It's A Dramatic Story
Maltesers have their own tradition of pilgrimage trips. Their main trip is at the end of April – beginning of May, which is a pilgrimage to Lourdes together with people with disabilities and visiting a number of European cities at the same time. The timing is not accidental. During the first week of May the groups of pilgrims assisted by the knights of the Order of Malta come to Lourdes from all over the world.
Those who have been there have unforgettable memories for life. The members of the trip meet after it for a number of times to share their memories and pictures.
During those days Lourdes is especially impressive. Many of the town’s guests wear the Order of Malta’s clothes: men wear the uniforms; women wear the scarves and the cloaks with the maltesers’ cross. Many of the town’s visitors are sick or people with disabilities. A large part of them use wheelchairs.
What kind of pilgrimate is it? Why is it so extraordinary?
„This is the most wonderful trip I have ever been to, therefore I want to repeat it again and again, – says a long-term participant of the pilgrimages’ Raimeda Bučinskytė. ─ The massive impact of this pilgrimage follows me all year round.”
„When planning this trip we knew that for some of the pilgrims – to people with disabilities and the ill – it would be the only one and the main trip in their entire life, therefore we tried to make it unforgettable, – says Raimeda. Our aim was to make the trip as pleasant and comfortable as possible for every pilgrim.“
The joys and the peculiarities of the trip
There is a considerable number of people with disabilities and ill persons travelling together in the bus for the pilgrimage to Lourdes. The groups are always accompanied by the priests, whose prayers make the spiritual trip even more meaningful. The priests offer prayers together with the pilgrims, discuss the spiritual questions and hold the holy mass. Usually the pilgrims are also accompanied by the members of the Order of Malta.
The maltesers‘ trip by bus to Europe‘s sacred sites lasts around 12 days and is intense, although the difficulties are forgotten later on. Visiting new countries and cities is an unforgettable experience every time. Because everything appears new, pilgrims notice only the beauty and feel happy. „We face new situations every time as people around us speak foreign languages, therefore all the group of pilgrims is trying to hold on to each other, – shares her impressions Raimeda. – Fellow passengers become very close as they spend a lot of time together and live according to the same rhythm.“
Among those travelling there are people with disabilities, thus it is important that such people should have all conditions for travelling. Every pilgrim has an accompanying maltesers’ volunteer helper. On the first day the communication between the people with disabilities and their maltesers’ helpers are limited to the basic help only, although on the second day they become much closer.
„Because I can only move with a wheelchair I know I would not be able to travel with a travel agency, – says Raimeda. – that is why travelling together with maltesers is a rare opportunity for me. They willingly help to overcome daily problems caused by the environment that has not been adapted to people with disabilities.“
Pilgrims travel to six European countries. Usually they visit Bratislava, Vienna, where they pray at a local Maltesers‘ church. Then they go to the exceptional city of 112 islands – Venice, where the remnants of St. Mark the Evangelist are guarded at St. Mark‘s Basilica. Pilgrims also visit the city of St. Anthony – Padua.
Although the main destination of the maltesers‘ pilgrimage is Lourdes, famous for the miraculous recoveries of the ill. Since 1860 Lourdes has been visited by around 200 million people. Every year it is visited by more than 5 million people.
What attracts that many people from all over the world to this French town? How has it become one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the world?
The miracle of Lourdes began on 11 February 1859, when a fourteen year old girl Bernadette Soubirous saw the apparition of a slim twelve year old girl with a white dress and a blue waistband, while picking up firewood in a remote Massabielle grotto. The apparition was repeated eighteen times. The Catholics believe that on these occasions Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary.
During one of the apparitions on 25 February 1858 Bernadette was told to dig the ground in one place and to drink from the spring. The girl started digging and the stream of water appeared. Now the water of this spring is called the Holy Water of Lourdes. Since then hundreds of thousands of pilgrims followed the words said during the manifestation: „Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there“.
Although the Catholic Church officially has never encouraged drinking Lourdes water, it became one of the main symbols of the town. Thousands of pilgrims are convinced they have experienced the miraculous healing powers of the water from the sacred spring.
The first baths in Lourdes were installed in 1850s by the local craftsmen. Until 1880 the ill bathed in two little basins, where the water was delivered by pumping it manually. In 1880 there was a wooden house with fourteen basins constructed for the purpose of bathing.
The water in Lourdes baths is rather cold (around 12 degrees Celsius), therefore dipping into it lasts around a minute. Usually the ill pray during the procedure. Those able to walk are assisted by 1 or 2 helpers, and people with disabilities might have more assistants.
Miraculous Cures in Lourdes
After the news about miraculous cures started spreading after the apparition, The Church established an institution to check the cases. The Pope Pius X established Lourdes Medical Bureau. It fully examines the stories of people, claiming that they have miraculously recovered from incurable illnesses after visiting Lourdes. It is important to note that the Bureau is run by the doctors and not the clergy. Bureau takes into account medical evidences only.
Since 1860 around 7000 people have been examined, who believe they have been miraculously cured in Lourdes, although only 68 people have proven a full recovery without any special medical treatment.
The cases of Lourdes cures are the least questionable because from the very beginning they were thoroughly scrutinised by sceptic medics from all over the world. The documentation of all the acclaimed and unclaimed cases are publicly available to all the physicians. All the officially acclaimed miraculous Lourdes recoveries were widely presented in the media.
Lourdes Churches and Processions
In 1864 a sculpture by a Lyon sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch was placed inside the cave of the grotto. Later on, after thousands of pilgrims started coming to Lourdes, the number of new objects in the Holy place increased considerably.
With time new churches appeared in Lourdes. The most impressive of them all was the Basilica of St. Pius X (Basilique Saint-Pie X) or the Underground Basilica, designed by an architect Pierre Vago. It’s a massive oval-shaped building held by 58 columns. The architecture makes the building look like a turned-over boat. Thanks to the design a massive space of 12 000 cube meters is created, where around 25 000 pilgrims can gather. The Basilica is unique because it has been built underground.
During the apparition the Virgin Mary asked Bernadette to hold processions, therefore they are held every day now. Lourdes processions are very impressive, attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. The main is St. Sacrament Procession. It is usually led by a priest or an archbishop holding a monstrance with St. Sacrament, which is followed by the priests and the pilgrims, and the pilgrims carrying the flags. During the Procession people pray and sing hymns in several different languages.
No less impressive is the Candlelight Procession, which is held every day at dusk. Only if the weather is very bad it can be held at the Underground Basilica. The Procession is led by the pilgrims carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary. They are followed by a mass of people holding the candles in their hands and saying the rosaries in various languages.
Participation in Lourdes processions and visits to holy locations in Europe leave unforgettable memories to all the participants of maltesers‘ pilgrimages.