Priest Vytautas Rapalis: „When I go on pilgrimage, Jesus is with me“
The end of April was always a special occasion for the Lithuanian Malteser community. It is associated with a traditional pilgrimage to the French town of Lourdes, where the whole Order of Malta community prays for the sick, the disabled and the disadvantaged. People with disabilities and prayers written by people for their mothers, for the sick, and their country travel to Lourdes, alongside Maltesers.
The last two years have changed the traditions of this pilgrimage. Lourdes could only be reached by prayers and thoughts. This situation had led us to look for different ways on how to unite with Malteser spiritual leaders, volunteers, families, the disabled and the elderly – the whole Malteser community – and extend the long tradition of unity of pilgrimage and prayer for the weak.
“Walking to Lourdes” initiative by the youth
In April, the youth of the organisation – Young Maltesers – decided – if quarantine does not allow us to go to Lourdes, we must walk there, therefore, a month-long walking initiative/challenge “Walking to Lourdes” was established. The challenge aimed to call all the Malteser community and travel the distance of Lithuania-Lourdes-Lithuania, completing 3000 kilometres (around 4,5 million steps) by walking. This distance wasn’t chosen by chance. This is the exact number of kilometres and steps from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to Lourdes and back. The steps were measured by a special application that every Malteser could download to their phone. The youth’s initiative called for a walk, so it was very suitable for today’s situation – all the meetings took place outdoors, in nature. Moreover, during the prolonged quarantine, everyone was lacking exercise, hence, the common goal called everyone for a meaningful hike experience. In total, almost 100 Malteser pilgrims took part in the challenge. It was so successful that the goal was doubled, and it was decided to walk not only for this year but to make up for the last year as well. To make the trip even more meaningful for the participants, a map was created, highlighting the sacred places of Lourdes in Lithuania, which they could visit while walking. In total, there are 56 Lithuanian Lourdes in the country.
The young Maltesers initiative was completed by a pilgrimage on the first weekend of May along the road of Lithuanian Jerusalem Cross, which represents the Via Dolorosa of Jesus Christ. The hike was followed by the St. Mass, which took place live and were broadcasted to the entire Malteser community.
Photo: Maltesers in Vilnius walk the Lithuanian Jerusalem Cross road
The Malteser pilgrimage was celebrated in Lithuanian Lourdes for the first time
The St. Mass for the pilgrims, as a way for the human life, was also celebrated in another town – Palanga, in one of the Lithuanian Lourdes, in the grotto of Counts Tiškevičiai palace. Here in 1898-1990 by order of countess Antanina Tiškevičienė, a place of prayer was built in by the example of French Lourdes grotto, as well as a copy statue of the Virgin Mary was set up. On May 1st during the celebrations, the St. Mass was offered by Algirdas Jurevičius, bishop of Telšiai – the largest diocese in Lithuania, and was attended by priest Kęstutis Balčiūnas and other clergymen. The Mass echoed the traditional Order of Malta Lourdes prayer, as this place of Lithuanian Lourdes is also known for miraculous healings. In the end, the prayer of the Order of Malta was preached together. Such celebrations to the Malteser pilgrimage to Lourdes took place in Lithuania for the very first time and received a large number of believers – people who longed for live mass, a word from a priest, community, united in prayer together.
Photo: Maltesers in Lourdes of Palanga
“Pilgrimage is the purpose of human life – when you are born you leave you home, you travel, stumbling along the way, eventually standing back up and living again with joy. You walk accompanied by your loved ones until you finally stop as the fear of the future awaits you. But when you go on a pilgrimage Jesus is alongside you. I wish everybody met Jesus in their life journey, and get to know that in the most difficult part of your path he will help you. There are no loses with Jesus.” – said the priest Vytautas Rapalis, the spiritual leader of the Maltesers, at the end of pilgrimage. The priest always accompanies Lithuanian Maltesers on a trip to Lourdes in France.