Photo Credit: Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes Flick
Ruta is a Hospitalière in St Joseph Service from Lithuania.  She first visited Lourdes with the Lithuanian Order of Malta in 2012 and from there was inspired to do her first stage.  She did two years in the kitchens at the St Frai, then two years in processions and one year at the Grotto before making her engagement in 2016 and has served in the Grotto since.  Back home she woks as a managing director in the textile industry.
My service at the Grotto starts at 8am, sometimes it can be as early as 5.30am depending on which hospitaliers are on duty for the earliest Holy Mass (6am).  It is still cold, often +2C this early in the morning. The Sun is rising, just waking up and the birds are singing for the Glory of God.  It is a very sacred time to be there.  The Holy Masses in the early part of the morning tend to be for small groups and organisations.  There is a beautiful silence during Holy Mass, with only the voice of the priest and singing birds breaking it.  As hospitaliers we help with the distribution of Holy Communion and help to keep silence around the Grotto.
During these hours we will have a small meeting with a prayer with the head of our team.  The big  Holy Mass at the Grotto starts from 10am with many sick people in wheelchairs and many pilgrims with many priests. Our task is to help park all the sick pilgrims in the best possible way for them to be able to see and participate in Holy Mass.  We deliver additional chairs for priests to the Grotto and make plans to organise Holy Communion, sometimes for nearly 2000 people inside and outside of the Grotto.  In these cases every priest is accompanied by a hospitalier with a white umbrella to show where Holy Communion is available.  If there is time between Holy Masses we will let people quickly visit the Grotto.
After the Holy Mass is finished around 11am, we take all the chairs and other things into the sacristy.  From this moment all pilgrims are welcome to visit inside the Grotto.  Two hospitaliers stand inside the Grotto and help people go through this place.  During my hours serving inside the Grotto I pray the rosary.  I remember this year a French lady, seeing me praying, asked me to pray for her.  Sometimes I see and sense the very deep suffering of people as they touch the walls of the Grotto, I can feel their pain.  When this happens, I ask for Holy Mary to listen to this person and to pray especially for them.    If people realise we are hospitaliers, there to serve and pray with them, they are often thankful for our presence and will often tell us.  Sometimes it is not always this easy and my mood drops… pilgrims might want to push us out from our standing place as they want to walk deeper into the recesses of the Grotto, this holds the whole queue up and I have to tell them that this is not possible.  But this is service, this is life: the ups and the downs!
My lunch time starts at 12pm until 2pm.  After lunch there will be big groups of sick people in wheelchairs and stretchers, with many pilgrims who want to pass through the Grotto.  Our job as Hospitalité is to organise this in the easiest way possible.  Some of us are responsible for the queue; with the sick people and small children having priority with a special gate next to the Grotto.  Four Hospitaliers are welcoming people inside the Grotto.  Others are responsible for keeping a silent and prayerful atmosphere around the Grotto.  This year I was working to keep the silence at the Grotto.  We have been asked to do this my the Bishop of Lourdes and it really isn’t the easiest of jobs.  Some people can be so happy, emotional and excited when they come to see the Grotto and they just want to express this vocally!   After two days on this service I met many of the people who I had encountered in the Grotto, out and about in the Streets of Lourdes who were imitating me with a big ‘ssshhhh’, a smile and a few words in their different languages.  I felt like a superstar after two days of service!  But after two days I changed my duty so as to keep balance across our team.  The kindness and discipline needed to work in the Grotto is not always easy!  My service will then finish at 6pm when the rosary led by the Italian starts at the Grotto.
At the start of my stage, standing for a whole day is a real challenge for me and I will go to bed each night at 8pm, but after a few days my body soon gets used to it.  From a spiritual perspective, the service I have given in the Grotto the last three years really has been a deep and rich experience for me.  I really feel the presence of the Lord there and none more so then when I push a sick person in a wheelchair or stretcher inside the Grotto.  But maybe the biggest help we can give to the people we serve in the Grotto is a prayer, is our prayers, the Ave Marias of our rosary.  And can there really be a better place to my service then in the very place where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette and has attracted over 200 million pilgrims during these last 160 years?

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