Maltese Association Pilgrimage to Lourdes 2018
Order of Malta’s Pilgrimage to Lourdes 3rd – 8th May 2018
Like every year at the beginning of May, Lourdes has received the Order of Malta’s international pilgrimage.
Among the over 7,500 participants – coming from 45 countries worldwide – were 1,500 sick and disabled pilgrims looked after by some 250 priests and 380 doctors and nurses.
This year was a special pilgrimage for many reasons. Lourdes is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the apparitions in 2018, coinciding with the Order of Malta’s 60th international pilgrimage. This was also the first official engagement of Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, elected as head of the Order on 2nd May last.
Also participating in the pilgrimage was the Special Delegate of His Holiness, Msgr. Angelo Becciu, who presided over the pontifical mass on Sunday 6th May in the crowded Basilica of St. Pius X.
Addressing the pilgrimage participants, the Grand Master said that “it is precisely here in Lourdes that the greatest witness is born to Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum and it is most intensely expressed. Let us reflect on what a miracle is. It might not be only recovery from a serious illness or from a disability, but might also be a grace given to all pilgrims who come here. The miracle of serenity in loving the Virgin, the miracle of unconditional goodness towards others, the miracle of tolerance, the miracle of the acceptance of our own difficulties. The miracle of making us feel part of the same great spiritual family. An extraordinary family called Order of Malta. All this helps us to understand that the miracle of Lourdes is accessible to all of us here. You just have to open your hearts”.
Hospitaller – Dr Kevin Dingli
This year marked the landmark 60th anniversary of the Sovereign Order of Malta’s International Pilgrimage to Lourdes. It also happened to log my own 10th successive participation in this most special annual event in the calendar of the Order.
I have come to realise that Lourdes has a magnetic pull on me, and year after year I find myself making every effort to ensure that I do not fail to respond to the Blessed Virgin’s call. The Lourdes Pilgrimage is a hospitaller activity par excellence, and as Hospitaller of the Maltese Association of the Order of Malta I am of course in duty bound to ensure my participation in this event. However the irresistible urge to draw close to the Grotto, and to bathe in its waters, year after year, goes way beyond any sense of compulsion to adhere to one’s formal duties of office but is grounded in full liberty of conscience and religious conviction.
As a Member of the Order in the Second Class, having taken the Promise of Obedience on St. John’s Feastday in June 2017, I come to look increasingly at the spiritual dimension of Lourdes, in all its aspects. There must of course always be some room for leisure, perhaps even for some shopping, within the proper boundaries of reasonableness and proper decorum, but that is certainly not what we, whether as Members of the Order of Malta, or as Volunteers, should be striving to give importance to at Lourdes. There is certainly no lack of opportunity for entertainment back home or elsewhere. Our quiet time in Lourdes is much more profitably employed in prayerful meditation, and in offering solidarity and companionship to our malades and accompanying pilgrims.
We must always recall what was Our Lady’s message to little Bernadette at Lourdes, namely that of prayer, penance and poverty. This message should be heeded constantly, but perhaps more especially throughout the pilgrimage.
Lourdes in particular gives every member of the Order the unique occasion to live up to the two interrelated charisms of the Order, the tuitio fidei and the obsequium pauperum, in the context of Our Lady’s message which is striking in its simplicity but unfathomably deep in its true meaning when proper reflection is given to it. In ministering to Our Lords the Sick, in a spirit of deep humility, just as Our Lord washed the feet of his apostles on Holy Thursday, and in putting their own needs before our own, we give true witness to our Faith.
Throughout the pilgrimage we proudly don the Order’s Lourdes uniform, looking ever so smart, and that is quite as it should be. We must however bear in mind at all times that this same uniform is not simply worn for ceremonial purposes, but rather that it confers on us grave responsibilities, the more so on members of the Order who also wear a distinguishing nastrino or medal.
The uniform reminds us that we are in Lourdes to serve Our Lords the Sick and to honour the Blessed Virgin. That is the primary, if not the sole, objective of our mission there. Anything else is superfluous.
We must therefore comport ourselves always and everywhere with integrity, in full respect of that uniform and what it signifies, and in true conformity with Our Lady’s message.
Deputy Pilgrimage Director – Hélène Zammit
It never ceases to amaze me how a group of people coming from all facets of life and from such diverse professions, can get together and work so harmoniously as a team, in the service of Our Lords the Sick, travelling together to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The giving of oneself; one’s time, energy and even patience at times, to empathise with and assist our special guests, seeing to their every need, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, can be so uplifting that we cannot resist the call to return each year. We pray together, sing together, laugh and cry together, forming long-lasting friendships with our guests and fellow volunteers.
