Dear Fr George, I have returned from my 14th visit to Lourdes where once again I experienced many memorable moments.
The journey down from Paris is now an hour shorter – 5 hours instead of 6 – but there were two downsides! One was that the train no longer goes through the old towns of Poitiers and Angouleme which used to psychologically break the journey into 3 sections for me. The new line bypasses them. The other downside was they have now put on double decker trains on this line – and my place was on the top deck. Having to negotiate a curved staircase with a suitcase and walking stick was not easy but as my Muslim hoteliers in Paris said to me – you have to suffer on a pilgrimage!
The security this year was slightly different. Concrete blocks across the roads were only at each side with a forklift truck or van blocking the middle so that taxis and buses could get through when necessary after the vehicle had moved. Outside the Portes St Michel and St Joseph there were now permanent concrete blocks and I noticed that the lacets were permanently closed. I attended Sunday Mass in the parish church and noticed this year there were no soldiers guarding it. Was saddened when the Priest announced that again the procession up to the chateau-fort could not take place. How I miss that…
It is always good to see the same faces each year. Same trumpeter, same organist, same choir master. When I returned home and looked again at the booklet given out for the 15th I decided to google the name of one of the composers mentioned and was astonished to see the familiar face as I had no idea he was the organist there. I had never realised that he was responsible for so many of the now well known pieces. I do love his Magnificat which I find myself often humming.
Sadly many more hotels and businesses have closed and A VENDRE notices abound. There were posters in shop windows showing dozens of shop fronts saying HALTE A L’HECATOMBE and one shopkeeper told me 116 businesses had closed since last year. Two hotels opposite the Geneve are for sale too. At the top of the Rue de la Grotte there is a whole row of a dozen shuttered down shops. The shopkeepers are blaming the local mayor for discontinuing the alternative traffic which worked for years.
I approached one priest (en soutane) to ask about the extra Extraordinary Form Masses during the French National. His name badge said Fr David Thomas so I presumed he was Welsh. Wrong again. He turned out to be American! I think we English are used to Americans always having an initial in their names (John F Kennedy etc) The combination of David and Thomas would only be found in Welshmen over here! And no he could not answer my question.
Sadly it was only after I returned home that I found out about extra EF Masses during the French National including one on the 15th in an email from ‘Riposte Catholique’. Was quite upset at having missed them but did attend the French Mass in the Basilica each day and on one occasion a Gregorian Mass in the crypt which was quite beautiful. My first time. I don’t think we even have them here – I have never heard of them before. I presume that this is how the reforms were meant to be… It seemed to be the NO in Latin with ‘sign of peace’ but very reverent and an excellent sermon commenting on people who take photos of the Blessed Sacrament as It passes by which is putting a barrier between themselves and God.
The Chinese doll singing Twinkle twinkle little star has finally bitten the dust and has been replaced with a tiny cyclist doll going round and round a track. ( My parish priest would approve as he is a keen cyclist!) I quite missed hearing it when approaching as she had been a fixture for so long!
An innovation this year is that you can hire a wheelie thingy (don’t know what they are called) to go around town. It has two wheels and no handle to hold on to and looks positively frightening. Needless to say this old granny did not hire one! And I am not sure it is a good idea there where many pilgrims have difficulty walking. Luckily I only saw one in action during the whole fortnight. The rest were waiting to be hired outside a shop.
The cinema run by the elderly gentleman is still there and I went to see the American film ‘There be Dragons.’ I needed the French subtitles as I did not find the sound too clear. Only 5 people there – I don’t know how he keeps going. Such a pity he is not supported. There are lots of posters round town and good Catholic films are shown. Perfect for when it rains.
Back home now I retain as usual many happy memories of my stay and the disappointments will fade. I will return DV next year when it will be my 15th visit and I shall be celebrating my 75th birthday there! I don’t know how many more years I will be able to make the journey but next time I shall definitely ask for a seat on the lower deck of the train!
[After I mentioned that the Fatima Century and people pehaps going to Fatima being a reason for the drop in numbers, I got this response:]
The ‘crise economique’ was also blamed by some for the poor sales in the shops. Many closed earlier in the evening than in previous years and my favourite one on the way up to my hotel which was always open after the torchlight procession has changed hands and I can no longer shop on the way back at night. Others said hotels were closing because the hoteliers had retired and their offspring did not wish to take the business over.
I have to admit to feeling angry that the EF weekday Masses are still outside the Sanctuaries (Route de Pau I think) and the Sunday ones are in the Upper Basilica whilst the whole time I was there the outside chapels were empty – not one mass there all the times i passed by. While it was wonderful to see so many young people at the EF Masses when you were there and I was able to get up to the Upper Basilica then I feel they are discriminating against us old folk by not having a more accessible venue particularly if they are available! I did make it to the Crypt that day but it was a struggle and I don’t think I could have gone up further.
If the Old Mass was to be celebrated at one of the outside altars at the side of the Basilica then people might even stop to experience it. I do find that many people who are against it have never actually experienced it. A couple of years back there was a Maronite one celebrated and I joined several people who had stopped to listen intrigued by the singing. So why not the Mass of Ages? I had so hope things might have changed with the new Bishop….
There was actually a British Bishop present concelebrating at the Assumption Mass this year. I think they normally tend to avoid August for diocesan pilgrimages because of the heat. After a sweltering 34 (about 93F I think) degrees the day before it was much cooler by the 15th which was welcome.
I forgot to mention that Fr Gordon was very much in my thoughts and prayers during my stay as were you and all Priests who have helped me along the way over the past 52 years. On the 14th I attended Mass at the Kolbe Centre and had the privilege of being able to spend half and hour in their tiny chapel in the presence of the Relic of St Maximilian Kolbe praying for Fr Gordon. A truly wonderful experience.
Sincerely from across the pond