Bishop Soto's Dispatches from Lourdes 2024 - 6th Dispatch

A soft rain settled on Lourdes as the pilgrims walked over to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for the final celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass before beginning the journey home.

Because of the large number of pilgrims – malades (those who are sick and frail), their caregivers, volunteers, and the members of the order – any venture to the Sanctuary Domain was quite an orchestrated event requiring traffic and crowd control.  

Everyone was divided up into teams identified by colors:  red team, yellow team, etc.  All the malades are taken over in the metal and canvas carts traditionally used at Lourdes.  The carts are simple and used throughout Sanctuary Domain.  This allows the malades to easily access all the facilities.  The volunteer teams at Lourdes are accustomed to arranging the carts for large celebrations in the Basilicas, the outdoor plaza, and the grotto.

Every cart also has a canvas hood which can be quickly deployed to shelter the malade from rain or the rays of the sun. 

Each team has a number of malades with their designated carts.  The members of the Order and volunteers assume the task of pulling or pushing the cart to the designated location for the next event. 

So, on this soggy Tuesday, the pilgrim procession moved from the hotel to the first Basilica built in Lourdes.  The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is built on the hill, along whose slopes the grotto is found.  So the Basilica stands at the highest point in the Sanctuary Domain.

The processions from the hotel to the different religious venues during the week-long pilgrimage served a very practical purpose, ensuring everyone arrived at each event safely and on-time.  Over the course of the week, these processions took on their own spiritual meaning and purpose.  Team members bantered with one another trying to get the right balance of pushing and pulling.  The traffic monitors shouted out warnings about an approaching truck or cautioned the cart pullers to keep their charges in a single file.  There were questions about the coming event or reflections on past events.  Conversing about family and friends back home being curious about the going-ons in Lourdes. These very human, ordinary details helped bring each group together so that when everyone arrived at the designated site the pilgrims were already disposed to the one heart and the mind that Christian prayer fosters.

In the beginning chapters of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts. 6.1-7), the early Church learned about the vital complementarity between service and prayer, diakonia and liturgia.  One of the first conflicts of the Church was precisely over tension of caring for widows and poor who were Greeks.  The apostles discerned the necessity to ordain deacons for the works of charity, not simply to unburden themselves of the task, but to ensure that both service and prayer would bring people to share together the one mind and heart of Christ Jesus.   

The very functional processions prepared the pilgrims for the liturgical processions of the Mass.  We journeyed together to the table of the Word and the Eucharist where we found our communion with the Lord Jesus.  The Holy Communion savored in the Sacrifice of the Mass began with the pushing and pulling of carts so that we all might be one in Christ.  

Read more from Bishop Jaime Soto's 2024 pilgrimage to LourdesFirst DispatchSecond DispatchThird DispatchFourth Dispatch, Fifth Dispatch