Maltese Association Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2015
1st – 5th May
Every month of May, nearly 4,000 Knights and Dames from all over the world travel to Lourdes to learn firsthand what belonging to the Order of Malta really means – devotion, service, and camaraderie. Dressed in distinctive uniforms and ministering to the sick and persons with special needs (referred to as “Our Lords the Sick”), the members of the Order form an international community of faith and service given with love.
Making the pilgrimage can be a profound religious experience. Linked as it is with hands-on service, the pilgrimage offers unique spiritual gifts to all. Knights, Dames and volunteers are assigned to various duties assisting the malades from early morning into the evening. There are doctors and nurses on hand assisting throughout the pilgrimage. The schedule is full, but very rewarding, and there is also time for reflection and relaxation, in addition to being a tremendous spiritual experience, the pilgrimage can also be a very enjoyable time. We welcome all those interested, their friends and young people to join us and share this amazing and unique experience! Please contact the Secretariat Office on 21 226919 or 21 246406 or on email@example.com for more information.
The Story of What Happened in Lourdes in 1858
In 1858, in a cave, named Massabielle, situated in Lourdes in the Pyrénées of southern France, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on eighteen occasions to Bernadette Soubirous, a very poor, 14-year-old girl. The first of the apparitions took place on February 11th and the last on July 16th.
The lady – wearing a white dress with a blue sash and with gold roses at her feet -asked that a chapel be built on the site of the vision and told Bernadette to drink from a fountain in the Grotto. “Go, drink of the waters and bathe yourself there.” Though no fountain was to be seen, when Bernadette dug at a spot designated by the apparition a spring began to flow.
The water from this still-flowing spring has shown remarkable healing power, though it contains no curative property that science can identify. And, still today, the Blessed Mother encourages us to approach the waters of grace with confidence.
Despite intense opposition by the civil authorities, the Grotto where the apparitions occurred became a site of miraculous healings from the very beginning. After careful examination, the Catholic Church declared the events at Lourdes worthy of belief and has encouraged Catholics to pray to our Lady of Lourdes. It, however, does not insist that Catholics believe this historical event as an Article of Faith.
Catholic Church declared the events at Lourdes worthy of belief and has encouraged Catholics to pray to our Lady of Lourdes. It, however, does not insist that Catholics believe this historical event as an Article of Faith.
The Church has officially recognized 69 miracles—the last of which occurred in 1989. The International Medical Committee of Lourdes, a group of about 20 physicians, has certified another 2,000 unexplained cures. Many of the pilgrims are sick, hoping for physical healing and often experience interior miracles—people who are ill, even dying, who are able to leave Lourdes with an inner peace they did not before experience: “Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never thirst again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within them, welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14
Maltese Association Pilgrimage Director
Marchesino Daniel de Petri Testaferrata
It is such an immense honour, and a great pleasure, to coordinate the Maltese Association’s efforts to organize our annual pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Sanctuary in Lourdes. The Organising Committee and I are very grateful to all the participants, who made this year’s pilgrimage such a success.
The many months of hard work are certainly a burden, but this pales into insignificance when compared with the huge hardships that Our Lords the Sick have to bear every day of their lives. If our small sacrifice can go but a short way towards lightening their load, even if this is only for a few days, all will have been worthwhile and more.
I dare to go even further: the grace we receive, as members of the team, is immense. We are honoured by being of service to Our Lord himself, who appears to us in the face of each and every individual we assist. We therefore have much to be grateful for!
The Organising Committee is very grateful to all the Individuals and Organisations that have supported this Pilgrimage financially. Special gratitude is due to our National Charity, the Malta Community Chest Fund which works tirelessly to provide for those who are in need. Their constant annual support of this pilgrimage is very gratefully acknowledged.
Maltese Association President
I always enjoyed Lourdes but this time was exceptional. I had a whale of time with Our Lords the Sick during eating time – that’s three times a day. We laughed, we sang and we also danced. We also shared so many secrets which made me cry, wonder and ponder. We prayed fervently and begged Our Lord and his Holy Mother to help us through some very difficult moments. Those will remain my secrets, my thoughts, my points of reference. Lourdes is always made up of stories which shake the spirit, change one’s perspectives, and make one realize what the real core is.
Next year will bring me in touch with other stark realities. And I shall be a richer spirit.
Ecclesiastical Master of Ceremonies Chaplain
Mgr Paul Carmel Vella
There are those who go to Lourdes in order to feel useful, helping those who are in need and giving aid to the sick and the ill. There are those who go to Lourdes in search of some kind of spiritual healing, or perhaps because they have been ‘healed’ from their ailments and problems through the intercession of Our Lady and want to give thanks to God for such intercession in the presence of Our Lady herself.
I have been to Lourdes many a time, and after more than twenty times in Our Lady’s city, I go there to meet God. I meet him in the Blessed Sacrament, both when I am alone in the Chapel as well as when I join the procession in the afternoon. I meet God during Holy Mass, during the reciting of the Blessed Rosary, during the aux flambeaux. I meet God when I am speaking with the helpers and nurses and doctors. I meet God when I am talking and chatting with our lords the sick, those who are in particular health crisis or ailment.
