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)