Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pilgrimage To Lourdes III

Saturday, October 13, 2012 - Third day in Lourdes.
This morning, Roy and Emil came with us to the 9 o'clock English mass at Sts. Cosmos and Damain Chapel. After the mass, I got to talk to a Filipina nurse who  was rendering volunteer work in Lourdes. It was her seventh time to date, she said. She also informed me that Cardinal Rosales was there. He con-celebrated the mass this morning, but that he was travelling incognito and didn't like to be recognized. I actually did not know Cardinal Rosales from John or Joe. I was not really apt to knowing the Philippine Catholic Hierarchy. The only Cardinal I ever knew and seen was Cardinal Sin. But I was extremely curious. Imagine to be at the same time and same place, in this small chapel with his eminence! 
"Where? Where? Where is he?" I inquired.
"The one with the white hair." I did not even know that he was a Filipino because of the white hair. That's how poor I was with facial association or recognition.
"Can I talk to him?" I asked.
"Of course you can. But he doesn't like to be recognized, so just call him father." The lady quipped. She kind of persuaded me somehow to approach him. "Just call him father."
So I went near the cardinal but he was talking to two young Filipinos. I waited for them to finish. I waited for awhile because the cardinal was aloof to my approach. ( But if you really know me, I can be persistent sometimes. ). Given the slightest chance, I butted in. I said. "Good morning Father, we are from Cotabato City." and I indicated my family with me.
He then warmed up and said. "Are you going to Rome after this?" To which I gave a blank questionable stare. "To the canonization of Blessed Calungsod." He added.
"No Father, Lourdes lang kami."
"I am retiring and I am doing volunteer work here." He said.
" I see." Then I requested if we could have a picture with him.
"Actually they also requested the same thing." The Cardinal smiled and pointed towards the two guys.
Taking it as a yes, I quickly asked Lucas or Roy to take our picture. The two Filipino guys also took pictures with him. To be honest, I mostly shy away from taking pictures with celebrity. I did not know why I was suddenly brazen enough to ask the incognito cardinal for a photo shot. He could have turned down my request, you know, but everything was a miracle in Lourdes!

That morning, my children were set on exploring the Lourdes Tower - an old castle or fortress which was also one of its famous landmarks. We went to another side of the town, paid our entrance fee to see the ruins, climbed the stairs, went in through the draw bridge, up to the recesses and viewed the beautiful panoramic scenery. There were also show rooms in display on how the owners of the tower lived before. Inside the old tower, you could find a well kept beautiful garden with miniatures castles, fortresses and/or dioramas. Along the path were several herbal plants such as thyme, rosemary etc. It was a beautiful bright and sunny day and the air was wonderfully cool. The castle keeper however kept on with us because the tower would be closing at one pm and to be re-opened again in the afternoon - a siesta tradition perhaps for Lourdes was actually very near Spain.

We got off from the tower and had lunch in an interesting outdoor cafe near the town square - so very French - a different kind of local dining experience. Everybody loved it. Roy and Lucas got to draw and sketch. The food was good. Wallah!, I had the best cheeseburger of my life.

Around three o'clock in the afternoon, we decided to go back to the basilica and explore more places. This time we went up the hill, following the long path of "the way of the cross". We did not prepare to do the way, instead we recited the rosary as we ascended the hill. There were a number of people in groups doing the way of the cross in their own languages. (If you have ever done the way of the cross, you'll know that doing it with groups is usually long). So we quietly skipped and overtook them, well finishing our rosary on the third station. Yet we continued to climb and observe each station as we passed by. The path was long but the hill was easy to climb. Sometimes Lucas and I would be out of breath but we would rest along the way. As we neared the top most of the mountain, Marion pointed out that we had climbed even higher than the Tower of Lourdes. Yes, we could very well see the Tower at a distance. Indeed we had climbed higher. Nobody could ever imagine that Lucas and I climbed the two peaks in one day.

In the evening, surprisingly it was Roy who wanted us to finish our supper early to be able to follow the whole procession and recite the rosary from the very start. We arrived the assembly early with our 3 day old spent candles. When I saw some religious figures clad in capes with their flag and attendants going through the crowd, I quickly told my children that we should follow them. We inched through the crowd and arrived not far from where the carried statue of Mary was to begin the procession.The crowd this evening was more dense. I was scared of getting lost, so I held unto Emil's arm tightly, and told Martha and Marion together with Roy and Lucas to go two by two and held on to each other arms too. I pulled on Emil's arm and tried to catch up the lead of the procession, by then I began to lose my other companions. Emil and I got separated from the rest of my group. But our mission that night, to fully follow the Marian procession and the rosary in different languages was a mission accomplished. When the rosary was done, I happily greeted everybody near me a good evening. When I turned around, Lucas and the rest were not far behind us after all. The rest of the small stud of our candles, we offered them at the center statue of our blessed mother with the crown.