And the question I always ask myself after coming back from Lourdes is the one big question: did I really meet God? Did I let God show Himself to me at Lourdes? Was I attentive enough to grasp Him when he passed in front of me, showed himself to me, talked to me? Was I ready at each and every moment to do what He asked and is asking of me?
This is what I experience in Lourdes, an experience, which pushes me forward, throws me into the world proclaiming Him as my only Saviour, the one and only Saviour of mankind.
Order of Malta Volunteers in Gozo Chaplain
Fr Geoffrey G Attard
For many years I had been wanting to accompany the Knights of Malta on their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. Although I had been to Lourdes twice in the past (2001 & 2009) I had never had the opportunity to visit the Marian sanctuary in the Pyrenees with the Order. My life-long friend Chris Galea K.M. had been inviting me to join him and the Order one year after the other. May 2015 was to present me with this golden opportunity. I was excited from the very moment when I handed in my name; the rest must have all been in God’s plan because I enjoyed every moment of the pilgrimage. Beside the fact that I made an endless number of friends, the pilgrimage was an enriching spiritual and human experience. I felt I was at the heart of a great family where everybody wanted to be kind and to help. Lourdes itself with its sense of peace and harmony, with the river Gave going through it and with the beautiful green meadows on each side of the river only a few metres away from the place where the Virgin decided to speak to the poor girl Bernadette Soubirous seems to me a place out of this world. The many knights, dames and volunteers ready to walk patients around and take them from the Accueil to the grotto and back, the hours of Eucharistic Adoration in the afternoon, and Mass during which His Eminence the Cardinal Prospero Grech OSA administered the sacrament of Confirmation to two young Maltese twins as well as the various Masses in the different sanctuaries that dot the area of Massabielle made the pilgrimage a very special one indeed. I enjoyed also meeting a couple of prelates such as Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, the Patronus of the Order as well as other cardinals and bishops who happened to be in Lourdes at the moment. Last but not least I will never forget the great gathering presided by the Grand Master himself where I could admire the groups coming from different countries around the world, including Iraq, every country with its own flag but with the same common coat-of-arms of the Order. The Sunday Mass in the Basilica of St Pius X presided by Cardinal Burke was to me an out-of-this world experience; I had never seen so many thousands of people at Mass in one place before; it was to me like a post-modern Pentecost unfolding before my very eyes. All in all, my first experience in Lourdes with the Order of Malta was an unforgettable experience which I would like to repeat; it was an opportunity for me to see the basic truths of the Gospel becoming true as I observe how faith, hope and charity art not simply heavenly gifts but down-to-earth realities that can be lived by one and all.
Children’s Programme Chaplain
Rev. Fr Savio Vella
This year’s children’s programme at Lourdes was a particularly meaningful one. The number of children and their parents and relatives has almost doubled in number, and the staff were very well organised. The general atmosphere was a serene one, and we all had ample time for prayers and a relaxed time. The children looked as if they were having a great time, and smiles and hugs were abundant and freely given. It was an atmosphere one would wish to be living at all times. Our Sunday Mass, which is the climax of our Lourdes experience, was such a happy moment; the noisy, playful presence of the innocent children and the joy of parents and staff was in itself a sign of God’s presence and that of His Holy Mother, amongst us. A word of thanks to the organisers, the parents, the helpers and all involved in making such a wonderful experience possible. God works in such amazing ways, and His presence fills our hearts with hope and with great joy. A great thank you goes to His Mother, who is the one who calls us to Lourdes, so that She can give us this opportunity to meet Her Son. This year’s meeting with Christ was a special one for the twin boys who did their Confirmation at the Grotto, and to the young child who received Holy Communion for the first time. May our Lady keep us all in Her care.
Children’s Programme Personnel
The pilgrimage of the year 2015 was my third experience. Year after year it gets more and more interesting. The variety of great people that you come across during those 5 days is incredible. Everyone willing to give a helping hand! I formed part of the children’s programme this year. It is an incredible experience! The energy and love of put together to create such an awesome event is mind blowing. Looking forward to next year already!
Parents of Twin Child Patients
Being parents of two twins with special needs, makes us somewhat different but also gives us the opportunity to meet new people and experience some beautiful experiences. And this year was no exception because we were invited to take part in a pilgrimage with The Maltese Association of The Order of Malta.
Arriving at Lourdes with every detail taken care of by the helpers of The Order, the trip was quite easy for us. One of the reasons of our visit there, apart from praying and thanking God and the Holy Mary for everything we have, was the confirmation of our kids Zakk and Liam. Words can not describe the feeling there. The simplicity of the ceremony itself, although it was lead by Cardinal Prospero Grech, was somewhat special. During the Mass, there was a feeling of serenity and peacefulness, and although our kids can’t talk, we could see the tranquility allover their faces. They knew something special was happening.
