Anthony is a stagiaire in St Joseph Service, from down under, who did his first stage back in 2017. He shares his 3 distinct parts to life as a first time stagiaire.
You will be tempted to skip this part altogether because you have come all this way to ‘do something’ but I would say that the ‘ecole’ or schooling part this is one of the most important duties of a Stagiaires, also for me personally it was fascinating to learn about the history of Lourdes and Saint Bernadette in such a personal way. We walked where she walked, and visited the different places she lived in as a child and get to know this brave young girl through the many stories that have been recorded about her time in Lourdes. While Lourdes was not founded by St. Bernadette, the pilgrims and the very substantial presence of the Catholic Church is there because of her. Her visions of Mary the mother of God transformed Lourdes from a sleepy town at the feet of the French Pyrenees into a Catholic Wonderland of towering churches and basilicas, diverted rivers and esplanades purpose built for processions lit by thousands of hand held candles.
The more abled bodied you are the more physically demanding your service will be. You will be assigned a leader or ‘Chef’ and each Chef has a team. I had a delightful group of Dutch students as teammates and a very chilled out Italian Chef as our ‘boss’. My duties included services at the underground basilica, marshalling the big processions, working on the exterior of the baths, the train station and the icing on the cake for me: the interior baths. To be very clear, there is nothing ‘less than’ about all the services. Each play a vital role. With that said, the baths for me were very special because I got to witness so very intimately the hopes and vulnerabilities of so many.
My favourite (even though I’m not supposed to have any favourites) were the fathers and their small children. Every single time the child would ask if the water would be cold and every single time the father would sooth and assure the child that the waters were not cold. Maybe this is technically true because the waters were actually freezing! These kids would get so mad at their Dads and the Dads in turn would smile lovingly and apologise. And it didn’t matter what language they were speaking in, we that were serving at the baths would all understand the conversation.
I would also take this opportunity to say that if you do get a chance to do a ‘Stage’, you should also take the opportunity to take a bath. This will give you an insight into how it feels to go through the process of waiting your turn and getting undressed in front of strangers and trusting these same strangers to completely submerge you in icy cold waters. I had a birthday while I was in Lourdes and so it was extra special to experience the waters for that particular milestone.
The ‘Foyer’ is the epicentre of affordable hot chocolate and meeting up with fellow volunteers off duty. This is where stories are traded and friendships are made in some cases for life. I recall at least two wedding engagements being announced there. My Chef told me that if his once girlfriend couldn’t accept his devotion to ‘stage’ then he probably wouldn’t have asked her to marry him, luckily for him she fell in love with Lourdes on their first trip there together. They’ve been married 20 years now.
Sociology 101 at NYU teaches us that ‘administration’ is a type of miracle of modern society. “How do we know to be here at this exact moment in time?” asks the professor to a lecture theatre filled with students “If you think about it … it’s actually quite a miracle”. I feel that way x1000 when it comes to the volunteers at Lourdes. A literal army of people from all over the world, speaking so many different languages, all working together, yet each playing a different part to serve other fellow humans.
I had the privilege of getting to know some and they come from all walks of life, wealthy, working class, believers and even some non-believers. Some come for Mother Mary, some for God; many at the cost of great personal sacrifice. But of all the volunteers, I am most in awe of the volunteers that return year after year that have never seen anything resembling a miracle. THEY are the miracle. Their devotion to pure service relieves the suffering of so many that come to Lourdes.
THIS is what we never see reported in the news. The compassionate side of humanity, the side of humanity that helps me believe that we inhabit a world where people care about one another, the side of humanity that gives me hope that the future will be better than it is today.
So if you have the means, go and volunteer at Lourdes even for just one season. I guarantee that you will be witness to Miracles. You just need to know where to look.