The day I turned sixteen was the day I fell in love with Lourdes.
Since then, that place has held a special place in my heart.
Walking through the narrow and crowded streets, there is a feeling of serenity & unity. There is something about being surrounded by people from different nations, not necessarily able to understand what each other is saying, yet knowing that you are all there to worship the same God and to give homage to the Blessed Mother. That was enough; because that feeling of unity was not something that could be expressed by words alone. It’s as if everything else in the world was all right.
What makes it extra special is that no other place in the world can you witness sick people being treated as VIPs. It’s as if they are dignitaries and royalties. Each one stops to assist them, pray for them, be of service of them in their own little way, knowing that it’s the small acts of kindess that convey a whole lot of love.
I remember an incident while waiting for my turn at the baths. I was already inside the assigned cubicle, covered in my blue robe and waiting for my turn at the bath when the volunteers suddenly drew the curtains and let a woman in a stretcher inside. The sick woman couldn’t walk and I think she didn’t even know what was going on around her. She just lay there, barely moving. I wondered how the volunteers would handle undressing her and preparing her for the bath. It was amazing that the volunteers were definitely prepared for this kind of task. All of them abandoned helping other more able pilgrims and focused their attention on the sick woman. The way they prepared her for the bath was almost in unison: each one knew what they had to do. They had a method of lifting her up, undressing & dressing her in such a way that she was not exposed for one bit, despite being in the presence of strangers. The rest of us could only stand by in awe, amazed at what we were witnessing. (Of course, not one of us complained that that woman did not have to wait in line for her turn.) Even my grandmother was so touched when she experienced this same kind of care. Though being able enough to dress up on her own, one of the volunteers took time to help her put on her very tight stockings, which help her vein problem in the legs. That was no easy task but the volunteer insisted on helping my grandmother, patiently tugging at her skin-tight stockings.
Leading the Rosary in Filipino during the daily candlelight procession is also such a memorable experience for me. Instead of following behind her with a candle, Mama Mary herself is the one coming closer and closer to us as we recite the Rosary and sing songs for her. Being on stage, proudly declaring that we are Filipinos with our voices heard all over the world, makes me wonder each time how I could be so blessed. It is always an honor to be there, to represent our nation, to make known that though we come from such a small country thousands of miles away, we are there to visit Our Lady and to make known that we Filipinos are proud to be her children.
Not just in Lourdes but everywhere we go, every single act of kindness counts. A warm smile to a stranger or a helping hand to someone in need definitely makes the presence of Christ visible to others.
(Photo by Rona Onglao)