Being at Lourdes on the 1st Sunday of May, watching all those knights from all over the world, was another wonderful experience. Seeing all those knights carry the Maltese Cross of The Order that was a good part of our history made us proud to be Maltese. Perhaps these are the miracles that happen at Lourdes which often go unnoticed… an Order that was founded over 900 years ago is still helping people in need in the world we are living today, watching all those people helping others giving their time and money, is truly a big miracle!
Our visit at Lourdes is something we will never forget. We feel blessed that we were part of such a beautiful thing. Sharing our experiences with other people showed us that we are not walking a difficult journey alone… there is God walking right besides us.
Parents of Child Patient
We were not expecting or planning to go to Lourdes this year so when our friend asked us if we wanted to go with the Knights of the Order of Malta it was a very nice surprise.
Timmy has always loved Mary. Last year during one of the hardest stages of his treatment when he was having radiotherapy in England, he was praying with his Daddy to his angels for their help and protection when he said:”Daddy, Mary is my angel!”
We had two main motivations for going to Lourdes: First of all to pray for all our dear friends and their children suffering with cancer whom we’ve met since Timmy was diagnosed with having a brain tumour in January 2014.Our second overwhelming motivation was to go and thank Mary for her intercession because through her in a special way and through the hundreds of friends praying for us, we believe the LORD healed Timmy. In fact in October 2014 we even sent her a thank you card with a friend who was visiting Lourdes.
Lourdes is a very special place where we felt Mary’s presence in a gentle but profoundly peaceful way. Despite having two small lively children with us, we felt so much at peace spiritually and even rested physically. The Knights of the Order of Malta and their volunteers helped us so much and their selfless service was exemplary. The highlight of our stay was definitely the experience of going into the bath. It is an experience which words cannot express except to say that truly it is a place of healing and renewal in a much much deeper way than just the physical. We pray to God and Mary that if it’s His will we will return to Lourdes once again!
Parents of Child Patient
This was my second experience in Lourdes and yet it was the same and different at the same time from my first visit. Different because it was more hectic and we could participate more. The same cause, the same sense of peace, happiness and well-being pervaded me again.
We had the usual well organised pilgrimage and the usual kind volunteers of the Order of the Knights of Malta. Words simply fail me to describe these good people who show so much dedication to the sick and needy. They renew my faith in humanity as their selflessness reminds me that there is still a lot of good and positive in this chaotic world we live in.
Lourdes is a place which I need in my life. It gives me the boost to carry on and on. Every time I need to find a sense of peace I just close my eyes and think of Our Lady in the Grotto. The place is simple and awesome at the same time. To see those multitudes of people from all over the world praying and looking so happy with radiant faces is a miracle in itself.
As long as there is Lourdes, our world is safe from all the evil that is tearing the fabric of society. As long as we go to visit Our Lady in Lourdes and pray to Her, God will continue to show mercy on us. Our Lady of Lourdes doesn’t heal our physical ailments only but more important She heals our hearts and souls. For me Lourdes is the Heaven on earth.
I thank everybody who made all this possible again for us. I congratulate you on the excellent organisation from the President Dr Philip Farrugia Randon to all the volunteers who do their utmost to see to our comfort. God bless you all.
Parents of Child Patient
We were so happy when we were asked to go to Lourdes with the Order of Malta this May, as last year we would have loved to go but unfortunately Samuel was very unwell.
Both Samuel and Jacob his younger brother were looking forward to going on the plane again and having a break. We all were.
Marianne came over to our house to explain what was going to happen and she gave us the best news Samuel wished for. She told us that Samuel could do his First Holy Communion in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and he was on top of the world.
Every Sunday he would ask me if he could receive and was so looking forward to it because he really wanted to see what it felt like to receive God.
Meeting our Rainbow ward (Puttinu Cares) family at the hotel in Lourdes and eating together made it such a pleasant experience. We were all looking forward to spending some quality time together out of our usual environment.
Saturday morning as we sat in the Grotto the sun shone on us and the sky was so clear. God was there with us and our Lady of Lourdes too. A magical moment for many of us, but Samuel’s day had finally arrived and his dream come true, when he could ask me if he can receive and I could say Yes.
A mixture of emotions, unexplained joy, peace, love and also sadness.
Sunday mass for the kids was another incredible experience as Fr. Savio gave Samuel permission to give us his parents holy communion after he received himself first. A once in a lifetime experience that no parent would ever expect to experience.
There are no words to explain our emotions and gratitude towards all who helped make this experience a memorable one.
Most of the people who looked after us were total strangers, but they made us feel as though we have known each other for many years. This is not something that you would feel if you were in any other place. Lourdes is a very special place and makes everyone feel like family.
I on behalf of my family would like to thank all those who were involved in this amazing Pilgrimage to Lourdes most especially to the Maltese Association of the Order of Malta.
On 30th April 2015 I started unwrapping a lovely gift, which was a Pilgrimage with the Maltese Association of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Malta to Lourdes, till the 5th of May to be beside my Blessed Mother at the Grotto!
