1. Greetings from Lourdes, France! I am on pilgrimage this week with our daughter, Miriam; we are both volunteering with the Order of Malta Annual Lourdes pilgrimage. Yes, that pilgrimage. This year we are working with the Federal Association, I as a candidate (in formation to join the Order as a Dame next fall) and she as a page.
2. We flew into BWI Tuesday night, the day before departure. Wednesday morning, we attended Mass with the Order in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms. By lunchtime, we had chatted with three priests and a bishop. Not a bad morning’s work! Just an ordinary morning on pilgrimage.
3. Apart from having just slightly too much energy to be comfortably contained in various tight quarters for long periods, Miriam has been an excellent travel companion. She is cheerful, personable, helpful and chatty.
4. As the ribbons on our name tags indicate, we have been assigned to the “Marian blue” team. The setup for Federal works a little differently than it did with the American Association last year. Rather than one pod assigned to each malade for the duration, all the members of the blue team rotate duties among our six malades. It gives us a nice chance to get to know more people over the course of the week.
5. Upon arrival at our hotel, our room wasn’t ready for several hours: ample opportunity for sampling various French delicacies like la glace and chocolat chaud.
The entire town is awash in memories for me. The cafe attached to our hotel is where we ate crepes a year ago, while our pod host, Kim, filled in the fuzzy memories I had of my time in the baths with Oscar. And also where I achieved my greatest French language triumph of the week, remembering the word for “umbrella” so that I could go back and ask for one we had left behind.
6. It has been rainy and drizzly since we landed, which apparently is much more the norm for May in Lourdes than the almost uninterrupted sunshine we enjoyed last year. Our first procession, to Thursday evening’s Tri-Association Opening Mass, was damp and involved many parapluies (umbrellas — see what I did there?).
Once we arrived at the Rosary Basilica, it was all I could do not to keep jumping out of my seat and hugging all my old American Association friends as they walked by. So many faces that I love so much. I trust there will be time for us to reconnect.
It was also incredible to remember how upset and agitated I was during that Mass a year ago, to be sitting in the same pews with a different child, and with nothing in my heart but joy, peace, and utter certainty that we are living every moment here in the exact center of God’s will for us.
7. And it’s good to have that certainty, because we ended up leaving Mass after the readings. Miriam had been sniffling and sneezing all day, and by the middle of Mass she was running a fever and complaining of a sore throat. We hightailed it away from all those medically fragile malades we are supposed to be caring for (ie, not infecting with new illnesses).
A visit from a nurse confirmed the fever, and Miriam and I are quarantined until further notice. (Apparently it’s becoming a Wilkens tradition for the kids to need medical attention while on pilgrimage in Lourdes? Oscar had a midnight visit for a similar cold while he was here.)
So: it’s not quite the pilgrimage we expected. This morning, we are missing our scheduled visit to the baths, and probably also the Anointing Mass this afternoon and Rosary Procession this evening. Miriam was upset for about five minutes, but we had a very profound conversation about redemptive suffering. She has completely embraced the idea that her job right now is to be “cloistered” and to spend time praying for the malades, and also to share a little bit in their cross of suffering and life not going the way you want it to all the time. Sweet girl.
We would appreciate prayers for her quick healing, though, because she is supposed to make her First Communion in less than 24 hours! If she misses the Grotto Mass, there will be other opportunities, but we sure would like her to be back on her feet in time for Plan A.