St Bernadette, Lourdes and putting love into action

The basilica at Lourdes
The basilica at Lourdes

As the relics of Saint Bernadette begin their tour around England, Scotland and Wales, Catherine from our Theology team reminisces about her own experiences on pilgrimage to Lourdes.

When I was 18, I went to Lourdes for the first time. My grandparents had been going for years. And they had always said that I should try it when I was old enough to be a helper.

My grandad talked about what an amazing spiritual place it was, the processions and the Masses. My grandma, who perhaps understood my interests at the time a little better, emphasised the social element of it. She told me how the young people always seemed to be having so much fun around their caring duties.

It turned out that they were both right.

An image of Catherine wearing her handmaid uniform - a white dress and blue necktie - in Lourdes
Catherine on pilgrimage in Lourdes.

That first time was shortly after my grandma died and I went more to keep my grandad company than for any other reason. But I loved it so much I ended up going every year for eight years. I went as a volunteer, a handmaid, helping to care for elderly, sick and disabled pilgrims with the Arundel and Brighton diocesan pilgrimage.

Over the years, I made wonderful friends of different ages and abilities. I even met my husband there. It was also the first place that I really saw, and perhaps most importantly, felt, that faith was about something more than what happened in church on a Sunday morning.

Love in action

When I heard that the relics of Saint Bernadette were coming here, it brought memories of my own pilgrimages to Lourdes flooding back. It was interesting to reflect on the meaning these experiences still hold for me today.

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“Love in action” is the phrase that I always associate with my time on the pilgrimage. This was demonstrated in multiple ways every day. But this love was not just shown by us volunteers to the pilgrims we were helping. It went both ways. We journeyed alongside each other, supporting one another in each day, each moment.

Although it is now well over ten years since I last went to Lourdes, this idea of love in action continues with me today. I think it helped to draw me to the work of CAFOD. I wanted to continue to make a difference day to day, not just for one week a year.

It became clearer to me that faith is a concrete thing that guides us to live a certain way in the world. That calls us to seek a better way of being with each other, where everyone can flourish. Whether that’s for a week on pilgrimage, or more widely in a world filled with poverty and injustice.

Pray the rosary to nourish your commitment to the world around us

Candles on a candle stand in the grotto at Lourdes
Candles in the grotto at Lourdes

Dedication and passion

I can see many similarities between the pilgrimages I went on to Lourdes and the way in which CAFOD works.

CAFOD walks alongside communities overseas, listening to their needs and working together with them and local organisations to help find solutions. Just in the same way that we accompanied each other on the pilgrimage.

Our work strives to reach the poorest and most vulnerable people, no matter their age, gender, race or religion. Again, this reflects my experience of Lourdes, as a place where those who are often overlooked, ignored or marginalised are at the heart of all that we do.

The final thing that unites my experiences of Lourdes and CAFOD is the dedication and passion of the people I have met. They are people who will go above and beyond to help and support others. Who can see the problems in the world, but who are determined to play their part to make a difference. People who do not give up hope, no matter the circumstances.

The example of Saint Bernadette

St Bernadette
St Bernadette

Saint Bernadette was a poor, uneducated, sick, young girl, out collecting firewood. Yet she is the one to whom Our Lady appeared. This always reminds me of how God sees us differently to the way that we are valued by society. How those who might be considered the least, should be at the forefront of our minds.

Bernadette was steadfast in her faith. Holding firm to what she had seen despite endless questioning by the authorities. Her life was transformed by Our Lady’s presence in the grotto. As was the life of her community and the lives of countless others who have travelled to Lourdes in the years since.

As her relics tour the country  over the coming months, may we also be inspired by her example to bear witness to our faith, speak up for what is right and build a world filled with love in action.

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