On Thursday October 13, I set out with around 2 dozen other students to France. We packed into a bus to Sceibbs, packed even more of us on a train to St. Polten, and then went our separate ways until we were to meet up again on Saturday night, in Lourdes to begin our mission trip. The entire Austrian campus had 10 days off to travel wherever they liked, 2 dozen of us chose to volunteer in Lourdes for the 10 days, with the North American Lourdes volunteers.
When the groups fizzled down after arriving in St. Polten, half the group hopped on a train to Munich, and then to Paris. Once in Paris we were told we could make reservations for trains to Lourdes. Interestingly enough, the train reservations were all booked, leaving us with no choices but to buy 90 euro tickets, or figure out some other way to get to Lourdes. After 3 hours in the train station, plotting various methods of getting to our destination, including buses, hitch-hiking, and pondering whether any station in all of France could take us to Lourdes, we were informed that we might be able to show up for our intended train 20 minutes early, and talk the conductor into selling us the remaining open seats that weren’t booked. The hope would be that so close to the departure time, the conductor would just let us have the open seats at a decent fair.
We decided that we’d just do that, because we had no other options, and in the mean time 7 of us went to Nevers, France. So on Friday evening, after departing Thursday afternoon, eating bread and nutella, and sleeping on an overnight train (sleeping sitting up in a 6 person compartment, is not fun) and seeing the Notre Dame cathedral, we arrived in Nevers.
Nevers was a gift from God. I ate pizza, drank a little bit of wine (when you’re in France you HAVE to drink wine!), and ate the most delicious chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream I’ve had, possibly ever. I was also able to put on clean clothes and bathe, and sleep in a REAL bed. Not to mention the fact that we were sleeping in a previous convent turned pilgrimage site, which had an atmosphere of peace and comfort that was wonderful. We stayed at St. Gilgard, which is where St. Bernadette was a nun and lived the last years of her life. Her incorrupt body is still there, resting in the chapel, which was located in the same building in which we slept.
The next morning we had another delicious meal, a complimentary breakfast, and then we explored the grounds a bit, before we sped off to the train station to head for Paris.
Paris was pretty miserable. We couldn’t reserve our tickets to get on the train at 2:40, even after begging conductors, and spent the next three hours running around the train stations and Metros in Paris, trying to find some way to get to some city and then from there get to Lourdes. One of us had given up and stayed back in the first train station, completely planning on buying a 100 euro train ticket, while the 6 people I was following were still desperately attempting to find a way to get to Lourdes for under 100 euros. I basically spent my time huddled in a ball singing church songs to myself and praying with my rosary while everyone stressed about what to do. Finally, just when we were about to spend 50 euros to hop on a train to a town several hours from Lourdes, and stay there in the wee hours of the morning, until hopping onto a 5 in the morning train, and getting to Lourdes 12 hours after we had originally planned and were expected to be there, our first friend -who had resigned to his fate of spending 100 euros, called us on the phone to tell us that there were 8 open seats on a train to Lourdes with reservations at 20 euros apiece. So after visiting 3 train stations and hopping on the metro 5 or 6 times, we finally had a train ride to Lourdes that was decently priced leaving from the same station we had originally intended to leave in the first place.
Then we arrived in Lourdes. Saturday night we were welcomed into the city by Pam and Fran, who instructed us on a few basics, before we headed to our hostel for the night. They gave us bags, and information packets, and then we were able to sleep until the next morning, when we were fed breakfast and told more things.
I really had no idea what we were doing in Lourdes, all I knew was that for the next week I was a volunteer in Lourdes, and would do whatever job I was assigned. We went to an international mass that was said in French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, and a couple other languages. We had a group meeting and tour, and saw some of the beautiful parts of Lourdes. We had a 4 course French lunch in the St. Michel Cafeteria, a starter, a cheese, a dessert, and an entre (main dish). We had a lot of meetings, and were even put into small teams, I ended up being put into the Dining 2 team, with my sister, my Lourdes room mate, and another student. So Sunday was a day of planning and preparation.
Monday, the pilgrims arrived. Wednesday I took a bath in the waters of Lourdes. Thursday the pilgrims took their baths, and I was able to take a second one. Friday we left.
We were only there a short time, and the things we did were simple. I served meals and cleared tables, I talked to people, I helped them transport from one part of the sanctuary to another. It is hard to explain how special that week was, though it was so simple. It’s difficult to explain that even though it was a week of extreme exhaustion, of entirely giving myself, and being tired and hungry and worn out, I was supremely satisfied. It was a miracle of having complete spiritual fullness, even in the midst of physical exhaustion. I’d be doing the pilgrimage a great injustice if I didn’t mention the Love. The point of the whole trip, and the feeling I got during all of it, and keep with me now, is that of love.
In Lourdes, people love.
Saturday we were back in Paris, I even caught a glimpse of the Eiffle tower, and Sunday night we arrived safely back on campus.
I have about 30 pages in my diary devoted to my trip to Lourdes, and only 1000 words here. I had a lot more time to journal, and I simply wanted a taste, a quick documentation here, so that you know where I’ve been these last few days. I went to Lourdes, and I saw love, and I hope and pray that you too might experience the love of Lourdes, the love of Christ, the love of taking care of the sick and weak, and the love of being cared for in return.
Now I have to run to my class which starts in half an hour.