Ever since my very first pilgrimage with The Order of Malta years ago, Lourdes has had a magnetic influence on my life. I just cannot keep away. I know many have felt the same way and have become frequent pilgrims.
More important than the water and the many rosaries the Sick take home with them, is the satisfaction in the knowledge that Our lady has touched their hearts in this, Her very special place. We go away comforted by the thought that we have helped others get closer to Our Lady as we too have received that Grace ourselves.
Principal Chaplain – Monsignor Lawrence Gatt
My recurring impression at Lourdes is the personal experience of seeing people, of all types and from all countries, whether standing, sitting or kneeling, in devout, profound prayer. It is the deep, human need of reaching the Lord, especially in given moments in our lives. Lourdes offers an easy, almost “natural” opportunity. Our Blessed Mother has provided us and so many others with an excellent, privileged chance to go “through” her. St Bernard, the centuries old devotee of Our Lady, wrote about Her calling Her “The Aqueduct”, a sure and safe way of getting to the Source.
Transport Volunteers – Jean Luc and Veronique Chalmin
If you divide the world between takers and givers, very clearly the incredibly nice people we have met in Lourdes are belonging to the second category. More over the Lourdes pilgrimage has fulfilled us so much more than the effort we have done. Being foreigners in your so welcoming group has added a lot to our experience and has permitted us to develop new friendships with delightful persons we would not have met otherwise. We have been deeply touched as well by the patience and kindness of the Malades whose lives have shown us how fortunate we are to be in good health.
Doctor – Mr Louis Joseph Sant Cassia
For Antoinette my wife, who worked in the refectory, and I this was our first visit to Lourdes, and it was very moving and indeed enjoyable as well.
The medical and nursing team were all very experienced. The medical staff were most ably assisted by a core of registered nurses who knew the Our Lords the Sick very well, from previous pilgrimages. The registered nurses were greatly helped by the practical wisdom of the volunteers and their leaders.
It would be invidious to draw attention to individuals since everyone worked hard, and the volunteer leaders ensured that nurses` morale was high. It was a pleasure to meet the charming and very strong medical team from the Cuban contingent that was attached to us. We look forward to seeing them next year.
There were no significant medical problems. Our Lords the Sick were well looked after and seemed to enjoy themselves a great deal.
It was a great occasion and we look forward to next year!
As stated by Saint Francis of Assisi, it is in giving that we receive’. In caring for and helping those in need, we are enriched with a thousandfold return.
My personal experience working in wards has been, is, and will be that of constant growth in understanding the needs and suffering of those we work with.
Playing a small role in alleviating one’s pain and suffering, or loneliness, strengthens my spirit and resolve to follow Jesus’ teaching “the first will be last; and the last, first”. I am filled with a sense of joy that through them I am ultimately serving Our Lady.
The Grotto and Sanctuary grounds: Heaven; the wards: a haven.
Due to personal circumstances, I was afraid to fall short of my commitment and, consequently, deprive Shift 3 of a more active element. Notwithstanding, I was integrated in the team with understanding, courtesy and encouraging epithets. My colleagues and I instantly blended our savoir-faire according to our duties and, having recently lost the last members of my family, it felt as though I had found a newly-acquired one!
Our treasured patients responded kindly to our caring and their amazing sense of humour prevailed throughout the sojourn.
Yes, there were trying moments, but the team’s big heart and selfless dedication soon smoothened them out.
I already miss the warm company of my colleagues, with their jovial smiles accompanying their professionalism!
Thanks for putting me on this team and all my gratitude goes to its two Angels: Ninna and Paula.
Daria von Weyhausen
A few aspects continually come to mind; graciousness, camaraderie, service and sound.
I feel very fortunate to have accompanied the Maltese Association twice now on their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. My husband and I have been so warmly received which comes as no surprise given the palpable graciousness which its members exude. This warmth is extended to everybody with whom they interact; members, Malades or strangers. Those associated with the Order carry themselves in a dignified, kind and gentle manner.
This graciousness of the Order helps to soften the blow that Lourdes, the town itself can be. At first it is easy to be distracted or even a little offended by the commercial exploitation of Our Lady’s appearance, which might threaten the sanctity of the site but, actually does not. Once I become involved with my duties, attended mass, said a few rosaries in the Grotto, the reverence of all those whom I observed for Our Lady was very evident.