I did not know what to expect, but on entering the Airport I saw all these lovely people who were volunteers and members of the Order. They were all wearing these smart uniforms, all prime and proper.
I felt I was already in very good hands. We were led in and the baggage checked in, all handled with a pinch of salt. Any kind or size or shape of luggage went through satisfying and suiting the Lords of the Sick personal or special requirements.
We were surrounded by these “sorelle” and “barellieri”, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, specialists, all in uniform covering what their real profession was but showing that they were there for you! There were also a number of priests and even Monsignors as part of the team and even a Maltese Cardinal! I even felt important too!
I was already feeling part of a family I never knew before but getting to know very quickly. I was also lucky to discover that there were quite a few old Aloysians some older or younger or same age. That was really great!
I was being accompanied by a Member of the order who was nearly my age and always ready to be of service with a kind sweet, dutiful service that made feel always safe, contented and honoured to be there.
The Pilgrimage programme was very well organised and simply scheduled but still leaving us with ample time to do as we pleased and to rest. So was Mass and other functions.
Breakfast, lunch and dinners’ times were always sharp so that the programme would be always on schedule and the staff themselves would have their own time to attend to others and their own needs too!
The personnel of the Order were always ‘waiting’ on the Lords of the Sick, to cater for urgent or immediate needs whatever it was. Be it simply a cup of tea with a biscuit or something trivial, it was never a problem. However everything was done with diligence, discipline, love and dedication as if they had known you for years, with dignity and as a sense of true duty towards the sick or with special needs or because you had just arrived from outside or just waken up from your rest.
Now this is very important; I was in Lourdes the year before with my wife. It had been a wonderful experience and I was touched in my heart by Holy Mary. However, this pilgrimage with all the circumstances and feelings and hurts of other unfortunate people made me get out of a shell and start noticing that the sick really need others. They need love, care, help and consideration, even simple communication and a hug. It made me intensely feel that I had nothing to complain of my hurts when comparing and seeing the situation of other Lords of the Sick. And here were the Order, full of care, love, and support! Amazing people!
This is where these people have really shown their nobility to put aside their pride and go all out on helping the sick! This was a big lesson for me and definitely my second part of my call to Holy Mary at Lourdes!
After arriving back to Malta for the next three days I felt a deep loss for something I could not explain but really it was the love, happiness, peacefulness and contentment which were very strong with me, definitely Holy Mary had left me touched and that is why we were called for to share Her Love and Care, to bring it here with us and share it with our families, with our colleagues, with our friends and with other people we can smile to everyday.
I therefore hereby heartily thank the whole Order and Maltese Association of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Malta for this wonderful Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Sanctuary of Lourdes 2015 and for letting me get to know them all along.
God bless you all!
I wish to begin by thanking the Order of Malta for granting me the opportunity to visit Lourdes. It was a truly beautiful experience which is difficult to put into words. I found it a deeply moving experience from which I learned a great deal. ..I learnt to appreciate all the things I have. Lourdes enchanted me with its beauty, and also with the sense of tranquility that settled upon me as soon as I set foot there. I believe that Our Lady has never deserted me throughout my illness; however, when I was in Lourdes, She drew me more towards Her, as I could not stop praying and singing Ave Maria with tears perpetually in my eyes. In short, this was an experience which I will treasure for my whole life. Thank you once more to the Order of Malta for the opportunity it gave me.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The annual pilgrimage to Lourdes for the sick was organized by the Maltese Association of the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta (MASMON). The event was held between May 1 and 5, 2015.
A gathering of some 300 pilgrims met early on Friday morning at the Malta International Airport. The participants mostly made up of MASMON members came from all walks of life, together with prominent clergy, the sick and the pilgrims. Everyone was in a cheerful mood and eager to start the journey. A detailed programme of functions, trips, tasks and responsibilities was distributed among every participant.
The pilgrimage could be considered from various viewpoints. For the sick, it was a short but well deserved rest that included taking part in religious functions at the Basilica of the Holy Rosary, the Grotto, the Church of St. Joseph; immersing in the soothing waters of Lourdes, eating and sleeping in a different environment and sharing experiences with other patients and helpers, including doctors and nurses. Likewise, the little patients had a good time taking the cable car to the mountains nearby, enjoying a picnic on the slopes, visiting the local zoo and attending a party.
The tranquility and relentless joyful mood helped to produce the perfect recipe for the sick and suffering. After all, this is what Lourdes is about, healing and comforting the unwell and the less fortunate.
The celebration of Holy Mass (in Maltese) in the Grotto and watching some children receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and Confirmation stirred up a tear or two. Throughout the four-day stay, parents and accompanying family could take a respite from their daily routines. In spite of everything, relaxation comes at a premium to these people.
As an observer, the Lourdes experience raised the awareness of the suffering, the ill and the less fortunate. Every discomfort and argument is secondary when compared to the extent of sorrow endured daily.
