October 3, 2019
After a lovely cafe au lait et un croissant, we made our way to the English Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The priest opened his homily by asking, “Why have you come to Lourdes?” “Are you hoping for a cure, or have you come for healing?” Many come to Lourdes looking to be cured, and sometimes the miracle happens. What do we do when the miracle does not happen?
So often, we only seek the cure – the fix for what ails us. We look for it in drugs, in relationships, in procedures, in healing waters, and in all manner of other things. We want to be made right, whole. And sometimes, the brokenness, disease, and/or hurt within us is cured – perhaps miraculously. Often, what we really need is healing – the ongoing process of reconciling ourself with our life, its disappointments, and our hopes. Healing centers on getting your heart right with what you are walking through. Do we have the faith to open ourselves to the miracle of either?
The remainder of our day in Lourdes was spent enjoying its special blend of the spiritual and the historical. The entire complex is called the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. The large gothic Cathedral rising above the area is called the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception *(the Upper Basilica). Directly below it and opening to a large square (the Rosary Squary) is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary (Rosary Basilica). The Rosary Basilica represents a Byzantine architectural style and the walls of its interior are decorated with incredibly ornate mosaics representing the Joyful, Glorious, and Sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary. Both churches are absolutely beautiful and both are very distinct.
Across Rosary Square is the Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive underground church built in 1958 in anticipation of enormous crowds celebrating the Centenary of the Apparitions. The Underground Basilica is reminiscent of a sports arena – massive concrete arches across huge expanses all accessed down four very wide concrete ramps. The altar is centered in the space (lit in the photo) that can seat 25,000. Along the walls are very beautiful, gemmail style, overlapped stained glass images of the Stations of the Cross and the Mysteries of the Rosary. If there was a Super Bowl of Catholicism, it would be held here.
After collecting several vials of healing water from the Massabielle Grotto, we walked the life-sized Stations of the Cross up the mountain and then made our way to the station to catch our train to St. Jean Pied de Port. Overwhelming in numerous ways, Lourdes did not disappoint. I left Lourdes awed and inspired; grateful that such places exist.
The train ride to Bayonne and then to St. Jean Pied de Port was quiet and scenic. The SNCF train was comfortable, unbelievably smooth, and fast, moving us across the countryside at speeds up to 186 miles per hour. A woman we met kindly corrected my attempts at speaking French and helped interpret a number of things along the way. I must confess to believing that my poor command of the native language would not be a big deal since most people would speak some English – an incorrect assumption that I’m certain frustrates many on both sides of it. I actually am able to read much of it and communicate in bits but I am slow and my ability to understand the spoken word is a real detriment. We have been able to find our way around but not knowing the language well is a significant impediment.
Our train change in Bayonne brought us into contact with our first batch of Camino de Santiago Peregrinos (pilgrims). Of course, being in France, they are Pelerins. My first reaction was disappointment. There were many. They were all dressed similarly to us and equipped in similar fashion. Our Way was no longer ours alone. Up to this point, we had not encountered any other pilgrims, though everyone we met was familiar with the Camino de Santiago. Besides a rather talkative Romanian behind us, the 90 minute ride from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied de Port was quiet with anticipation. I wondered if this journey was going to feel like one more collection of tourists crammed into narrow spaces.
St. Jean Pied de Port (at the foot of the pass) is the traditional starting point of the Camino Frances. Situated in Basque Country on the French side of the Pyrenees, it is a quaint village with winding roads and a very old town center with steep cobblestone streets and a variety of shops. The day was ending as we arrived and we walked through empty streets toward Villa Harriet, a small bed and breakfast on the edge of the village. As we navigated the narrow streets, cars intermittently raced past us with an alarming intimacy. Nonplussed by the appearance of walkers in backpacks, the drivers made no effort to slow or show any sign of acknowledgement. Cautionary note to self: beware.
Tomorrow, we head up the Napoleón Route to Orrison about 5 miles away and nearly 2000 feet of elevation.
Your experience of seeing many similar pilgrims reminds me of my first college English Lit class. The first day of class I found myself with about 40 other English majors. Back in high school I was one of the chosen few who loved English. In college I was one of many! I realized I wasn’t as unique & special as I thought!