In my mind one of the best aspects provided by the pilgrimage is the opportunity and the environment to discuss issues and aspects of our Faith among well informed and devout Catholics. This Catholic camaraderie is such a positive aspect, especially when one often finds oneself navigating in a world where secularisation is fashionable or even considered enlightened.
I am also inspired by the humility the members display so effortlessly in Lourdes in their service to Our Lords the sick. Our duties with the Malades are an essential aspect of the pilgrimage. The small tasks asked of me, to push a Malade to mass or to attend them at dinner service, neither physically nor mentally challenging is a very useful reminder for me to be appreciative and thankful for my many blessings. What I have come to understand is that we need each other; we need the Malades to help us fulfil aspects of our spiritual growth as much as they may need us to assist them physically. The Malades are always endearing, some are very entertaining, some a little frustrating, but most appreciative and serving them is rewarding and humbling. I find it particularly poignant to see older members of the Order who for years have attended the pilgrimage do so now but in the capacity of a Malade. It is a valuable and sobering reminder to know at some point I too will need a little help.
What also continues to make an impression on me at Lourdes are the sounds. The running water of the river or the rosary being said at the Piscines, in fact it takes days for the Ave Maria to finally leave my mental play list. To walk across to the other side of the grotto and say the Stations of the Cross with only the sound of rushing water is to be totally transported out of the chaos of the town and grotto into the calm and reflective space, which during these few busy days can be very hard to find in Lourdes.
On my first pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2012, the Grand Master in his address thanked and congratulated us all for answering Our Lady’s direct invitation by taking part in the pilgrimage at Lourdes. Again, I felt incredibly humbled, to be told that she was speaking to me personally. This knowledge has strengthened my relationship and devotion to her. I spend more time in prayer with her than I have done in the past and I feel truly blessed that my relationship with Our Lady will continue to grow. I am grateful for this opportunity which inspires me to continue my spiritual growth while providing me a framework wherein I may practise the charisms of the Order in my daily life.
My visit to Lourdes with the Order of Malta was a marvelous experience. It was another occasion to renew my commitment to help other people and at the same time experience the devotion of different people. Each pilgrimage to Lourdes, in this hedonistic world illuminates me that altruism is a noble virtue. It must be cultivated in everybody. A genuine love for Our Lady inspires me also to be sensitive to the Poor, the Sick and the Elderly.
Refectory Volunteer – Antonino Sanfilippo Balzan
About the Pilgrimage to Lourdes:
I really thank the members and friends of the Order of Malta for inviting me to take part in the 2018 Pilgrimage to Lourdes; It was my first time at Lourdes and it was a rewarding experience.
By being part of the team at the refectory I enjoyed the time spent with my team mates during and after our duties.
I feel I received more than what I gave. The sense of mission and friendship, the joy of the patients attending this event and the energy of the people working on their duties provided to me an energising experience that I would like to repeat in the future.
I thank God for the opportunity given to me to serve Our Lords the Sick and the members of their families during those five days in Lourdes.
Cadets Team Leader – Roberta Gabarretta
Even though this was my sixth pilgrimage with the Order or Malta, every visit still feels like the very first time. Lourdes has been a very special place for me over the past 5 years and this year I was lucky enough to share this beautiful experience with my teenage daughter. Around 6 months ago I was asked if I would like to help in putting together a group of cadets to join the pilgrimage, Our Lady of Lourdes did not disappoint and in a heartbeat, we had a 12 strong group of teens signed up.
Being on this team gave me the opportunity to see another side to Lourdes through the eyes of the transport team which I had yet to discover. It gave me the opportunity to spend more time with Our Lords the Sick, seeing to their needs and experiencing the different emotions triggered by every procession, mass and function. Spending time with the cadets also gave me new insight on how easily the young adapt to new roles and duties presented to them, be it helping with pulling and pushing, serving water when needed as well as having a little chat or a coffee with the Malades. I hope that they took home beautiful memories to be treasured and a new thirst to serve the less fortunate for many years to come.
It was a memorable pilgrimage and a friendly reminder of the importance of keeping Our Lord and Mother Mary at the centre of everything we do “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” – Philippians 4:13 I eagerly await May 2019.
Mrs Abela, Mother of Zach
Zach was overwhelmed by the feeling he had in helping others. The fact that he helped individuals move from place to place and without his help they could not, this moved him immensely.
Gabriel Fenech Azzopardi
It was a very nice experience and I would definitely consider going again.
