The eagle has landed  Tuesday, May 3 2016 

we are boarding the plane right now. Be home soon… Tuesday, May 3 2016 

Tick Tock Tuesday, May 3 2016 

On a brilliant and cool Monday morning, we ascended the steep hill to the upper Basilica. The streets were teaming with members of the Order of Malta from all over the world. The shops were doing a brisk business and the traffic congested. I was going at full speed in my vestments covered by a jacket. We were heading to our final Eucharist together. 
This is not my favorite event. It means we are coming to our end. The tick-tock was beginning. This is the Mass when we give out the medallions to the young people of our pilgrimage. Afterwards we gathered in a chaotic mess on the terrace for a last round of group photos. Some headed to the Stations of the Cross built into the mountain next to us. Others went accross the river to the handicapped accessible Stations. Small groups stayed around to chat. Before the reflection groups this afternoon pilgrims were racing to buy gifts for people at home and fill jugs of water from the spring. I headed back to the hotel with my father after purchasing a few things. And then it was time to pack.
The pile of stuff and bags asks an obvious question. What do we take with us and what do we leave behind? What will we need right away and what could wait for later? It’s not the first time we ask this. Nor is it a challenge only at the end of a pilgrimage. It is intentionally open ended.
After dinner, our final night together, is always something beautiful, new, and familiar. Our speakers gave reflections on their experience as a malade, a caregiver, a medical team member, and a member of the Order.. It is almost impossible to accurately put into words what happens here. And even as we say that, we try to do it. From each individual’s perspective, the beauty is tremendous. And after each pilgrimage the discovery of that is always powerful . We speak as if we were the first to discover the grace of God.
But it is also wonderfully familiar. I don’t we take it for granted but it is a special blessing to expect it. You don’t heat up a bowl of soup and be surprised to find a Toyota. No, the wonders never cease and they are new every morning.
As for tomorrow morning…

Sunday Monday, May 2 2016 

Saint Augustine once beautifully wrote – in essentials, unity

In nonessentials, diversity

In all things charity.
Welcome to Sunday in Lourdes. Some of the shops are closed and there is a boisterous quietness in this town. Sunday is being observed. The essentials are actually singular. Sunday Mass is taken seriously here. And how it is celebrated is as diverse as the people who come here. There is the International Mass in the underground Basilica. It comfortably seats somewhere around 30,000 people. The music is fantastic and it is really an experience of the universality of the Church. On the other hand, in many of the churches and chapels, a quieter celebration can also be found. I celebrated Mass in the hotel chapel with about nine people.
“And in all things charity…”
Charity is not only about an organization that does good things. That definition is extremely narrow and recent. Charity is a conviction put into action. It is at the heart of this sacred place. The love of God we celebrate in the Eucharist is the reason why we venerate the Person of Christ in those who come here. And that loving service that is fueled and fired by the love re-presented in the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Some of the shops may be closed on Sunday, but the Ministry of Service doesn’t keep a timetable. 
So for our group, having celebrated that essential thing together, the diversity of a free afternoon kicked right in. The children and teenagers had a picnic lunch up at the ancient fort in the center of town. Others strolled around enjoying a nicer day than the previous two. I believe ice cream was consumed. I know some definitely took a Sunday reposo. And having prayed and played that day, dinners at cafés and restaurants were plentiful.
Any image of religious practice that is dour or lugubrious is absent from here. Actually, it’s contrary to the Gospel. No, in the Easter season especially, in a place like this, religion is a happy thing. Obviously,, life is not always so for many who come here. And that is one of the great wonders of this place. Despite the obvious, this is a place of joy. It always strikes me when you hear the bells of the Basilica in the clinking glasses. 
It’s not just a good thing. It’s a heavenly thing.
I like to think that this joy is one of the three secrets Bernadette was given but never revealed.
Travel the streets of this little town on a Sunday afternoon and it is a revelation.