As a pilgrim I observed the volunteers attend their duties in transport, wards, and refectory together with doctors on call, running a shop and organizing tours. Notwithstanding the challenges these people faced throughout the stay, their attitude was always cheerful and comforting. The volunteers are lay people who know about mercy, who know about giving people what they need, even if it is something as simple as time. Speaking to many helpers revealed that devoting a couple of days at the service of the sick, was a satisfactory intangible experience that no-one else could give for exchange.
My husband (Alex) and I enjoyed the company of Cardinal Prospero Grech together with Mgr. Lawrence Gatt, Mgr. Victor Zammit McKeon and other members of the clergy. Taking part in the celebration of Mass in the Grotto, at the Basilica of the Holy Rosary, and Chapelle St. Joseph was a source of strength to all, especially to the suffering.
The walking tours organized for the pilgrims were an opportunity to make new friends, renew acquaintances and share experiences. The tours included the Eucharistic procession, the Way of the cross, the visit to Bernadette’s birthplace, the Piscines and the Marian Procession, Aux Flambeaux, although the wind on the night took the fire from our candles, but not the spirit of the procession.
The Maltese contingent to the International Pilgrimage of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta was among the many nations present in Lourdes. There was an audience of some 10,000 pilgrims from all over the world in Lourdes. The Pontifical High Mass celebrated at the Basilica of St. Pius X was impressive. The Basilica is an underground church built purposely to accommodate vast numbers of people. The Maltese eight-pointed cross and black, white and red were the dominating colours among the crowds. Prominent among the nations attending were the Americans, the Irish, the Italians and the Poles among the Maltese.
The trip organized impeccably by MASMON, was a worthwhile experience, which brought to the surface the realities and suffering of life. For me the pilgrimage was like recharging my spiritual batteries, providing a feeling of calmness and peace of mind. Alex and I are grateful for the opportunity to share in the experience and hope to be back the coming year.
A few words from a 2nd year transport veteran!, my first impression is of the early camaraderie built-up not only between the team but just as much with the Malades. Our quick apprenticeship in manipulating the voitures thanks to the more senior and experienced Barrellieri and Sorelle, always ready with a smile and helping hand, not to forget the care with which we ensure the on-time preparation of the voitures with blanket and telle (red waterproofs, wrapped around the knees of the Malades).
We rush to wait is our motto and in those quieter moments as we wait, all lined up in columns that would raise a proud smile from any sergeant-major we chatter and begin forging relationships with our Malades that strengthen throughout the four days and on occasion are the start of something much longer.
One of my highlights this year, was a revisit to the Lower Stations of the Cross, where, almost alone in the peace of the early morning sun and fast flowing Gave, my Malade and I had a memorable conversation, which we both know marks the beginning of a great friendship.
Elena Mirone, Katrina Demarco & Francesca Mallia
I, Elena have been going to Lourdes ever since I was born, and was only too happy when Francesca started coming along. This year Katrina joined for the second time and so the three of us together feel that now it has become an important event on our calendar. Every single year is a new and different experience, which we treasure. Through the eyes of our Lords the sick, we can see both their suffering and peace which surrounds them through their smiles. We feel we want to help as much as we can and we really appreciate life more and thank God for all that we have. We hope to keep up this very important yearly event to Lourdes in the coming years.
I have been to Lourdes for the past nine years or was it ten, with The Knights of Malta of Order of St John, and I can say that each year is a unique experience, thus the number of times does not really matter.
This fortunate yearly opportunity to accompany Our Lord’s the sick to our Lady’s Sanctuary in Lourdes is a blessing I feel I should thank God for, as it does me a world of good. I am given the opportunity to be of service to others and also being repaid by seeing them feel grateful to me! This in the light that they give me more, much more than I give them myself.
I am entrusted to accompany them to all the functions that they attend, and not just that. Every time they leave the Accueil, I am to be with them, even for some leisure time, like shopping or stopping for a nice cup of hot chocolate. They might also need to go and offer a prayer or light a candle at Our Lady’s Grotto. In other words I am in the transport section.
The main events which we take them to, are the international mass, where members of The Order from all over the world gather to hear mass together, a very moving event. The mass at the grotto is especially a touching experience as it is said in our mother language Maltese, and also because we have children doing either their first Holy Communion or else their confirmation.
The adoration of the Eucharist where we all present are blessed by the presence of our Lord amongst us, and the Au Flambeau, a procession where all hold a lighted candle following the statute of Our Lady are experiences which one keeps on remembering for a long time. We will accompany them also to The Baths if they so wish to do this exhilarating experience.
I can say that every time the pilgrimage comes to an end I pray our Lady to give me the opportunity to return the following year. But that we leave it in God’s Hands.
Personally my Lourdes Pilgrimage this year started off with a late visit to Boffa Hospital where my father is being treated for cancer. I left for the airport immediately afterwards to join my fellow helpers/members of the Order and Our Lords the Sick. Indeed a first for me to have a close family member who is equally in need of my love and care while fighting his illness.
