An unexpected highlight of a trip to Lourdes

The grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)When visual media manager Nancy Wiechec and I went to Lourdes, France, to illustrate how pilgrims celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, we never expected to be touched by a young woman who communicated with her smile and her hands.

Sick people come to Lourdes to be healed. But this woman came to help.

Although she was deaf, the 45 people on our pilgrimage found ways to communicate with her: To ask her if she slept well, if she was enjoying the meals we were served — nearly all of which incorporated some form of pork — and to thank her for tirelessly pushing the wheelchairs that some of the pilgrims needed.

We attempted to speak with our hands — surely not saying anything in correct American sign language — but we entertained ourselves and probably entertained her with our goofy signing. We also used paper and pen to have more detailed discussions.

On the last night of the trip, we were asked to discuss significant moments of the trip for us. Several of the pilgrims said meeting this young woman was the highlight. Clapping our hands, we applauded her until finally sometime taught us how to applaud in sign language by raising our arms and twitching our hands so she could understand.

PHOTO: The grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Lourdes anniversary recap

An elderly woman guards herself against the cold as she gathers with other pilgrims for a Mass in the grotto at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, last Sunday. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)We had great coverage this week of the 150th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions. Our photos and graphics manager, Nancy Wiechec, filed some wonderful images (like the one at the left) of pilgrims gathered in Lourdes to mark the date in 1858 when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a poor, illiterate 14-year-old girl near Lourdes, France.

The Florida Catholic did a great job this week putting together a slideshow of some of Nancy’s Lourdes photos. Open the slideshow here. The musical accompaniment is by Catholic singer and songwriter Annie Karto.

Assistant international editor Regina Linskey also took the trip, filing several stories, including this account in which several pilgrims talk about why they visit Lourdes and what they expect from a pilgrimage there. Another story is an interview with a doctor who helps determine whether cures at Lourdes should be declared miraculous. Only 67 have met the criteria. Regina also covered the Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which the church also marks as the World Day of the Sick. There are also backgrounders on the millions who flock to Lourdes every year and on the life of St. Bernadette.

Clients of ours also have done a marvelous job of of marking the Lourdes anniversary. Besides the Florida Catholic (see above), other examples include:

– A wonderful column by Jesuit Father James Martin this week in the blog of America magazine on how the story of the apparitions of Mary to St. Bernadette is easy to believe even in a time when it has become fashionable to downplay the otherworldly aspects of our faith.

– A reflection by a former chaplain to English-speaking pilgrims to Lourdes on the meaning of Lourdes in St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

PHOTO: An elderly woman guards herself against the cold as she gathers with other pilgrims for a Mass in the grotto at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, last Sunday. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

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