Pilgrimage to Lourdes

Welcome back! I have spent most of the week in Lourdes, France, accompanying the Order of Malta in its Annual International Pilgrimage to the Marian shrine.

This year, Father Jonathan Gaspar, Father Kevin O’Leary and Father Dan Magni were all there accompanying the Order of Malta’s group from Boston and the infirm people that they take. I try to accompany them every other year.



Fathers O’Leary and Magni



Father Dan’s parish school in Lowell is St. Jeanne d’Arc.  He thought the children would get a kick out of this photo.

We flew from Boston to Paris and changed planes to go to the city of Pau. There, Joe Feitelberg met us and drove us to Lourdes.

When we arrived in Lourdes, there was a luncheon with some of the Boston group, then I rested a little bit. In the evening we had the candlelight procession, which was very beautiful.

The procession, as always, had thousands of people holding candles around the plaza and in front of the basilica.


There, I met a priest and a seminarian who had come to Lourdes from Andorra, which is a small mountainous country in the Pyrenees on the border of France and Spain.

The priest told me that he was one of only 12 priests in Andorra and that the bishop is also the prince of Andorra! He said there were 80,000 Catholics there. I had never met anyone from Andorra and I told him I had always wanted to go there.

At the end of the procession they asked me to do the blessing and final prayers. They prayed the various mysteries of the rosary and sang the Lourdes Hymn as well as other hymns.


Then, Saturday morning was the Mass at the Grotto, where 151 years ago St. Bernadette had 18 visions of the Blessed Mother. I preached at the Mass and the whole American group was there. I think there were around 400 people in the American group. We were very blessed to have good weather while we were there.


Karen Murray of our Office for Persons with Disabilities

Ordinarily, Msgr. Dennis Sheehan goes with us as one of the main chaplains of the Knights of Malta, but this year he was having First Communions at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton and was unable to join us.

I would like to share with you my homily at the grotto:

In the Church of St. Mary’s in Charlestown there is a wonderful mural that depicts the Blessed Mother receiving Holy Communion from the hand of St. John the Apostle, the beloved disciple. I am sure that Mary often received communion from St. John. After John received the legacy from the Cross – “Behold your Mother” – John took Mary into his home. From there, Mother was a source of guidance and inspiration to John and the first disciples.

Padre Larrañaga speculates that because of the close relationship of Peter, James and John – Jesus’ inner circle – Peter would have been a frequent visitor to John’s house and hence to Mary’s new home. There is a stunning transformation of Peter from the laughing combination of Ralph Kramden and Archie Bunker into the Vicar of Christ, the courageous Peter we read about in Acts and who dies crucified on Vatican Hill. As Mother Angelica says, Peter was a lousy fisherman – he never caught anything unless Jesus was right there saying: ‘Throw your net here, now.’


When Jesus was arrested, St. Peter took out his machete to defend the Lord, but was only able to whack off the ear of a servant and then ran for his life. He denies Jesus to a waitress with an attitude, then Peter tried to do what we all do at times – that is to follow Jesus at a safe distance … but when the rooster crowed, he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter’s great transformation takes place on Pentecost where Peter and John and the others persevering in prayer with Mary are filled with the Holy Spirit. The frequent contact of Peter with Mary helps Peter to follow Jesus ever closer and to fulfill his vocation: to follow Jesus not at a safe distance, but up close.


Mary is still involved in the life of Jesus’ family helping us to be better disciples, more faithful to Jesus’ Gospel, more aware of His loving presence in our lives.

One hundred and fifty years ago, a fourteen-year-old peasant girl received a special grace while praying in this very place. Mary the Mother of Jesus appeared to her. There were 18 visions of the Virgin. Bernadette Soubirous was coached by her pastor to ask the woman’s name. Mary replies in the dialect of the region: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Four years before these apparitions, Pope Pius IX had defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, that means that Mary had received the singular grace to be conceived without the stain of original sin. This belief about Mary has its origins in the early Church, but it took centuries to be able to develop a philosophical and theological explanation. I am happy to report that Duns Scotus the Franciscan trumped Dominican Thomas Aquinas in coming up with a theological explanation of this ancient dogma. It is like the Red Sox beating the Yankees.