Being (T)Here Sunday, May 1 2016 

Being there
The first rule of anything important – as well as unimportant – is to actually be there in the first place. We were reminded in the seminary that what we say may not be remembered but that we were there will never be forgotten. I think everybody can agree to this. Our experience is the proof of it.
On Saturday our day began with the three American Malta groups celebrating Mass in the Grotto. At first glance, it was a cold and rainy morning. In fact heading down to the Grotto felt like an early winter’s morning. By the time I got there, it was downright freezing. I later found out that people had reported hail earlier in the morning and possibly snow. I got there just in time for the beginning of Mass and then the sun came out. Oh sure, I hear you say, it must’ve been a glorious celebration. To be honest, in the 9 years I have never experienced such frigid cold and biting wind. And then there was a sprinkling of rain. With the wind whipping through the Grotto vestments were flying and I was shaking and shivering. Mass proceeded with “reverent haste” and being there…well,wasn’t this the point of the pilgrimage?
There were two things I hoped to accomplish that morning. The first was to offer the Mass for all those who sent written intentions with me as well as those verbally and vitually commended to me. I have plenty of photos of the “evidence” the petitions were placed in the Grotto. The second goal was to bless a number of religious items such as rosary beads and religious medals. I did that right after communion. Now, they could have been blessed anywhere but there is something particular about doing it here. 
It was no easier for the pilgrims attending this Mass. One of them said, while both shaking his head and smiling, that it was very tough. But, he quickly added, he was grateful and privileged to have been there in the first place. And for all these reasons it would be something he would never forget.
How true. Our group gathered after to take one of those grand pictures on the steps of the basillica. You may have seen them before. It’s a wonderful reminder that we were here. “We few, we happy few….” The Saint Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V comes to mind because being here together will always be a pivot point.
Given the weather conditions, I wimped out. After reflection groups, our group went down for the impressive blessing of the sick during the Eucharistic procession. I mentally made an intention to receive the blessing while in the dry and warm confines of my room. I recall a nap being a part of that.
When evening came, we had one of the great traditions of this pilgrimage. It is called “caregivers night out.” This is when the The people who care for those in need are given a night off. For some, it will be the first time in a very long time. Without betraying any confidences or eyewitness accounts, many of them gather in establishments specializing in ‘spirittous and refreshing beverages,’ I also understand there were singing competitions and the like as well. The older group of the younger pilgrims went for pizza and pasta followed by ice cream. Carbs were the order of the night. We had a great time, assisted by auxiliaries and volunteers, to give them the opportunity to be normal teenagers. OK, really well behaved teenagers! Whether we talked about movies or the pilgrimage the important thing is we were there talking. And eating.
So one of the great blessings of Lourdes is the blessing of being here. Yes, we come in prayer for healing of body and soul as well we should. We also come for the privilege of serving one another in as much as we can. We firmly believe that our service to those in need is an act of worship to our God who identified Himself with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and in prison (Matthew 25). But receivers and givers have this one sacred thing in common. We are here together.
Many make a great deal of the “ministry of presence” and for the right reasons. It is not just a healthy experience of affirmation or a powerful means of communication. The Christian belief is that being together is something sacred. Christ Himself said there when two or three are gathered in His Name, He is there. I don’t think He was referring only to being in church together. I believe He was referring to something more expansive. When we are together in His Name and for the reasons we came here, He is here with us. He walks with us as we walk His way of the cross. He brings us to the Grotto to encounter His Mother who points us back to Him. And He is very much present when we order the ice cream or the crepes and even a round of cold and delicious beers.
Being there is one of those things we can do because that is who we are. In the context of our faith, being there really happens because He already is.

Enjoy Saturday, Apr 30 2016 

Today was our first full day and it was a lovely one. It began with a meeting with the children and then the footsteps of Saint Bernadette. That involved heading up a rather steep hill to the church where Saint Bernadette was baptized. Along the way, we saw the relatively good sized house she was born followed by the hovel her family moved into when her father’s job was outsourced as a result of the first industrial revolution.
The Church of the Sacred Heart, originally St. Peter’s, contains the original baptismal font. As usual I lead the group in a renewal of baptismal promises. I then asked one of our older teenage malades to dip the sprinkler in the water of The baptismal font so I could sprinkle of a crowd. He however, decided to do it himself. After much laughter, I told everyone this young man needed an application for the seminary!|
Afterwards, we gathered in a semi circle in front of the church. Since we did not have time to go down to the Grotto we blessed and distributed Rosary beads to the children. I mentioned that St Bernadette had them on the day of the first apparition so they should as well. One young lady was so grateful she wanted to give me a kiss. I told her she should say two rosaries a day for the rest of her life.
We returned to the hotel for lunch. My father and I went up to our rooms and took a nap. The pilgrims had the opportunity to go down to the Baths. Later, our whole group went down to the Notre Dame Chapel to the Mass of the anointing of the sick. It is always a beautiful moment when the sacrament is administered. The individual experiences something very personal along with everyone else. After a few team photos, we headed back for the “reception” and dinner. Everyone lined up in front of the hotel for the candlelight procession. Still tired,my father and I excused ourselves and waited for their return.
As you can see, it was a full day. While everyone looked exhausted, they were clearly happy. That is not unusual. The pilgrimage is intense and it is more than adrenaline that keeps us going. It is not something imposed on us because it is an experience we choose. And this common choice has the immediate effect of joining us together. After a grueling day of religious services, processing all over town , pushing and pulling carts with malades – with everyone slightly jet-lagged – you could expect everyone to be wiped out. No, just go down to the lobby and you’ll find Knights and Dames, auxiliaries and volunteers, medical staff and clergy, care givers and malades. You hear laughter and the toasting of glasses. You see smiles and feel the energy. 
It reminds you of a college party. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. This does not go to the sad extremities of those raucous collegiate gatherings. No, it’s the type of atmosphere we find among people who are discovering – and rediscovering – everything in a new way. Spend time with others or go off by yourself – no pressure. Just enjoy.
Because underlying at all, Someone enjoys us being here.
And that is, after all, why we are here.
Just a note here. I’m sorry these updates are coming slowly because I am moving slowly. 

