The recent Parish Pilgrimage to Lourdes was, for one young missionary sister, a deeply spiritual experience. Sister Lincy, of the ‘Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’, explained, ‘It was the most wonderful spiritual renewal, spiritual healing.’
Prayer, penance, trust, humility, peace, are just some of the messages that are drawn from the eighteen appearances that Our Lady of Lourdes made to the young, illiterate girl, Bernadette, in the spring and summer of 1858. Sister Lincy said that not even the rain, and there was plenty of it, could dampen the joy she felt at being a part of this extraordinary experience.
It was her first visit to Lourdes and she was overwhelmed by the stillness and peace that prevailed, despite the large number of people from parishes all over England and Wales, who had gathered at this shrine to Our Lady. She observed the acts of kindness shown by one pilgrim to another, particularly to the disabled, some of whom were being carried on stretchers, others in wheelchairs. The sick and infirm lovingly looked after by volunteer carers, many of them young people.
Sister Lincy gleefully explained that as Archbishop Vincent Nichols was leading the Westminster Diocesan Pilgimage, Westminster parishioners were always seated in the front row. During the celebration of Mass, when the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament was held up by the Archbishop she had a perfect view. ‘There was great silence she said, ‘not a sound was heard, no babies cried, no children talked’.
As the Archbishop blessed each of the delegations it was as if ‘a vibration swept through the people, like the power of God moving. It was as if God was taking care of you. You were in the palm of his hand and there was nothing to be afraid of.’
But the culmination of her visit was washing in the water that sprang from the rock where Our Lady had appeared. With a big grin on her face Sister Lincy revealed that while patiently waiting in line she noticed that on the men’s side there were very few clerical collars to be seen. She discovered why when she found out that pilgrims were expected to undress completely, which gave her considerable cause for concern.
However as she moved forward in the line she saw that her modesty would be preserved by helpers surrounding her, as she undressed, with a large cotton sheet which was then wrapped around her. One by one the pilgrims were led into the water reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Lady and the Gloria and thinking of their personal intentions. But what was a deeply spiritual experience, was also a very cold and wet one, as it was still raining heavily.
As she stepped back out of the water her relief was considerable. All she wanted was to get dry and dressed as quickly as possible. But when she looked down at her arms, then the rest of her body there were no droplets of water, her skin was already completely dry. How could this be she asked herself in amazement. She left Lourdes with a feeling of joy and peace in her heart.’