Some people question why the Church had bothered to define these Marian Doctrines like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary. It would be more ecumenical to downplay these teachings. These dogmas however, help us to understand other articles of faith and to understand our own destiny. These dogmas speak to us about the Church’s teachings on grace and redemption, the Church’s teachings on the dignity of the human body and the resurrection that flows from a life of grace.

Most Catholics confuse the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I like to explain Mary’s Immaculate Conception as her mystical baptism that preserved her from sin, and it was done on a credit card, paid later by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Scriptures tell us Mary is full of grace. That grace and her faith make her Christ’s first disciple, and the new Eve, the new Mother of a redeemed humanity.


To me it is very significant that on this spot where Mary reveals herself as the Immaculate Conception, she makes a spring of fresh water appear, water like the Pool of Siloam with curative powers. I believe there is a message in this for all of us. Sin is the fatal disease which leads to eternal death. In our baptism we are graced and made to be disciples of Jesus Christ. The curative waters of baptism incorporated us into Christ’s family, the Church. The processions and pilgrimages that Mary asked for in the apparitions are to give us all the opportunity to renew the grace of baptism, to experience the solidarity of our membership in the Church and to express our faith by our love and concern for the sick and the suffering.

Mary identifies herself by her Immaculate Conception: that miracle of God’s love that preserved her from sin and prepared her for her vocation as Mother of the Redeemer.


Today in this holy place, our God asks us, “Who are you?”. Let our answer parallel that of Mary who said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Let us reply that our deepest identity is, “I am a baptized Catholic.” The waters of my baptism were, for me, the Jordan, the Red Sea and the water flowing from Christ’s wounded side. In my room in Boston, I have a picture of the person who baptized me, Father Jerry Reidy, my uncle. Where would we be without baptism?

But, it is not enough to say: “I am a baptized Catholic.” We must live the costly grace of discipleship. The great German Pastor Bonhoeffer often reflected on what he called cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves: the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, communion without confession, grace without the Cross. Cheap grace is an illusion.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field, for the sake of which a person will gladly sell all that he has. It is a pearl of great price for which the merchant sells all his goods to acquire. It is the Kingdom of God for whose sake a man will pluck out his eye that causes him to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him. Costly grace is to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give our cloak along with our tunic to the one who asks.

Mary is the woman full of grace, full of costly grace. The Gospel prophesizes, “all generations will call me blessed.” Indeed, the beatitudes are Jesus’ description of His Mother, poor in spirit, meek, pure of heart, thirsty for holiness and justice. Here in Lourdes, Mary gathers us as her children, brothers and sisters to each other and disciples of the Risen Lord.

After being pilgrims here at Lourdes we will return to our communities with a clearer sense of our calling, the gift of our Baptism, the gift of our faith.

And when the Lord asks us if we are going to abandon him and reject His teaching on the Eucharist, as in today’s Gospel, strengthened by Mother’s love and protection, we can answer as did Peter – “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

After the Mass we had a meeting with the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Fra Matthew Festing. He distributed medals to the sick from our group.


Fra Matthew

On Sunday I celebrated Mass with thousands of people in the lower basilica, the basilica of St. Pius X. I’m not sure how many people it holds, maybe 10,000 or 20,000, but it was packed!

I celebrated the Mass in Latin and gave the sermon in French and English. The readings and music were done in many different languages, as well. There were many bishops who concelebrated on Sunday, as well as many priests. As far as American bishops that were with us, there was Bishop of Trenton, Mort Smith; Bishop Frank Rodimer, the former Bishop of Paterson; and Bishop William Curlin the former Bishop of Charlotte.

The Boston group was quite large. Among them were many good friends like Jim and Anne O’Connor; Joe and Sheila Feitelberg; Gus Grace; Nancy Gibson; Sue Downing; and, of course, Hap and Sue Redgate, who were the pilgrimage chairs.