Stepping out of the room and heading to serve and care for others moulded mixed feelings, precisely those of should I go or should I stay. I decided to proceed with the planned pilgrimage but felt a weight, a pull, and this even after I had received my father’s blessing prior to my departure. Every year comes in different light and shades in very many ways. I listened to my heart and somehow my decision to proceed with the pilgrimage felt right and good.
Volunteering for hospice and really listening to the stories of the people who are going through their toughest times in their lives is somewhat challenging in itself. I must say that the peaceful environment and serenity I find in Lourdes eases my engagement and communication with the sick which in turn gives me a deeper perspective on the blessings and the hardships I have and that I will encounter in my own personal life.
The stories the sick and their relatives share, the time I spend working and socialising with fellow helpers and members of the Order during the pilgrimage is one that generates deep and lasting friendships.
While every year I feel the need to prepare myself for the Lourdes Pilgrimage, I note that on my return I am better prepared to face the hardships of life and appreciate more the blessings that I have been favoured with.
A couple of weeks have passed since my return from Lourdes and I can still hear the natural tranquil and serene notes stemming from the river Gave, as well the many song birds making statements on the trees above. My favourite spot in Lourdes to reflect on my life events is on a bench by the river bank as seen in the picture. This also happens to be the place where I pray, sing loud, strum hard on my guitar, and yet I always manage to pull a small audience, that of ducks. This is just about the reward I claim from Lourdes.
I expect no further rewards or praise in return. What really matters to me is that I am able to leave behind important and/or less important matters for others who are in need of my care, my presence, and most importantly my prayers that I place before The Holy Mother for her intervention, as many thousands do throughout the whole pilgrimage.
My first visit to Lourdes as a volunteer with the Order has resulted in an amazing kaleidoscopically emotional experience. One would think that it is all sad, which it is, especially when arriving at the beginning as a first timer. As time passes, this sadness becomes forgiveness, acceptance, appreciation and hope. I have met so many people from all walks of life, being a malade or a volunteer, each with their very own story to tell. The one thing I found in common within them all is that they all had a big heart.
I am planning on coming back next year, with the Order, and I cannot recommend this experience enough to anyone who feels ready to give back to our society, when being blessed with so much goodness in their own life.
My first days in Lourdes will be unforgettable. With some inner protestation, I put on the black jacket and beret when I arrived. Would I regret what I had signed up for? I was proud of the “MALTA” on my left arm however and glad that I was part of a team. I was soon discovering the aesthetic and spiritual beauty of Lourdes. The beautiful snow-capped backdrop of the Pyrenees, The river in spate – and hovering between, the grotto I had seen copied so many times, with the Immaculate Conception, a statue, but appearing all too real as she did to Bernadette. I sank to my knees.
My medical duties were light but it was a pleasure to get to know some of the sick and talk to them. It was also a time of prayer with every mass having something unique: the beautiful Basilica of the Rosary; the spirit-lifting International mass said by Cardinal Burke for 12,000 members of the Order; the simple but moving Maltese mass at the grotto with our very own Cardinal Prospero Grech and the confirmation of the twin boys.
It was also a time for meeting old friends, talking and helping… and pushing the wheelchairs. In the Stations of the Cross by the river, Fr Zammit McKeon stressed how the family is being ruthlessly decimated by the devil. I was beginning to see how important the traditional structures of the Order of Malta are for the modern secular world, riven as it is with androgyny and divorce. Just before I left I was plunged into the icy water of Bernadette’s spring. I was left shivering, not from the cold, but it seems from some inner spiritual encounter.
So much in four short days. I am now a proud wearer of the uniform of the Order with medal. I have finally realized my dream to visit Lourdes and the wait was worth it. I will definitely be back. Our Lord and his mother willing.
Rheumatology Nurse Specialist
It had always been my wish to go to the Lourdes Pilgrimage with the Sick. I had already gone once to Lourdes but for a conference which was about 35 years ago. It was on the invitation of Dr Bernard Coleiro who encouraged me to make the experience of going with the Sick as a nurse.
My 83 year old mother also had a wish to visit Lourdes and the only way she could get there in her condition was to travel with the sick. I knew it would be a beautiful experience but this over seeded my expectations. From the moment we left till we came back there was never a dull moment. Everything was organised especially were the sick people were concerned. I was impressed how they were all taken care of according to their needs. The hospital was clean and well organised with the helpers, nurses, doctors, barelliere and sorelle helping around with the carriages and so many young people were involved too. Thanks also goes to the number of priests that accompanied us. My mother also enjoyed herself, in fact she said that it was an experience that she will never forget. It was a beautiful experience to be part of the big number from all over the world.
Ward Team Leader
Marianna (Ninna) Pace
Lourdes is a place that you decide to go once and then before you know it, it becomes an addiction and you have a compelling need to return there again and again.
Many people have asked me if in all these years I have been going if I have seen any miracles. I cannot say I have ever seen a paralyzed man get up and walk or a blind man see, like Jesus’ miracles in the Bible, but everyone, me included, receive a special healing and strength within to face our individual trials that life throws at us.
It always amazes me that every time I visit Lourdes, there seem to be more and more people. This is a miracle in itself and is living proof that Christianity is still very much alive and it is encouraging.
