charitable work, and altogether we filled two aeroplanes. The joy I felt I cannot express with words, and there were many experiences I will never forgot. I really admire the helpers doing their work dedicatedly with such perfection. All very educated people and committed, amongst them a first year nursing student, other married or not. I am mentioning this to show appreciation for these volunteers because although they are very committed they still find time for such voluntary work. These are those who go to Lourdes, once, twice and even three times a year to help the sick! I would like to take the occasion and tell these volunteers to keep up the good work with such gentleness, patience and love they show to the sick during the visit. They were even a great help to us.
After we leave our rooms they used to clean them up for us so when we return we them in order. During meal times I was marvelled at the dedication these helpers showed towards the sick. There were some of them that was difficult to feed them, and there you see these angels with so much patience feeding them. Each helper had a group of sick to care for. They also created a wonderful atmosphere as they helped them by joking with them and keeping them happy. Surely this mission of their as it touched my heart is accumulating so merits for them before God.
One special and particular experience was when we went to the baths; what one feels in that water I cannot describe: Joy, peace, and a change and strengthening in body and soul. They took us into Bernadette’s house; in what poverty and simplicity they lived in. We also saw the house-prison that the Soubirous family had to sojourn in when they had to leave because Benardette’s father went bankrupt. I thought how even the saints had to pass through so much hardship in their lives.
Another beautiful experience was the Eucharistic procession at 4.30pm with all the sick in their wheelchairs in such a recollected atmosphere and silence although we were thousands. Processionaly walking behind the Blessed Sacrament, people from all over the globe, such a beautiful experience I encourage even those who visit Lourdes with a tour not to miss, to see what you personally will feel. The Eucharist should be our centre of attraction when we are at Lourdes and not get carried away with an urge to buy and entertainment. When one goes to Lourdes one get the grace of feeling heaven on earth; don’t miss it!
We also had the experience of another procession ‘aux Flambeaux’ in the evening. All with candle in hand, reciting the rosary and singing, brings tears of joy to your eyes. At that moment you experience Our Lady talking to you.
I was very impressed by the deep silence and recollection there is at any time you go to the Grotto. It really helps for one to meditate.
Before retiring to sleep Sister Christine Maria and I used to recite the rosary together on the veranda, and then the sick and volunteers used to join us in this prayer to Our Lady. After the helpers would bring us a cup of tea or coffee and a few biscuits, we gave goodnight to each other and retire to sleep because the next day at 6:00am they would come again to take us to breakfast. At 7:00am we all had a new taste of God’s providence: jam, butter, bread, cheese, biscuits, ect. Seeing the dedication of the helpers and if someone doesn’t like something or it’s not good for him or her you see them bringing something else. This gesture really touched me because although we had really good food they always tried to get the best for everyone of us.
In the evening we all used to gather for Eucharistic celebration, celebrated by Mons. Lawrence Gatt with other Maltese priests and Dun Gwann a Gozitan priets. We had a beautiful Mass in the underground Church dedicated to St. Joseph. I also want to give praise to Ms Philippa Farrugia Randon for animating the Mass with her beautiful voice by singing.
I musn’t forget the Way of the Cross: how beautiful are the statues of each station placed upon the hill amongst the trees. At every station we meditated in silence, I was assigned the sixth station. For the sick there are the Stations of the Cross in a plateau and the helpers took them there.
On the last day Sister Christine Maria took some photos and we bought some devotional souvenirs as a remembrance of this spiritual experience.
At 2:00am we left Lourdes to return to Malta. After a nice flight our pilgrimage ended. We would like to extend our thanks to all who helped this experience come true, especially all the helpers, most particularly Ms. Doris Aquilina.
One might say how could a cloistered nun go to Lourdes. Now I can say that this was an experience that strengthened my vocation for the cloistered life. During the visit we still we still lived in recollection and silence, not on the bastions of Valletta City, but we lived the cloister in the shadow of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. After this experience I have come to appreciate much more my vocation as a cloistered nun because the beauty and recollection of Lourdes I have now brought it with me in the embrace of the Monastery.
Sister Christine Maria Vella’s experience in Lourdes
Would you go to Lourdes this year?? I found our Mother Prioress asking me one evening in January this year. Lourdes?? I asked. I didn’t believe my ears admittedly as I knew Sr Lydia was supposed to go with Sr Giuljana this year. I simply didn’t believe it. I replied: ?It doesn’t matter to me if I go this year or another year!? So the following morning I phoned home and broke the news. It was mum who answered and dropped the phone by mistake when she learned the news, being a Lourdes addict!