For three days, we had been going back and forth to the well, to drink and/or get some water to bring to the hotel for cleansing and washing. We bought small containers only and filled them up just for our own use. I told my children that we would use the well water everyday as long as we were there. We did not think of bringing it back home because our luggage were heavy enough. However I bought a few small souvenir bottles to bring some home to maybe a few sick friends. I was afraid the water will spill all over my clothes. That night in Lourdes, the well area was surrounded by people filling up gallons and gallons of containers. Without the lady at my back who begged for us to fill our small bottles first, we would have waited forever. Thanks, I got an extra drinking bottle to use for the night.

Since this was to be our last night in Lourdes, we did not readily get back to the hotel. We took some snacks at a cafe and went around even late at night. Many of the stores had closed but the atmosphere was still gay and peaceful. Liked us there were people still walking about............. My third day in Lourdes.
(to be continued)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pilgrimage To Lourdes II

Friday, October 12, 2012 - the second day.
Lucas, Martha, Marion and I went to Sts. Cosmos and Damian Chapel for the 9 AM English mass. The mass was con-celebrated by several priests. Attendees came from English speaking countries like USA or Canada perhaps. There were several Asians (Malaysians, Vietnamese, Filipinos) too. During the mass, I learned from the priest that yesterday Oct 11, 2012 (the day we arrived) was the start of the "Year of Faith".  Wow! It couldn't have been be more timely and appropriate that we came to Lourdes at the on-set of the pontifical year of faith.

Roy and Emil arrived just before the mass ended. They waited for us outside of the chapel. After the mass, we proceeded to the bath house. Surprise of all surprises, there was no queue at all! The men went straight to their cubicles and so did we girls to our own pools. Randomly, I was separated from Martha and Marion. Somehow I was glad the girls were not with me because I wanted to be emotional. I  wanted to be cleansed from my pains and troubles and illnesses, so I cried. I wanted God to have mercy and pity me. The attendants at the bath were sympathetic. They were very helpful and efficient. I clutched two rosaries in my right hand: one was the rosary of Roy's art teacher who requested him that I dip her beads in the pool. Another one was my own short red travelling rosary. It was given to me by my sister-in-law Jean after coming home from a vacation in Boracay. I asked the attendants if I could bring the 'rosary' with me to the pool and they all assented, but I didn't realize that I would be submerged only up to my neck with my arms being held. When I was thus submerged and told to rise, I soon realized my rosaries were not dipped in the water.
"Wait" I halted my steps.
"No, no, no!" they all cried out.
"You are wet already" One of the girls said.
But I struggled and tried to show my right hand. "My rosary" I said.
They released their grip on me shortly and I was able to quickly dip the two rosaries into the water. The attendants were really nice people. They brought me back to the dressing area and contrary to what many people said that one dries up instantaneously after the cold dip; I was wet but not cold. The attendants helped me dressed up although I told them I could do it myself. One girl specially fussed over me and said it was her job to help. As I was still sniffing from my tears, I let her helped. I guessed she was a dedicated volunteer. These volunteers were really nice people.

When I came out from the bath, my family was all outside waiting for me. Everybody was smiling, happy to be able to do the bathe (specially without queuing). We all had different experiences.
"It was actually very refreshing." Roy said.

After the pool, we went straight back to the grotto again. This time there was a throng of people. We stood and mingled in lines and patiently waited for our turn. This time I did not forget to bring the letter entrusted to me by my daughter-in-law Angel and managed to drop it correctly into the petition box. Yet, however, I still missed to see the in-cased place where St. Bernadette dug the spring because my mind was somewhat wondering. Before reaching the apparition site, there was an Asian woman standing near the cave with a drinking bottle held in her hand. She was patiently filling her bottle with drops of water coming from the stone cave. The people in line just let her be. It was an act of faith maybe. Just as before, the grotto's passage seemed too short. But I did see a single rose in bloom near the statue of our Virgin Mother. That was significant.

After the grotto, we went back to the well again to drink and get some water. Some of the taps were still quite accessible for all of us to partake. Happily, this was a morning meaningfully well spent - our acts of faith.

As you know, we were quite an adventurous lot hence we proceeded to further explore the Lourdes area. My eager children were well prepared with their directions. We easily got to the underground basilica, a holding for bigger congregation of people for big events. We got in, prayed and got out into the other side of the town. This side not surprisingly was also lined with souvenir stores. We ate at a local restaurant and walked the shops.

Of course we did some shopping. Infact my favorite store was the one next to my hotel. I bought medallions for my daughters, myself, habilins, pasalubongs etc. The very friendly sales lady gave me 15% discount for all my purchases. She even gave me 2 ballpens for free and a rose smelling rosary too.