Everyone should visit Lourdes at least once in their lives, and going as a helper is the best experience ever. It gives you the opportunity to take time off your daily life to help and spend time with others. In giving, you receive so much more in return.
Angele Mifsud Bonnici
My participation in the wards sector this year has fulfilled me more than the other years. My apprehensions over working in wards were completely gone primarily thanks to Paula and Ninna. Being so close to the patients and seeing to their needs, even though minor ones, and how they appreciate every little move of ours, I found so rewarding. They open up to us and pour their whole life to us as though we are going to change their lives. The team work in my group was overwhelming and Ninna and Paula were so considerate with us first timers to make sure we can handle the situation. We were all so over enthusiastic that we sometimes stepped on each other’s toes!!! As a first timer I felt all I could really offer was ‘TLC’ and I really enjoyed giving it. I also realised how the patients, and even more their relatives, appreciate the organisation and the comprehensive attention and care given.
Michael Ellul Sullivan
Having been working on wards for a few years now, I still find it hard to explain what working on wards entails – normal housekeeping possibly, washing floors and bathrooms, doing beds and making some tea and coffee. I tell people, think of all you do (or should get done) from the time you get up to the time you go back to sleep. Now imagine having to help another person right through every task. This is the manual of physical side of it. Some parts need training, others need the much aspired to “common sense”, other parts require surpassing a threshold of comfort you may have. Nevertheless this is not what I see wards to be. This is just the basic running of a house and giving a helping hand. My favourite part in wards, and what keeps me doing it over and over again, are those magical moments when helpers and Our Lords the Sick are just hanging around, in the corridor or one of the wards chatting, hearing life experiences and stories of one another, which usually end up in fits of laughter (possibly with a few tears being shed in between). Strangers become friends, picking on each other as though they have been friends for ages and smiles, laughter and love fill the room. I call it the Spirit.
I recall one time sitting down commenting that my feet where tiered. One of our guests Kevin asked for me to put my feet on his legs while he was sitting in his wheelchair. I jokingly complied and all started laughing. He looked at me and started rubbing my feet with such love I cannot describe, and then asked “Ahjar?”
Each year I wonder, do I do as much for the ones I care for during the few days in Lourdes as they do for me?
Wards Visiting Party Personnel
Josephine Farrugia Randon
This year’s pilgrimage to Lourdes was rather a particular one for me.
I had initially intended to join the annual MASMOM pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes simply as a pilgrim and not as a helper as I usually do. I felt the need to dedicate more time to prayer and reflection in solitude and at the same time have a much-needed rest. However I could not feel right with myself since I did not wish to isolate myself and lose contact with the other pilgrims especially with Our Lords the Sick. This is definitely not in the spirit of Lourdes. Finally I decided that while in Lourdes I could dedicate some time to visiting Our Lords the Sick at the Accueil.
I shared this idea with the director of the pilgrimage, Marchesino Daniel de Petri Testaferrata who agreed with it. A few days before the start of the pilgrimage I was contacted by the Director himself who suggested that I could form a small group of visitors to the Accueil and he gave me the names of a few pilgrims who wished to be part of this new group namely, The Wards Visiting Party.
We had initially decided to visit the Accueil twice a day, namely after lunch and in the evening after supper and the recitation of the Holy Rosary. After lunch the pilgrims at the Accueil preferred to rest since the programme prepared for them by the Lourdes Organising Committee was rather a full and hectic one. It was not so in the evening. Some members of the group of visitors, including myself, joined in the recitation of the Holy Rosary. After that there was a small group of patients who expressed their wish to go for a short walk within the precincts of the grotto since the weather was fine and not too cold. We therefore set out with a few patients amongst whom were the two St Ursula nuns who proved to be the heart of the party. We walked as far as the new Way of the Cross. On the way they could ask questions about the churches around the grotto. As the sun started to set we walked slowly back to the Accueil and before we entered we sat down on the benches opposite the entrance where we had one last chat in such serene and beautiful surroundings. It was a few minutes before 10pm when the party returned to the ward.
On Sunday evening the rain did not permit us to go out so we stayed in and played tombola. A few patients joined in and so did our nuns who again regaled us with so much hilarity which sometimes got rather noisy so I tried to keep things under control since there were still some patients who preferred to have an early night. The last evening was left for packing and the aux flambeaux procession which preceded our departure to the airport.
Though different from that of previous years, my pilgrimage to Lourdes this year was nonetheless an enjoyable and reviving experience.
Wards Visiting Party Personnel
Isabelle Sant & Victoria Falzon
During our first visit to Lourdes as Sorelle with the Order of Malta, we experienced a mini Heaven on Earth. We felt so close to Our Lady while praying at the Grotto in the midst of the night surrounded by so much tranquillity and while helping Our Lords the Sick during the day surrounded by so much love and faith.
On our arrival back in Malta, we both realized that we are addicted to this amazing antidote of visiting Lourdes for the coming years.