So preparations began. Of all kinds. I knew the day was nearing when in April I found myself granted the obedience of sacristan when we were then due to change our obediences as we normally do once every three months. But when I found the Knights and Dames, coming into our church on the feast of St Mark, it was then that the excitement really began.
When the last week of waiting arrived, Sr Giuljana and myself were literally counting the hours. Wondering when to pack was more of a problem for her then for me. When it came to packing for trips and weekends, I was always a last-minute tripper. So being used to it I didn?t worry too much! I began to actually laugh at those nuns who thought I wasn’t going to make it to pack in time. They didn’t realise I had more experience then they did.
Thursday night finally arrived. I was really looking forward to reaching the airport on time. I was lucky knowing mum and dad were going to join in. Being cloistered nuns, these one-off experiences mean more than those in the outside world can imagine. Being out at the airport was a thrilling experience as for me it brought memories of past trips abroad with both the family and friends until I entered in October 2002. Back then I thought, no more going abroad? Little did I think that ten years later I?d be back in that same airport, surrounded by so many people and good bella compania. It?s hard to describe certain feelings.
Anyway the trip was a good one. I sat next to mum and dad. I found they knew a lot more Knights and Dames then I did. And being introduced to them was a pleasure, as the first confusion I faced was how to recognise all those faces all dressed in the same costume! When we arrived at the Accueil Notre-Dame, I vaguely sensed the area around the Basilica to familiar as I had been to Lourdes in the 80?s but as such I could not remember anything of the trip.
A short rest and then a tour around Lourdes. After that we had exciting processions which I haven?t forgotten: the Eucharistic procession; the International Mass; the Mass at the Grotto. All these experiences were charged with unforgettable emotions. Emotions which I still recall when I feel like looking at the almost 300 photos I collected during that four day stay. What made me smile was the number of people who stopped us in the streets as they recognised us from the historic monograph published by our late chaplain, Fr George Aquilina OFM. Much remains to be done to make the Monastery more known and accepted in the Order as there were those who found out about us only during those days.
I felt at home amidst the crowds of Knights and Dames during the processions. Looking around me, seeing all that dedication to the sick, I came to appreciate more then ever our founder Blessed Gerard. When I heard his name in the international Mass on Sunday morning, I began to wonder that probably there were many there present who still don?t know that in our church we have his principal relic. So I?m taking this opportunity to advertise his presence which is still among us and to say we are open to those who may wish to visit his relic.
Lourdes 2013. Someone told me: ?Sr Christine, you go to Lourdes only when our Lady wants you to!? True, I perfectly agree with the person, as it was a totally unexpected, unforgettable experience, for which I personally thank God and the Maltese Association.
A Pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Order of Malta
Fr Vince Fenech
For many Catholics, Lourdes, in France, is the site where Our Lady appeared eighteen times in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous, an illiterate fourteen-year-old girl. It has been estimated that the shrine attracts about five million pilgrims and tourists annually. I have been privileged to visit Lourdes several times, this year also as a sick person in a wheel chair with the Order of Malta, whose global associations sponsor an annual pilgrimage on behalf of more than one thousand sick persons.
Every year, in the first week of May (Mary’s month), Malta groups from all over the world, comprised of Knights and Dames of Malta, auxiliaries, clergy, medical teams, volunteers, and the Lords of the Sick and their caregivers, participate in this act of service – the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.
This year this pilgrimage was held between the 3rd & the 7th of May 2013. Activities included Masses, anointing of the sick, Stations of the Cross, spiritual healing baths and a beautiful evening candlelight procession.
While some Sick are capable of self-care, as I was, most are not, and are accompanied by their caregivers and serviced by designated Knights and Dames to whom they are assigned throughout the pilgrimage.
We arrived in Lourdes on Friday 3rd May at about 7.00am. The Accueil Notre-Dame was really near, comfortable and modern. Lunches and dinners were very well prepared thanks to all the volunteers who gave their time as to make us enjoy this pilgrimage. We rested and dinned at noon. Then at about 4.30pm Holy Mass was held in celebration of the start of the Pilgrimage at the Chapel of St Joseph.
On Saturday morning we atteded Holy Mass in Maltese at the Grotto at 8.30 a.m. where I had the privilage of reading the Gospel and afterwards we proceeded to the candle stands where the Maltese pilgrimage’s candle was presented to our Lady of Lourdes. In the afternoon we went for the Eucharistic blessing of the sick. The weather was very hot , but it was an overwhelming experience.