In the evening, we followed the Marian procession again. This time, a Tagalog version of Hail Mary was recited. The crowd was getting bigger, yet I wasn't scared about it anymore. I felt fairly contented because I had mostly done what I intended to do in Lourdes.............. my second day. ( to be continued )

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pilgrimage To Lourdes

I went to England and France from the Philippines with my husband Lucas and two children Emil and Martha. We met up with Marion and Roy at Heathrow Airport, London. Marion just finished her one year MS study in Warwick while Roy enplaned to London from Seattle, USA to be with us. It was a family get together abroad, except for Tom who stayed behind in Manila with his wife Angel and two very young sons. For three weeks, we toured the two countries: first England and then France.

For this particular trip, one of my foremost intentions was to go to Lourdes. If ever I do a life time pilgrimage, it was to be Lourdes. I wanted to visit the holy shrine of our blessed mother. I have so much empathy with it.

And so after a 4 day tour of Paris, We began our pilgrimage to Lourdes. Despite a slight delay due to bad weather; the plane landed us safely in Lourdes. I was nervous. I missed several pilgrimage trips before, because my teaching schedules came in conflict with the journeys. This trip however was planned a year ahead prior to our departure. Few months before we left, I was having a long running throat ailment. Lucas also got a bad tendonitis few weeks before our leaving Cotabato City. I was so afraid that something will prevent us from going, so I prayed nightly to Our Lady, that everything will go smoothy, that we will be able to reach our destinations and safely arrive home without a hitch. I am truly grateful for this wonderment.

We arrived Lourdes at noon. We had a most ideal hotel location that was very near the sanctuary, entering the shrine from the Saint Joseph gate. Infact, all our rooms had a very nice window view of the street. First, we took our lunch nearby and then proceeded to the grotto.

First duty on hand, was to light two big candles: One was for myself and my family members. The second candle - was for my sister Helen. Before I left Manila, she gave me some money to light a big candle for her in thanksgiving and also in petition to ask help from our mother to solve her business labor problem in Manila.

After the candles were lighted, the second action was to go near the grotto. There was a short line and I was so excited. People I heard always talked about long queues. I didn't realize it was going to be easy to come near the grotto. I was in a faze. I was coming close to the holy shrine. I was also becoming teary eyed. I didn't even look carefully that I put my donation in the petition box. I was mostly looking upward than down that I really missed seeing the in-cased glass where St. Bernadette dug the spring. Coming close to the place of apparition, everybody was touching the cave walls. I used both hands to caress it. I saw streaks of water running down the wall. My hands passed through and touched the streaks of water flowing down. It was just after the rain, hence the flow of water but I felt so blessed to be there, so timely. The flow of water that day meant something miraculous it seemed to me. But right after passing the cave and the statue above, I felt so disappointed that it was all I could do. Kind of, I was hoping to be able to kneel or touch or do something significant. Anyway I had to behave myself. I guessed my children thought that I was frantically in a frenzy. 

The third thing to do, was go to the water site where several faucets where installed for accessibility of the pilgrims. Anybody can drink or take away the well waters. Surprisingly there were again few people. I had all but a small plastic container to fill, yet I did wash my parched mouth and dry hands right from the tap. I told my children to wash their hands too or whatever they wished to do.

We went to the bath area but there was a long long queue of people, most specially disabled persons in wheel chairs with attendants pulling the carts. My children and I decided that Lucas and I should come back in the morning instead. I was however worried that the water in the morning would be too cold for us, but "Where is my faith? It was supposed to be a miraculous bathe". I told myself.

That same afternoon, we went up to the Immaculate Conception Basilica, got in, prayed, walked about, took pictures etc. After going around the vicinity, the next thing we did was go back to the grotto for the 5 o'clock rosary. I found only one vacant seat where I took it for Lucas to sit. The recitation was in Spanish but I tried to follow it through and reply silently in English. My kids and I stood all the while for the afternoon rosary. Surprisingly, I was not even tired at all.

We went back to the hotel to rest before supper. After being rested, we took a hearty meal inside the hotel restaurant at passed seven PM. It was a happy meal for us. We were kind of well rested and ready to do more activities. The children got maps and information regarding the grotto's schedules, so that night we planned well ahead for the next day activities. That night, we ate like the French. It took us long enough to talk and finish our meal, that it was well passed nine o'clock in the evening when we finished our supper.

After supper, we walked towards the grotto again and the nightly procession had already started. We bought candles to follow. The rosary was recited in several languages. One Hail Mary was even recited in the Visayan language. The Marian procession finished around 10PM, yet the night atmosphere was still happy and gay in Lourdes. We went to the well again and took some more water. We stayed up well up to 11 PM where stores began to close for the day. As there was nothing else to do, we went back to the hotel for the night............... My very first day in Lourdes.  ( to be continued )