Wards Personnel & Music Coordinator
“Music is a form of Prayer” (Toru Takemitsu – Japanese composer, 1930 – 1966). How true this quote rang in Lourdes, when together with Markus Micallef accompanying me on guitar, and vocalists Philipa Farrugia Randon and Miriam Kerr, we were privileged to add value to all the Holy Masses concelebrated in Maltese which featured in this year’s programme of the annual international pilgrimage of the Order of Malta to that very special Marian sanctuary.
The opening Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Rosary, the Maltese Mass at the Grotto and the closing Mass at the Chapel of St. Joseph generally presented more formal liturgical occasions, where the sung hymns had naturally to be appropriately selected along more traditional lines. However the Childrens’ Sunday Mass superbly conducted by Fr. Savio Vella allowed for much more flexibility in the choice of repertoire and mode of delivery to fit in with the more relaxed, joyful and celebratory nature of the occasion.
There are many verses to be found about music in Scripture, showing just how important music has always been in the worship of God by his people. Many of the Psalms in fact are songs that have been used to praise God :
“Oh come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation“ (Psalm 95 : 1)
“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works“ (Psalm 105 :2)
Jesus himself sung together with his Apostles :
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14 : 26).
Indeed, music is a very effective way to praise God and to express thanks and appreciation for all that He has done especially when this involves the active participation of both the clergy and the congregation. I believe that spiritual objective was fully achieved in Lourdes.
This year was even more special because for the first time we also provided entertainment to Our Lords the Sick during and after the dinner service at the Accueil de Notre Dame where they were lovingly accommodated. On these occasions Maltese folklore and other lively works were interactively delivered to rapturous applause, cheers and yes even dancing!
Indeed, the therapeutic qualities of music are not to be ignored.
In conclusion, I hope that we were successful in putting our God given talents to the service of all pilgrimage participants, but especially to Our Lords the Sick, both in helping them to better glorify and praise the name of the Almighty One, but also in getting them to relax and unwind a little bit.
Refectory Personnel & Photography
The latest visit to Lourdes with the Maltese Association has been my sixth, thank God. It was my choice to look after Our Lords the Sick in the refectory which is very ably managed by Helen. Having had 20 years of experience in feeding sick priests and monks at Dar tal-Kleru I am really at ease there. Undoubtedly, this type of voluntary work is really tiring but at the same time gratifying. The team work at the refectory is excellent and just a smile and a thank you makes everyone forget the hard work. This year the sick had a wonderful time because Philip was the most suitable entertainer of the evenings. This time I was also asked to take photos in The Grotto where during the Maltese Mass two twin brothers held their Confirmation and another boy received his first Holy Communion. I also took photos during the children’s Mass in the Accueil Notre Dame Chapel. Being the Administrator of the Cloister Nuns of St Ursola in Valletta I have the duty of looking after two nuns each time. Coming home from Lourdes does not put an end to the Pilgrimage. In fact we keep in touch with Our Lords the Sick by organising Tea Parties every month. This is an opportunity for them to socialize. Notwithstanding the hard work all this involves I wouldn’t change it to anything easier.
On Thursday 25th February 1858, the Blessed Virgin, asked Bernadette “Go drink at the spring and wash yourself there.” Since then people have never ceased going on pilgrimage to Lourdes. The first Piscines in Lourdes were constructed in 1955.
It is an honour and more than a privilege to be able to meet, help, pray and serve these inspirational remarkable individuals, Our Lords the Sick and pilgrims coming from all over the world. After hearing the many stories of phenomenal healing having taken place through the magic powers of the miraculous water, the fervent faith and amazing hope can be seen in every pair of eyes who visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady and the Baths.
Working in the Baths is a spiritual awakening process. Numerous pilgrims go through the experience of the baths in a day, and it happens so fast that it makes one wonder how is it possible to connect and pray to Our Lady in just a few minutes. The procedure in itself is very simple and the Sick and Pilgrims are tactfully treated with great care and gentleness. It is a special and unique experience where a person’s dignity and decorum is always protected and safeguarded and what happens in the Baths only happens with the individual’s full consent. On their way out of the Baths, both Pilgrims and The Sick look so serene and one cannot help noticing that Our Lady’s love has touched their hearts. Working in the baths, for me is seeing Our Lady just like a ‘Florence Nightingale’, busy at work, nursing the physically sick and tending the poor broken hearts , using her healing balm to cover the bodily and psychological wounds of all those who yearn for Her care and crave for Her love. Before every service, when we are in prayer, we all ask Our Lady to let us be Her hands and wear Her smile and to give us the right words to be able to comfort the pilgrims who come to visit Her. Our Lady’s love continuously flows like the water coming from the miraculous spring and Her mantle of Love covers all the wounds, soothes all the aches and alleviates all the pains of those who seek Her.
The gift of Our Lady’s little miracles has never ceased to show its presence… “If you would not believe Me, believe the works I do.” and Lourdes certainly is a living testimony of the intense faith and profound devotion towards Our Lady, the Blessed Mother of Jesus.