Here Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

Just a quick update… We have all arrived and are completely exhausted. The plane ride went well and we are all settled in. I was a bad boy and went right to bed because I didn’t sleep much on the plane.
If you’ve read my blogs in the past, you know something always goes wrong. Well, this time it was the batteries on my power chair. Wednesday morning proved that the batteries we’re on their last legs. I contacted Universal Wheels here and they “just happened” to have my exact batteries in stock. They came and now everything is up and running
It’s good to be home with the family… And that includes my father.
Tomorrow I have the footsteps of Saint Bernadette with the kids, the Mass of the anointing of the sick, and the rosary procession.
Catch you later and see you at the Grotto.

We are boarding now at JFK Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

Again… Wednesday, Apr 27 2016 

For the 17th time, my packed bags are on my couch.
Somebody asked me the other day if I am tired of going to Lourdes. Normally, I would laugh and say, “no.” But this time I understand the question. It’s 17 times to a place so many people hope to visit even just once.
But I’m not alone. Many on this pilgrimage have gone many more times than myself. Some have been going since the beginning more than 30 years ago. Some go more than once or even twice a year. We are bathed in familiarity with the people and places that are the goal of the pilgrimage. There is nothing new.
Or, to put it better, there is no–thing new. The same view, the same buildings, and basically the same shops. The “things” will not be new. Novelty wears off. It’s supposed to and it should. It’s lovely but bound to be a memory.
Of course, the pilgrims – the malades – are new because most of them have never been to Lourdes before. The situations and conditions which will bring them are always unique. No person, regardless how common the illness they have, Is ever like anyone else’s. I’m not speaking medically here because I’m not a doctor. I say that because no person endures the unpleasant situations of life the same. Like reruns in the off-season, it’s “new to you.” Lourdes is a human spring of ever-flowing human need.
But it is not limited to this particular group of pilgrims. The ‘Pilgrims to the Pilgrims’ are very much the same. They are not the same people they were the last time they were in Lourdes. All the things we treasure and despise have happened to them as well. For this brief period, in this faraway place, they will give more of themselves than even they expected.
And there is another category. It’s probably a lot bigger than you do expect. Actually, if you have read any of these blogs over the years, it won’t be a surprise. It’s probably the largest group in Lourdes at any given time. Needless to say, I’m in that group. It’s the ‘malade for the malades ‘
As time goes on, it’s pretty clear few of malades us are ever “former malades.” Even those inexplicable cures come back to the “casa de mi mama.” There is an attraction that draws us together. And that attraction is not one of strength but of weakness. Please don’t get out the purple silks of dramatic affectation at that. As it is said here in the Bronx, “it is what it is.” As time goes on, we get older and are not as strong as we used to be. We all look at photos from the past as well as a mirror in the morning.Weakness is not something that happens to us; it is who we are.
And it’s OK. And that is why it attracts us. It lures us to cross the ocean when reason would have us stay at home. It draws us to one another not because we can do much but because we can’t. In this encounter, we don’t find affirmative solutions as much as glimmers of salvation. You can see it at the large gatherings at the international Mass and the blessing of the sick. We are in the presence of God. Our God became weak like us so we could become strong in Him. We go to a cave in our weakness and infirmity to find strength from the One who was born in a cave. His divinity and humanity are well represented in the Grotto. The glorified Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, meeting the sickly Bernadette under the auspices of the protector of the church, St. Joseph. It’s Christmas all over again.
And who tires of Christmas?
See you at the airport.

Novena – Day 9 Tuesday, Apr 26 2016 

9th Day : The Assumption & Coronation of Mary
Intention : Inter-religious Dialogue
As Mary was linked to the Passion of her Son, so also is she linked to His Resurrection. Let us not look among the death for her who is living. She has entered into the Kingdom.
Every person is called to enter into the Kingdom. On the Last Day, it is on love that we will be judged whatever our religion may have been. This is why we shall pray for relations between religions. That each of them may inspire love in those who follow them, and that agreement and never war may reign.
Recite one decade of the Rosary.
LORD, You prepared Mary to be the Mother of your Son. By her Immaculate Conception, You protected her from sin, from all the wounds of sin. This is why She had the strength to say “yes” in faith, from the Annunciation to the Cross. What you realized in Mary, Lord, is admirable. We give you thanks.
In Lourdes, Lord, you prepared Bernadette to be a witness to the apparitions of the Virgin Mary. In the transparency of her heart, in her humility and courage, she thwarted all the tricks of the evil one. What you realized in Bernadette, Lord, is admirable. We give you thanks.
In these days before our pilgrimage Lord, prepare us to receive the grace of this pilgrimage.
That we may be ready to receive Your word, of which Mary is the echo;

Ready to be reconciled with You and with our neighbors, close or distant;

Ready to experience this Church event in fraternal communion, prayer and service. May Mary guide us to the Grotto of Massabielle, so that, on our return, we too may say with her “The Lord has done great things for us”.

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