On Sunday we headed to the Pontifical High Mass at the Basilica of S Pius X starting at 9.30 a.m. and afterwards we lined up in front of the Basilica of the Holy Rosary for a group photo, a historical document of our unique experience of the pilgrimage. In the afternoon, we attended for the Way of the Cross.
Monday morning 6th May the pilgrimage proceeded to the Piscines where participants were free to immerse themselves in the waters of Lourdes. Many did. A unique experience was when the Grandmaster gave the pilgrims the medals as a souvenir. At 2.30 p.m. we had the closing Mass at the Chapel of St Joseph and at 8.30pm the pilgrimage attended for the Marian Procession Aux Flambeaux. Another overwhelming experience. Then at 11.00 p.m. we departed from the Hotels for flights KM 7451 and 7449 to Malta.
As for me, the time spent at the Sacred Shrine, was the most profound of the pilgrimage, immersed in the healing spirit of the Sanctuary. I became overwhelmed, by the manifest, deep faith and hope of those seeking the divine intercession of Our Lady.
I wish to thank all those who with alot of dedication from long before, work hard to make it a successful and a spiritually enriching experience.
Lourdes through the eyes of a child patient’s mother
As a Travel Agent myself, I had often wondered why many people travelled to Lourdes year after year, surely there is the whole world to see I used to say …
Last year was a tragic year for me when my ‘normal’ 7 year old child, Shannon suffered several cardiac arrests and an unfortunate brain injury from what was supposed to be an operation with normal procedures. Shannon’s life had changed and our battle to bring her back with rehabilitation and prayer started.
I received a call inviting Shannon to Lourdes along with the Knights of Malta and immediately I accepted as I wanted to go, especially because I believed that prayer kept Shannon with us and brought a start to recovery and her eye sight back.
Being in Lourdes was magical. Being with the Knights and helpers of the Order of St John was a unique and unforgettable experience. I felt like I was in World War II in a Red Cross Village just seeing so many who have suffered and so many who just want to help out from around the world. One thought crossed my mind – I / We are not alone! It wasn’t about a small Maltese community. It was an International community where the Knights of Malta brought people together to pray and seek comfort.
You cannot understand the atmosphere and feeling until you go. The emotions that escaped me when I touched the water in the Grotto, the Mass in the underground Basilica where we received Jesus and the want and need to pray so much was part of my own experience that I loved.
I want to return again and most definitely with the Knights of Malta. I commend them for everything they do. They give comfort and love to those who suffered and are suffering.
Marian Galea – Children’s Coordinator
Fourteen children participated in this year’s Maltese Association pilgrimage and these all joined the children’s programme sponsored by the Volunteers of the Order and led by Marian Galea and her team of helpers. Three of the children received their First Holy Communion during the Maltese Mass in the Grotto. Besides attending all the religious functions organised by SMOM, the children were treated to parties, picnic outings on the mountain (pic du Jer) and a visit to a nearby Zoo.
Josephine Farrugia Randon – Pilgrims Coordinator
Barely a week before we left for the SMOM yearly international pilgrimage to Lourdes, I was approached by the director of the pilgrimage and asked whether this year I would be willing to help the group of accompanying pilgrims who would be staying at the same hotel as myself, in Lourdes. The accompanying pilgrims had a special programme set out for them and my duty would be to help them and to take them round the main sites and accompany them to all the organised functions according to the programme.
At first I got cold feet since for years I had carried out duties at the refectory of the Acceuil which kept me in close contact with Our Lords the Sick. After giving the matter some thought, I looked at this change as God’s will for me and therefore accepted gladly. I immediately set out to inform myself in more detail about Lourdes, the apparitions, the grotto and the main shrines and sites connected to what happened in Lourdes in 1858 .I even read a lot about the life and times of St Bernbadette Soubirous.
On our first day in Lourdes I took the pilgrims on a familiarisation visit to the grotto and the main shrines connected to it. I could explain in detail and even answer questions that some of the pilgrims asked. An essential part of my duty was to accompany the hotel pilgrims to the different functions laid out in the programme.
Being a retired teacher, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed all this and by the time the pilgrimage came to an end I had developed a very cordial relationship with my pilgrims who were always so very gentle, cooperative, appreciative and punctual.
I must confess that I wouldn’t mind carrying out the same duty on our next pilgrimage, please God.