The itinerary for the pilgrimage to Lourdes may not have gone exactly to plan, but organizers and students on the trip said their experience created life-long memories.
Students from schools including CJ, Alter, Carroll, Centerville, Fairborn, and Tipp City, college students and adults attended the pilgrimage to Lourdes, organized by the group 4Mary Inc., from June 4-13, 2016.
"Our basic mission is to bring people closer to Jesus through Mary," said group organizer and CJ teacher Tim O'Loughlin. "Through Marian pilgrimages, we hope that kids will make a special connection with Our Blessed Mother and that will in turn strengthen their connection with Jesus. Our pilgrims come from all walks of life, but no matter where they are in their faith journey, there is something special about a mother's love and there's something special about getting closer to Jesus by getting closer to Mary."
This was the first trip to Lourdes for Mo Zopff '16.
"I had never been to Lourdes before but I was initially interested in the pilgrimage because of my past trips to Medjugorje," Zopff explained. "In Medjugorje, I loved learning about Marian apparitions and I really enjoyed having time set aside to focus on my faith life."
While in Lourdes, the group began with Mass every day O'Loughlin shared.
"Most days we had private Mass in the Youth Village where we stayed, but we also had Mass at the grotto, in the Lourdes underground cathedral, in Bartres (a neighboring town where Bernadette lived briefly), and in Betharram (another nearby Marian apparition site)," continued O'Loughlin.
Some of the activities the group participated in included a tour of campus ("The Sanctuary",) walking through campus and town, learning about the life of Bernadette and her family, taking a one hour walk to a town where Bernadette lived twice when her family could not afford to feed her and going to The Baths where pilgrims were allowed to pray and be dunked in baths of spring water fed by the original miraculous spring revealed to Bernadette by Our Blessed Mother during one of the apparitions.
The group also spent one day dedicated to service which included helping with crowd control at the grotto Masses and in the afternoon, helping transport handicapped pilgrims from a train to a bus.
"The people were on the train for 36 hours," Zopff recalled. "Our group waited with wheelchairs to help move the passengers with disabilities to the buses. I helped a blind lady who couldn't speak any English but she could walk. I held her arm and guided her to the bus. Although we didn't completely understand one another, I knew she was very grateful and I had a great time helping."
On that same evening, the group helped manage a candlelight procession.
"Everyone who goes to the service carries a candle while the rosary is being prayed in a number of languages," Zopff noted. "Our group was asked to help at the procession by carrying taller candles to help other pilgrims know the path. After the procession ended, our group went up on the stage area to be recognized. It didn't even feel like service to me, it was just fun. But I know that through our service, the procession ran much smoother and the real workers seemed to be grateful for our work."
Some other activities the group participated in during their pilgrimage included visiting Betharram, a local Marian apparition site that occurred before Lourdes, participating in Stations of the Cross in Lourdes and in Betharram, and visiting Cenacolo, an international faith-based rehab center.
"We also has intercessory prayer," O'Loughlin added. "Everyone brought petitions with them, so we prayed for people, lit candles, and brought back spring water for loved ones."
On the way back to the U.S., the group had to take a detour.
"Our return flight was canceled because of a local airline strike, so we had to take a 10 hour bus ride to Paris to catch a different flight," explained O'Loughlin. "It ended up being a huge blessing because we were then able to stop by Nevers, France and see St. Bernadette's incorrupt body and have Mass in her chapel."
Zopff agreed, "I absolutely loved this part of the trip and I think it made it more real. We walked the path of Bernadette in Lourdes and we finished the trip where she died. I thought it was an amazing end to the pilgrimage to Lourdes."
O'Loughlin said this was the third international youth pilgrimage organized by 4Mary Inc. He hopes to take a group to Fatima next year for their 100 year anniversary.
"I think others should take part in these pilgrimages because it's a great way to get away from the busy world we live in, meet new people from the area, improve your faith life, and more," Zopff said. "It was hard for me to step back from using my phone, but when I did, it made the trip ten times better. I learned a lot about my faith and I even learned more about myself. I grew closer to people I never probably would've grown close to. Before the pilgrimage, I thought my faith life was pretty great but now when I look back on it to compare it, it's so much better now after the pilgrimage."
Posted July 1, 2016