Sue and Hap Redgate


John O’Rourke and Nancy Gibson

I spent Monday as a day of recollection and prayer for myself, and visited several churches. Then we departed to arrive back in Boston on Wednesday.

One of the most moving aspects of Lourdes is always the centrality of the sick pilgrims who are there. I’m sure that many go with the hope of a physical healing; but, even more importantly, I think that the large numbers of people who flock there are looking for spiritual strength and solidarity. There are certainly many conversions there, as well.


Certainly, the care given to the sick in Lourdes is something that is very inspiring and edifying. Many people who were with us were very seriously ill with cancer and life-threatening kinds of illnesses. Compared to other Marian shrines, it has the greatest emphasis on that compassion and service to the sick, and bringing them into contact with God’s loving mercy and healing power.

Since we had traveled all night we had not celebrated Mass, the day that we arrived they let us say Mass in a chapel in the basilica. The chapel’s walls were completely covered with ex-votos — votive offerings — of people thanking the Blessed Mother for graces received.

The sacrament of reconciliation is also one of the many important activities of the shrine where many, many confessors are always hearing confessions in every language imaginable. It is such a popular place of pilgrimage!

It is interesting that in these days, when Mass participation has dropped off, the numbers of people visiting the pilgrimage sites throughout the world have increased. It shows that people still have a hunger for God and that so many of the people coming to the shrine are not just the active Catholics or the members of the Order of Malta and others like them, but all kinds of people really seeking God.

28 thoughts on “Pilgrimage to Lourdes”

  1. Dear Cardinal Sean
    I was in Lourdes this year and I want to thank you for posting your sermon at the Grotto. I will pass it on. It was a wonderful statement about what we believe ,hope for and need to do.
    This was our first time to Lourdes and you made it special for us with your presence and liturgies.
    Your homilies were inspiring.
    Jack Murray, New Canaan,CT.

  2. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I came across this blog quite accidentally, and stayed to read the homily. I have had the honor of traveling to Lourdes a number of times as a nurse and your pictures immediately brought me back to the peace and beauty the grotto.
    When I’m asked about miracles I can say without hesitation that at least one miracle occurs daily as 5000 or more individuals representing at least 25 countries and speaking upward of 20 languages have a candlelight procession any event planner in the world would need at least a month to organize!!!!
    The miracle of Faith never ceases to amaze me.

  3. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    It’s a fantastic blog, thank you for sharing it online for all of us. My 84 year old mother and I really enjoyed reading about your travels & especially seeing your pictures, and I want to make sure that you knew that reading your homily at the grotto was truly AWESOME! You really did a wonderful job with it, thank you SO much for being who you are Cardinal Sean, don’t ever change! What a special ceremony in Lourdes, that was wonderful to see & read about as well. To think that the Mass was celebrated in three different languages @ the Basilica. Thank you again for your blog & website, it’s fantastic communicating this way. I was wondering Cardinal Sean, did you ever get the chance to go to the Shrine of Knock in Ireland? I was there twice in my lifetime, just a few years ago was my latest visit. I wanted to tell you that we drove from Dublin with my aunt & mother so that they could get the holy water for my cousin that was dying of cancer. Do you know she lived a few weeks longer because of that holy water? Just so you know? It works. Whenever people tell me it doesn’t? I tell them it’s FAITH and it DOES work. Some day go there if you get the chance to visit Ireland, it’s absolutely incredible there as well. The first time we were there we saw the pilgrimage going up the road, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were thousands upon thousands of people. The Mass that was celebrated in their round chapel was something I’ll never forget in my entire life. I had to go back a few years ago to see it again & of course to be there again for one of their Masses. We pulled up, parked the car and lo and behold didn’t we see another pilgramage going on, then and there? The Mass was just as beautiful as it was 15 years before, I never saw anything like it. It reminded us SO much of when we were all kids growing up in Boston & being in the many May processions & attending all the novena’s & Masses at our parish church, THOSE were the days!