I would definitely go again; do you think I could get to go again? The people are kind and polite and it was so much fun.
I enjoyed my first time helping in the pilgrimage and would like to repeat this experience even though I am very tired.
Sr Elsa Gretter and Sr Emiliana
This is the first time I have come to Lourdes with the Order. I must express my deep gratitude for the wonderful experience, which I will never forget for as long as I live. It was a spiritually uplifting experience, a stepping-stone to Paradise for the courage and serenity obtained in living “Thy will be done”, which Our Lady made her very own throughout her life. If these days have been more useful than spiritual exercises, I am grateful to Her and to all the members of the Order whom I have had the privilege of meeting. I must thank you wholeheartedly for the testimony of all, I repeat all, members of the Order for their service carried out with such dedication, with a smile and unconditional patience when caring for each patient, for the generosity and readiness to forget themselves and to see the needs of others.
Thank you for the spirit of discreet and spontaneous sacrifice. Thank you for having given us days of Paradise. Thank you!
You will always be in my heart; I will never forget you. I pray to Our Lady of Lourdes to help make this marvellous apostolate more fruitful.
Thank you – Thank you – Thank you.
Patient – Kevin Attard
This year I took part in the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Order of Malta. I stayed with my parents at the Accueil Notre Dame. Our room was very comfortable and had a beautiful view of the Holy Rosary Basilica and the River Gave. I took part in all the ceremonies and events which were very well organised. I visited the Grotto many times and went to the Baths which was a wonderful experience. I made new friends with the pilgrims and the volunteers. I wish to take the opportunity to thank the organisers and the volunteers and especially my helper Mr Edward Cassar Torreggiani who took great care of us. We were fortunate that the weather was always fine.
I look forward to being able to attend the pilgrimage another time.
Pilgrims Frans and Helen Attard, Kevin Attard’s parents
My wife and I accompanied our son Kevin who is a wheelchair user due to a physical disability, on this year’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. The pilgrimage was very well organised during all the ceremonies and also at the Accueil Notre Dame where we were lodged. This place is fantastic both for the scenery that surrounds it and due to its proximity to the churches, Grotto etc. We wish to thank all the volunteers including those who served us in the dining hall for their dedication in their duties and for the great care that they took of everyone. Special thanks go to our helper Mr Edward Cassar Torreggiani who was with us from departure to our arrival back in Malta. We all hope to have the opportunity to attend this pilgrimage another time as it is a wonderful experience.
Mother & Daughter – Nathalie & Mireille Zammit
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the Order of Malta for giving my daughter Mireille and myself the opportunity to join in the peaceful journey to Lourdes.
Mireille has made new friends who showed her care and kindness which she truly appreciated. Being able to join in the choir both at mass and in the peaceful Grotta was her highlight.
With regards to myself, I felt very much relaxed accompanying Mireille in all functions as I didn’t have to lift a finger knowing that she was in safe hands and well taken care of at all times. This gave me the opportunity to mix with other fellow pilgrims where we shared our experiences, shed tears and laughed together. Here, one realises that “I’m not alone”.
I cannot, not mention, that spiritually we couldn’t be in a better place than Lourdes where we felt so close to Our Lady at the Grotto.
What an amazing and unforgettable experience! Both Mireille and I would love to visit again.
Pilgrim / Relative of a Patient – Michelle Mangion
I had always wanted to visit Lourdes, and this dream was realized this year when I accompanied my 85year old mother on a pilgrimage to that great Marian shrine under the auspices of the Order of Malta. My mother is a stroke patient and completely dependent on others in all her needs. All I can say is that I was greatly impressed by the dedication of the Order’s religious and lay volunteers towards the ‘Malades’ which convinced me that this commitment is truly part of the miracle of Lourdes. I have only words of praise for the nurses and volunteers in their loving care and unfailing assistance of my mother and in making her experience truly unforgettable.
The Marian Sanctuary at Lourdes is a holy place of prayer and an affirmation of faith and hope. Witnessing the young and old, the sick, the disabled and all those accompanying them in prayer during the celebration of international Holy Mass and the evening procession is an experience which stimulates a great sense of hope and renewed faith in our Christian belief. The beautiful Basilica and its environs inspires a calming and peaceful heavenly atmosphere, while the Accueil is professionally equipped with all the amenities and assistance to accommodate ‘Malades’ from the various nationalities. The queuing for the baths is another unforgettable experience which galvanizes one’s faith in the intercession of the Holy Virgin. Finally, I cannot but express my admiration for the volunteers of the Order of Malta, and I would not hesitate to join in their voluntary work in the future.
