Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lordy Lourdes!

Being Catholic is like being a country music fan. You can go away from it for fifteen years and when you go to mass or turn on the radio, they're still playing all the same stuff.

My pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, last week was fascinating in many ways and predictable in many others. One of the most interesting parts was learning about the group that made it possible for my Mom and me to do this, the Order of Malta. The order started in Palestine in the middle ages and took care of the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. Later, they were called upon for military service and were driven from the holy lands to the island of Rhodes, to the island of Malta, to years of exile, and then finally to Rome. It actually has its own government now, an independent magistracy, bilateral diplomatic relations with 96 countries and is granted the status of Permanent Observer in many international organisations, such as the United Nations. Their members have a tradition of being from royal or chivalrous families in Europe but now the knights and dames (that's what the members are called) are supposedly from all walks of life. [In reality, in the U.S. association that I was with, it seems that lineage may not matter as much, but money doesn't hurt.] Today, the Order does some really great stuff, the least of which is probably bringing all of us malades to Lourdes. They have a special commitment to the poor and to the sick, so they do extensive humanitarian work with the elderly, the disabled, people with AIDS, and especially in disaster situations around the world. I have to say that it was a trip seeing everyone dressed in their Malta regalia all week, like this lady here.

Over the course of the week, I met many wonderful people, both members of the Order and other malades and their companions. As everyone does, each had a unique story of how they came to be a part of the trip and what hopes they harbored for traveling all that way. I met a 4-year-old (who just stole the show) whose family brought him to pray that his tumor never comes back. I met two sweet students studying in Florence who were a refreshing dose of youth and perspective. I met a priest who agreed with me that the Church should be much more open to gays. I met a bishop who worries a great deal about his retirement and likes single malt scotch. I met a man whose mother received water from Lourdes and lived 13 more years after leukemia (back when leukemia was like a death sentence). I met a woman whose every breath is now dedicated to her wheelchair-bound husband who had a stroke two years ago. And on and on and on...

What I actually did there was attend many masses (one with 30,000 people!) and other special services. My feet were actually washed and kissed by priests and I was dunked in frigid holy water by burly Italian women who made me kiss a lipsticked-headed mary statuette-- the bathes were NOT the most spiritual experience. In traveling from the hotel to each of these activities, I was pulled and pushed in a blue cart, along with all of the other malades. This allows the sick person to fully experience the domain and allows the Order to fulfill their duty to serve the sick. At first I thought I'd prefer to walk, but then I got used to the whole service bit and wouldn't mind a permanent cart and puller here in Boston, if anyone is interested. When I move next week, I'll only be one mile from school. tempted, aren't you?

Although I'm not sure that Mary and I got to commune as much as the pilgrimage intends, my bio mama and I spent a precious week together. It's sort of amazing how my family, on my Mom's side, have been Catholic for generations. Apparently my Mom's grandmother was already a Catholic; I'm pretty sure that the missionaries jumped straight off the boats in China and hit my family first. Anyway, my Mom was was super patient and cool about all my questions and commentary on the trip, while still being the steadfast believer and devoted Catholic she always is.

If Mary is to be found in each of our mothers, then I did get to take a holy journey.


Anna said...

Hi mamacita,
What a wonderful entry! It's great to hear that your trip was so interesting and enjoyable. You look beautiful in all of the pictures. I love traveling vicariously through you!

Anonymous said...

God Bless you!

The primary purpose of any pilgrimage is spiritual conversion and prayer. Even if the waters of Lourdes did nothing for you physically, if the experience of pilgrimage, particularly as experienced with other pilgrims, helped you reflect on your prayer life and your relationship with God and your neighbor, then that is a profound effect indeed. In spite of the reputation of Lourdes as being a place of miracles, pilgrimages are much more than about seeking miracle cures of the body so much as they are about revitalizing the spirit. But I pray it continues to bring you both physical and spiritual healing!