    I wanted you to know that we go to St. Paul’s in Cambridge to hear the Boston Boy Choir a lot on Sundays, where it’s in Harvard Square, it’s so easy to get in and out of there along Mt. Auburn Street, especially since we’re “out of staters” now!

    Thank you again Cardinal Sean, keep up the good work, you’re inspiring SO many of us, I’ll have you know!


  4. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    It seems like your around the world in 80 days! Every time I check your blog your in a new country! Your trip to Lourdes must have been a great experience. I really enjoyed seeing all the pictures, in every one of them everyone looks like they are enjoying themselves.

    Until next post,
    Caroline- A student from Saint Paul School

  5. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    Your trip to France must have been amazing! It was great that you helped out at the Mass at the Grotto. The candlelit procession looked beautiful! It’s so sad to see all those people with illnesses, and cancer, but I will keep them in my prayers.
    Please come visit us at St. Paul’s School in Hingham Mass.

  6. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I was in Lourdes the same time you were there and I attended the Sunday mass that you celebrated at the Underground Basilica. I thank God for the great opportunity to attend the mass and listen to your very inspiring sermon. How great it is for people all over the world to be brought together in 1 place to hear the word of God. Despite all I read and hear about the Catholic Church in the west, I still thank God for great shepherds like you. May you always be inspiring many people of God wherever you go. Thanks be to God!


  7. Dear Cardinal Sean. My wife and I had the honor of attending the Lourdes pilgrimage and had the pleasure of meeting you there. She was invited as a malade and I as her caregiver. We are both survivors and this trip was truely wonderful and renewed us in our faith which was already strong, but became even stronger during the trip. We were particularly impressed with your sermon at the international Malta mass and of course by your kind greetings to all of the pilgrims. My wife Marise and I saw Jesus in many of the knights and Dames, volunteers and auxiliary, the priests that accompanied us and of course in you. The processions in the evening (candlelight) and daytime were inspiring in the way they showed that there are so many devote catholics across the world despite the headlines. We also enjoyed the experience in the baths as well as the quiet holiness of the grotto at midnight. What was most impressive was the caring and holiness of all the people we met. We have made lifelong friends on this trip and will never forget it. Thank you for making it that much more special. God Bless you Cardinal Sean.

  8. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    You trip to France looked great! It seems as though you have been very busy traveling. I loved the story about St. Bernadette. I think her story is something we can learn from.

    Mariah Ward
    Seventh Grade Student at St. Paul School

  9. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I liked your blog this week. I think it is great how you spent some time in Lourdes, France. I would love to go there sometime. It seems like such a great and spiritual place to visit someday. Reading about the sick and disabled people made me realize how lucky I am. Although I may face challenges throughout my life, I will alwyas have to remind myself that I am healthy and that is one of the greatest things I can have.


    P.S. Please vist St. Paul School in Hingham soon!

  10. Your Eminence. Peace be with you and all that you do! We only can thank you today, celebrating with us ( a group from Austria making a pilgrimage to Lourdes) the service in the international cathedrale on 3rd May. Thank you for your words and your presence, which was giving us help fot he future. Wishing you all the best from Austria/Europe.

  11. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    Great blog this week. It was very intresting reading about the sick and disabled people. Seeing those people makes me feel more thankful that I have my good health. They are still very healthy themselves which is something to thank God for. Thank you again for your blog, Cardinal.


  12. Wow, Cardinal Sean’s trip to France was sure one to remember! I would have loved to go to the candlelight procession in Lourdes. It seems as if it was a special ceremony. Also, the care they give to the disabled in Lourdes is very inspiring. Until next week…

    Hugh- Gr. 8- St. Paul School

  13. Wow, it looks like you had another busy week! Wow, Lourdes is beautiful. The Mass at the Grotto sure loked like it was well attended. I am glad that you had such nice weather for your trip. The students at St.Paul School would love a visit from you sometime!
    Have a great week!

