The last spring break trip I took with my Catholic youth group was my senior year. We went to Lourdes, France, and it had been four years since this group had traveled to such a nearby pilgrimage site because of some interesting shenanigans on that last trip involving a set of brass knuckles with the words "Lourdes" stamped on them. Ah, the joys of teenage rivalry and tourist kitsch.
While our trip to Rome was the most intensive service trip of the Catholic Youth Tour of Europe Trilogy, Lourdes was next in line. We helped out at Our Lady's Hospital of Lourdes, or we were intended to. We were there, I believe, the week before Holy Week, and the pilgrimage season started Holy Week, and that's when the hospital gets a rockin'. We did what we could, but I think the hospital was a bit overwhelmed. Mostly we helped bring the infirm pilgrims to a candlelight vigil and to a rosary. We were a day late to bring them to the baths, which is apparently the most intensive service (other than care while at the hospital) provided. And Ragin' Hormones took the stage again because one of the male nurses at the hospital was tres hot. The show Animaniacs was popular at the time, so there was often a female chorus of "Hello, Nurse!" whispered as he passed.
The other interesting thing to note is that the hospital's name in French is Hospitalite Notre-Dame de Lourdes (and, indeed, the words Notre Dame were everywhere because, you know, it's French for "our lade" and Lourdes is the location of a Marian apparation). In thanks for our service to the hospital, we were all given neat little silver pins that had the letters "N" and "D" very ornately wrought. This was considered a sign for those of my friends who knew that I was still not quite sure if I wanted to go to Duke or Notre Dame or Northwestern that fall. I put the pin on my winter coat right by the top button and got a lot of comments on it during the long winter months at Notre Dame.
We did have some time for each of us to visit the baths ourselves, for those who wanted to go. (The water is famously freezing, and you pretty much get immersed in it only to emerge into the cold stone stall that is surrounded by other cold stone stalls that line up along the cold stone grotto where the cold cold water is. That's the physical reasoning. The spiritual reasoning is that the waters are intended for the sick and infirm, those truly in need of miraculous healing, not for Johnny Quarterback hoping to protect is passing arm.) As I didn't mind the cold too much (I was used to losing all feeling in my fingers and toes due to a suspected case of mild Raynaud's Disease) and had a bum knee that prevented me from running track and liked to make its presence known by mild but constant pain at the end of the day (thus preventing me from sleeping until the ibuprofen kicked in), I decided to go to the baths. I also wanted to make the most of the opportunity and offer my experience in the waters as a way to sort of heal-by-proxy others in my family who were having health problems.
And it was indeed very cold water. So cold that it scattered my thoughts and made it hard for me to concentrate on the reasons for taking the plunge. When I emerged, I was cold, shaken, and without any immediate sign of miraculous healing. And I was very grateful for the strong nuns who had held onto me the entire time. Then I was on my way out of the stone stall, into the changing area, and shivering while waiting for the bus to take us back to the hotel.
There have been 68 Vatican-recognized miraculous healings due to the Lourdes water. Things like broken bones mending, chronic illnesses vanishing, disabilities disappearing. For me, it was a fascinating moment for my faith, and it may have had healing consequences. The Raynaud's symptoms that were quite frequent while I lived in Europe continued on with a slight decrease while I was at Notre Dame, and became very infrequent while I lived in Colorado. My knee pain over the course of the past ten years has decreased so that it is no longer a nightly or even a weekly occurrance, instead it's something I experience no more than once a month, and more likely only 4-6 times a year. Of course, this could all be a product of my body getting more into adulthood or of moving away from Europe or of moving into semi-arid and arid climes or a combination of these factors.
(By the way, there's a mention in the Wikipedia article on Lourdes that the grotto site was originally a shrine to Persephone. There's no citation (except for a note to say that a citation is needed), but I thought it was an interesting idea. There's definitely a story there.)
Another side note to this trip was that I borrowed a friend's copy of Alanis Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill. I had heard some of the releases as I was still pretty much a slave to the Top 40 charts, but I hadn't though much of them except to note they were catchy. But listening to "Forgiven" and "Mary Jane" while returning home from a pilgrimage and preparing for a big decision about whether or not to go to Notre Dame...isn't it ironic?
Next week: The conclusion of the Where in the World series.