I’ve not long got back from Lourdes where I made my ‘engagement’ with Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes-the on the ground welcome team in Lourdes for all pilgrims but especially the sick. We make promises to be attentive to the needs of those in need at home just as in Lourdes, to grow in our knowledge of the message of Lourdes so we might share it better with others, to come regularly to Lourdes to be of service to all pilgrims but especially the sick and through the intercession of Our Lady of Lady Lourdes to live an exemplary Christian life. That sounds like a tall order right? But for me, my time serving with HNDL has been and continues to be transformative. Each year I feel the Lord stretch my heart a little more, filling it with the names and faces of those I serve and those I work alongside. I am inspired by the faith of the pilgrims and my fellow Hospitallers. I receive so much from the rich prayer life in my service, it really is time off the treadmill making yourself available to the Lord firstly through prayer and then through attentive service to the pilgrims in Lourdes. I also feel it is incredibly sanctifying, I always seem to come home with a few more edges knocked off me or some insight into something I struggle with in my daily life. I realise Our Lady has me there not just to serve the sick, but because I too am sick and am in need of healing and transformation if I am to become the saint I was created to be. And as a legal academic, the work really does keep my feet on the ground and my head in reality as I touch the sometimes painful and burdened realities of the many women who pass through the baths where I work. It is a great privilege to be able to accompany the many women who pass through the baths as they make this act of faith.
I am going to be returning the 10-22nd September and I want to extend an open invitation to all my girlfriends to come and join me for some (min 7) or all of these days. I challenge you to respond to the invitation from Our Lady to serve her little ones in Lourdes through the simple hidden service in HNDL and to allow yourself to be surpised by what she will show you in that place through the simple act of prayer and service. There’s formation for all first years in the message of Lourdes and its places, there is fraternity amongst the people you work with and HNDL help subsidise your costs with cheap accommodation, canteen and social space. There are a number of cheap flight options (I paid £45 for a return London Stansted-Lourdes flight for my last trip) or you can fly into another Southern airport and catch one of the nice French trains across to Lourdes. It is a fraction of the cost of pilgrimage and a very different experience. And whilst you would book independently, I am more than happy to talk you through the costs of the things, what to expect, help you with your forms and help decided what service might be best for you. Here is a little overview of the services you can work in so you have an idea about what we do as “hospitallers”:
St Jean Baptiste- this is my service, we work two shifts a day between 830am-5ish and help women (sick and able bodied) to respond to Our Lady’s call to drink and wash at the spring. The work is intense here as you touch humanity in all its rawness and vulnerability, but it’s a place of immense grace and for many pilgrims the high point of their pilgrimage. The intensity of the work is matched with a solid rhythm of prayer, we pray the rosary together before shifts, we pray special prayers before we start our service, we pray with all of the pilgrims who pass through our baths and we pray together at the end of the shift as a team to thank Our Lady for a good service! I used to think it was crazy during my first year, but how quickly I realised the work is impossible without it. And there’s a great sense of sisterhood amongst the women you will work with and I really do love this place!
St Frai– one of the hospitals that accommodates sick pilgrims, you will be doing everything from peeling spuds, washing up, cleaning wards, running the porter and various other tasks. The hospital is run by an order of Nuns and the girls I know who have gone to work here have all said how they love feeling part of the community and there is a rich devotional life too which the sisters.
Notre Dame– again similar to the St Frai your first few years will be spent working in the hospital but as you gain more experience, there is the opportunity to work at the grotto, the airport, on the ceremonies, in the sacristies, making vestments and many more things. Once the morning or afternoon’s work is done there is normally the opportunity to take part in devotions etc with your team mates.
St Joseph– this is traditionally the men’s service but in recent years a few more women have been heading over there and this gives you a chance to do a little bit of everything. You might be at the airport or train station helping sick people on/off their trains/planes and down to their accommodation, maybe you will be marshalling the big ceremonies that take place each day in the sanctuary, or perhaps in the grotto or doing a stint down at the baths. One of the nice things about this service, aside from the variety, is you are in the same team all week and there is a great sense of fraternity!
I’m not going to lie, it is hard work, the days can be long and working with an international team brings its own challenges. One word on my lips as I left the grotto last weekend to come home and was reflecting on these days was the word “hidden”. And that’s really what the work of HNDL is about, if Bernadette was content to call herself “Our Lady’s broom” then that’s good enough for us too. You can read more on my other blogs, but what it means is we are the guys and girls who quite literally work behind the scenes to enable pilgrims to get the most of their experience in Lourdes. We often have fleeting contact with those who travel here- a passing glance as we marshall a procession, a few minutes as we help bath a woman, a smiling face as we help a sick pilgrim off a plane or train, an immaculate ward ready for pilgrims to arrive onto who might not even see. But without these little works, the cogs would stop turning and Lourdes wouldn’t happen for pilgrims in the way it does now. In his recent exhortation on the call to holiness, Pope Francis spoke of being a community who cherishes the little details of love and this is exactly what HNDL does- and through that we make the risen Christ presence in our midst and sanctified and sancitify others through our witness. In cherishing the little details of love in this hidden way with HNDL, we are there to help open up a space for every pilgrim to encounter the love of Jesus, through the heart of Mary and if thats not an amazing call to mission, I don’t know what is!