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2013 Youth Pilgrimage: days 6-7

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One place that seems to be on everyone’s visit agenda is the beautiful city of Our Lady in Lourdes. This is not only one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites in the entire world, but it is also a place of wonderful beauty in the surrounding geography. Just looking at Covadonga and Lourdes, Our Lady has made it clear that she picks some of the most beautiful spots on earth when she comes to visit, not to mention Montserrat and La Salette, which we did not visit on this trip. Surely this is because she wants us to know that all of creation is her footstool, just as it is for God. He and She are far more beautiful than anything we could imagine here on earth, although these beautiful realities on earth help us to lift our souls to them. It was said that St. Bernadette did not even want to blink when she beheld the Immaculate Conception because of the beauty that she saw.

The day began with beautiful weather but later countless rain storms swept the area from time to time, bringing with them not only rain, but also the frigid mountain air. This did not stop the youth from exploring the city in the morning. Some went to take a bath, even though the water was extremely cold. This was a good plunge into the message of Our Lady of Lourdes: "Penance, penance, penance". Other pilgrims used the morning to buy some gifts from the countless shops for their benefactors, siblings and parents. Others visited the local castle or went up the impressive Stations of the Cross.

At noon, Mass was said at our new SSPX chapel in Lourdes. It is hard to imagine the joy a priest would have to be stationed in Lourdes and live in this wonderful city, but this is a reality for some of our priests. Also located there are the Little Sisters of St. John the Baptist from La Rafflay. They were very kind and accommodating in setting up for Mass for us.

At lunch one of our chaperones received a surprise in his tiramisu. Fortunately, however, he was not a ravenous eater, otherwise, he may have bit down or swallowed the chard of glass that was at the bottom of the dish. Politeness pays off sometimes!

After lunch, our tour guide led us to various sites in the city. Among them were the house where St. Bernadette was born. This was at a time when Francois Soubrious, her father, was able to make ends meet while running the Boly Mill. However, when things went south for him financially, the family was forced to move to the infamous Cachot, the city’s old prison. All of the family had to fit into this small room, despite the fact that it was also dark and damp. This was merely the starting point for what Our Lady promised to St. Bernadette, "I cannot promise to make you happy in this life, only in the next."

From there our guide showed us the underground basilica dedicated to St. Pius X. Every day there is the Eucharistic blessing of the sick with the monstrance in Lourdes, but because the upper basilica is difficult for those in wheelchairs to access, this underground church was built so that they could be wheeled down into it.

The only redeeming quality to this basilica, which could be mistaken for a parking garage, is a container of relics of Pope St. Pius X, which the group was able to venerate. But it is also here that the SSPX is allowed to offer Mass every Feast of Christ the King. In 2008 when we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the apparitions, almost 20,000 SSPX faithful attended and filled the city for the procession on the Sunday.

From there we went to the other basilicas. In fact, there are three churches built for Our Lady on the spot of Massabielle. The very first that was built is the current crypt chapel and it is quite special since, one, Mr. Soubirous was able to use his stone-working skills to help build it, and for another, because it contains two of the ribs of St. Bernadette. Above it is the main basilica, which was the second one to be built and which is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. It is built in the neo-gothic style and is quite small but beautiful. Finally, on the very bottom, is a Byzantine-style church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. All fifteen decades are depicted in mosaics within the church, but unfortunately the outside is tainted with ghastly mosaics that try to depict the "luminous mysteries". Again, the pilgrims saw the grave contrast between the old and the new, and the stark difference between beauty and what is ugly. Outside the dome of this basilica is topped with a gold crown that was donated by Irish Catholics.

At the end of the visit we came to the grotto and saw the words of Our Lady below the feet of Her statue, "I am the Immaculate Conception." From the waters that came from this spot so many miracles have occurred that even just last October, the latest miracle was confirmed in the case of a woman who was cured of paralysis and many diseases in 1965. Such a large gap in time for declaring this shows the prudence and diligence of Holy Mother the Church who waits to properly discern and make sure that She not proclaim something a miracle in vain.

The pilgrims were told to pray their rosaries on their own in front of the grotto and from there they were expected back at the hotel. Our train ride departed that night for Paris, but the first leg was merely to Toulouse. We passed snow-capped peaks in the Pyrenean mountains on the way as the sun was setting, showing us that spring has not quite made it to some places. Then after a little break in Toulouse, we entered our over-night train that took us to Paris.

Everyone was quite tired as we departed Paris for Chartres in a motor coach. The overnight train left us drained and shaking side-to-side, as we had done all night long in our couchettes. In Chartres, we did our grocery shopping for the coming walk from Chartres to Paris. Afterwards, Mass was offered at the SSPX chapel in Chartres.

This was the last day of "sight-seeing" before the walk and even though we report on Chartres cathedral every year, it is such an enormous monument that there is always more to say about it. One item more than can be said about it is a point for meditation inspired by one set of windows. On the epistle side, four windows show the four evangelists who are sitting on the shoulders of the four major prophets of the Old Testament. This window was inspired by a saying of Bernard of Chartres, one of the scholars of the area at the time of the making of the stained glass. Bernard said, "We are as dwarfs who rest on the shoulders of giants." In other words, we see farther into the distance because of the work of men who have come before us and should be able to continue building on their foundations. This is precisely what we want our youth to understand, namely, that those who have come before them have built up Christendom and the Church. It is not for us to become comfortable with what they have done as prodigal sons, but to take that movement farther.

As reported last year too, the renovation of the cathedral continues to make progress on the inside to remove all of the dust and dirt from the walls, arches and columns. The difference between the two is stark and according to our guide, the work should be completed close to 2018.

The weary youth were happy to get an early ride back to the hotel in order to pack and get some additional rest before the long march starting tomorrow. The rain and cold were descending on Chartres as we waited. We ask everyone to keep us in your prayers and know that we will pray for you too. We ask for prayers for good weather too, since right now the forecast predicts nothing but rain. Paratum cor meum, Deus, paratum cor meum – My heart is ready, God, my hear is ready. We are ready to take on whatever crosses God has prepared in these three days of marching and three nights of camping. which will win many graces.

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