  14. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Your pilgrimage to France sounds amazing. I enjoyed your story about Bernadette and her amazing past. It was so interesting! Thank you so very much fir writing this great blog! I truly enjoy it!
    ~Susie, a student of St. Paul school in Hingham

  15. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    It is great that you have spent most of the week in Lourdes, France, assisting the Order of Malta in its Annual International Pilgrimage to the Marian shrine. That is so interesting. I will keep you in my prayers. As the school year is ending I am happily reminiscing on all of the great times I have reading and responding to your blog.
    ~Caroline, a student at St. Paul School

  16. A Team Leader from the Western Order suggested I log on to read your homily from the Grotto. What wonderful words! I attended the pilgrimage last year as a malade and am grateful for continued good health. I believe my illness has bestowed some costly graces, and I pray that the costly graces continue in my life. The rewards are immense. God bless you!

  17. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Thanks for another great blog! I think it is wonderful that you participated in the pilgramage for the sick in Lourdes. Thank you for including your homily too! Since we couldn’t be there it is so great that you would share a homily with us to reflect upon.
    Thank you for your blog!
    Emily, and 8th grader at St. Paul School

  18. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    That is so great that you got to go to France! The procession in front of the basilica must of been beautiful. Also I think its really cool that you did that Sunday mass in Fance in three different languages! Wow!
    Untill your next blog.

    P.S. Next time you are on the South Shore, feel free to visit St. Paul school in Hingham MA. Please come before June because its my last year here and it is ending soon!

  19. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Your trip to Lourdes seems like a great experience! The basilica was beautiful. It must have be a wonderful sight to see. It seems like you meet many new people, as well as visiting a whole new continent! I can’t wait to see what wonderful place you go next week!


  20. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Your trip to Lourdes seems like a great experience! The basilica was beautiful. It must have be a wonderful sight to see. It seems like you meet many new people, as well as visiting a whole new continent! I can’t wait to see what wonderful place you go next week!

    Hannah Paradise

  21. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    It seems as though you have had a busy and restless week. You looked like you were having a great time in France; I would love to visit there someday! The picture of the procession outside of the basilica was breathtaking. God Bless

  22. Cardinal Sean,
    I enjoyed your story about the procession at Lourdes, and the picture was beautiful. I also enjoyed reading the wonderful homily you gave at the grotto.
    Thank You,

  23. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Enjoyed your blog very much this week!!! My favorite part would have to be looking at all the pictures. Every person looked very happy and lively during your journey. I will read your blog next week.

  24. Caridnal Sean, I think that it is wonderful that so many people still visit places such as Lourdes and other pilgrimage sites. It is incredible that they could fill the Basillica of Pius X. I wish you could have given us a picture of the crowds inside; that would have been incredible.

  25. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    This bog was very interesting. I hope you had a wonderful stay in France! The candle-lit procession sounds like a wonderful experience. I bet the praying of the various mysteries of the rosary and the singing of the Lourdes Hymn as well as other hymns added on to the ceremony’s beauty. I would love to be a part of an occasion like that some day!


  26. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I am a student in the eighth grade at Saint Paul School in Hingham, Massachusetts. Welcome back! I thought it was wonderful that you have spent most of the week in Lourdes, France, accompanying the Order of Malta in its Annual International Pilgrimage to the Marian shrine. That must have been an experience to remember! I also thought the picture of Father Dan’s of the parish school in Lowell is St. Jeanne d’Arc was very nice, too. I am sure the children enjoyed seeing the photo of him.

    Thank you,

    ~Marissa Panetta~

  27. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey with all of us. My son and daughter-in-law (Tim and Veronica Hansen) were very touched and inspired by you and your beautiful sermon. Have a great day and smiles from me in Danville, California

  28. My name is Johnny and I attend St. Paul School in Hingham, Massachusetts. I loved reading your blog this week and I thought that it was great. I thought it was so cool how you got to visit France. I have always wanted to go there, but have never gotten the chance. I am sure you had a great but my bet is that the plane rides wern’t the best. I can’t wait to here again from you next week. Thanks again!

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May 2009