Among the charitable activities of the Order of Malta are two annual pilgrimages that take about 60 ill and disabled people to Lourdes. The pilgrimage is eagerly anticipated by everyone.
The malades (to use the Lourdes word for the ill and disabled) are accommodated in the Accueil Notre-Dame under the care of head doctor Anne de Bono and her team.
But it is the Order of Malta that provides the main support. The helpers are divided into four teams and spend their week working in the wards looking after the sick. The pilgrimage opened with Mass in the church of St Bernadette, followed by the procession to the Grotto, its rock polished smooth by years of pilgrims’ hands.
That evening the Grand Master greeted the first-time helpers and awarded them their pilgrimage medals. The week’s activities included a visit to the Romanesque church in the mountain village of Saint-Savin for Mass and the Anointing of the Sick. The steady rain added to the solemnity of early morning Mass at the Grotto. A visit to the Cenacolo House nearby was unforgettable. Pilgrims heard the testimonies of young former addicts who have been helped through crisis by Sister Elvira Petrozzi’s organisation, enabling them to make a fresh start by putting God at the centre of their lives.
No pilgrimage is complete without its party. Amusing after-dinner skits kept everyone laughing.
The week drew to a close with the torchlight procession. This is an inspiring gathering, as darkness begins to fall, the malades processing in their wheelchairs or voitures reciting of the rosary, the whole procession moves around the Domaine as it gets darker, thousands of people, candles flickering. The final blessing with all the malades assembled in front of the Rosary Basilica is an affirmation of our faith in God, Our Lady and St Bernadette.
Despite the weather, spirits had not been dampened. People live out the Order’s mission of tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum: witnessing the faith and serving the sick.
On the last morning the sun shone. The peaks of the Pyrenées were visible for the first time in days, brilliant white against clear blue sky – the colours of Our Lady, who seemed to be putting in a last-minute appearance to see the pilgrims safely home.