Pilgrim – Tiziana Buffa
I would like to express my gratitude for the Association’s kindness in allowing me to come to Lourdes.
Lourdes was an amazing experience, one that I would never forget.
I had never seen such beauty and peace in one place and I still cannot believe that I was able to witness it.
As a pilgrim in Lourdes I have enjoyed this peaceful and beautiful place where your inner dialogue become stronger, intimate and meaningful. I approached this experience with a deep desire of inviting Our Lady of Lourdes in my life. I have embraced Her gentle presence and unconditional love, able to comfort people in a different way, perfect for each of them; accepting each of us where we are, as we are. A place where you leave expectations and start cultivating sincere compassion and love towards yourself and others.
I would love to go again next year hopefully next time as a Sorella!
Carer Alexina Debono and Patient Raymond Buhagiar
On behalf of patient Raymond Buhagiar, I, Alexina Debono, his carer would like to heartily thank all the dedicated doctors, nurses and volunteers and all those who helped the patients and their relatives in every possible way. The Pilgrimage was very organised and we all had 24/7 assistance. Ray required medical assistance when we got to Lourdes, and of course, he immediately found precious help he needed from one of the doctors and nurses in charge on the wards at the Accueil Notre Dame de Lourdes. His room was very comfortable, he had all the necessary commodities. He like all the other patients, found a lot of assistance when the patients were taken out. Ray especially would like to thank Maurice Abela who was his transport volunteer, Maurice was dedicated and took him around the Sanctuary every day. Ray felt that he found a lot of peace and tranquillity whilst in Lourdes. He enjoyed every single function and likewise myself as his carer. Seeing Ray so happy was so rewarding for me. The weather was also lovely, so we were very lucky in this respect. We had a smooth flight both ways and here we would also like to take the opportunity to thank Noel Busuttil Naudi who took great care of Ray on both journeys. We are also grateful to Daniel, Joe and all those who helped us in every way – Last but not least our great thanks goes to Our Lady of Lourdes!
St Bernardette said…” I shall spend every moment loving. One who loves, does not notice her trials; or perhaps more accurately, one is able to love them…” truly beautiful words…
There is nothing that can prepare us for the serene and heavenly experience one feels in Lourdes.
Being a volunteer in Lourdes for many years has been both a profound and extraordinary privilege. Seeing so many gifted helpers join the pilgrimage is amazing. These special persons very lovingly give their precious time, to help brighten up the lives of other through giving a service with great love. Our volunteers old and young keep coming to Lourdes year in year out. This is one of the little miracles of Lourdes! All it takes is giving a helping hand with a big willing heart; just a simple gesture… which makes all the difference. The pre-Lourdes preparations and wonderful collaboration that goes on between the different teams of Personnel to ensure that Our Lords the Sick are well taken care of is so evident. This harmony creates the beautiful picture of our Lourdes, a team of special people who are caring, compassionate and extremely dedicated. The loving hearts of the volunteers engrave beautiful soothing memories in the souls of our special guests, no wonder our patients can never get over the loving feeling and the happiness they experience whilst in Lourdes.
When every little thing is done with love, and for Jesus, then the giving contains its own unique graces. In a few words, we are blessed with the rewarding feelings of peace and happiness.
One comes to realise that the more one visits the Sanctuary of Our Lady in Lourdes, the more one comes to understand that our patients do not seek miracles and miraculous healing; to the contrary, these special people go to Lourdes and completely surrender themselves to Our Lady and there they experience an emotional and spiritual healing that comes through their fervent faith and the boundless and unconditional love they receive from our super precious volunteers!
In the last few years I have not participated in the Order’s International Pilgrimage to Lourdes due to personal commitments.
This year, just a day before the departure, an opportunity arose and I just could not say no. I left all that was important as it seemed that Our Lady had given me this chance to visit her shrine once again.
Once there, I felt that I had come back home to my loving mother, who looks after me and my family, and gives us the strength to carry on with everything that life throws at us, especially when we are experiencing hard times.
With a spiritual fulfilment recharge, I went about my task, taking memorable photographic records for all the participants, especially for our guests and volunteers. The rewarding smiles I get from our guests whenever I am caught taking a candid shot makes it so much more worthwhile for me.
I am always amazed to see the participants in the Order’s pilgrimage, from every corner in the world, that join in prayer to Our Lady in the first weekend of May, all sporting the Maltese Cross.