“I am discovering that I am being guided by Our Lady of Lourdes.” Now that is something I would never have imagined myself saying! So what is going on you might ask?
Spring of 2016 I found myself being drawn to the Camino de Santiago and was well on my way making plans to walk the French Way starting in Saint Jean Pied du Port just as my new friend and Camino mentor, Steve, had done that spring. However, my plans took a turn one day when Steve, after lunch in Litchfield, CT., took me to meet his good friend Father Bill at the Montfort Retreat Center . It was here that I discovered the beautiful Lourdes of Litchfield Shrine featuring a wonderful reproduction of the Grotto of Lourdes, France.
This triggered childhood memories of learning about the many miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary and the water from the springs in Lourdes. And of course the classic film “Song of Bernadette”. When I got home I consulted a map to see just where in France Lourdes was located. It was only about 2 1/2 inches (150K) from SJPP so I made the decision on the spot to begin my pilgrimage walk from there. Little did I know that this would be both the most beautiful portion of the trip but also the seven days walking through the Pyrenees would be the perfect training ground for the next 800K of the Camino.
As many of of you know that halfway through my Camino I met a wonderful woman from Holland. I am now on my third visit with in her home village of Dongen. A week ago we discovered that there are historical plaques about town on the Broederpad (Brothers Path), a 7K walk through the village commemorating the good work of the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes. During their 130 years in the town they helped the disabled and homeless. The last of the the Order left in 2009. The plaques also pictured many of the buildings which once stood at the various sites, most have been replaced with apartment buildings. One plaque showed a reproduction of the Grotto shrine built by the Brothers. We assumed that it too had been torn down and we could find no record of its existence online. Yesterday while walking a part of the route we investigated behind an old chapel and discovered the remains of the original Grotto still intact and undergoing renovation! How is this possible we asked ourselves with big smiles on our faces.
A few Google searches revealed that there are many replicas of the Grotto throughout the world. We even found one a few days ago on our visit to The Hague. A church there had a meditation chapel which featured an indoor version of the Grotto. Is this all coincidence? You may decide for yourselves.
I am looking forward to warmer weather when I will return to complete this circle with a visit to Lourdes of Litchfield. I will attend the same Sunday mass at the Grotto which began my journey last fall with a very special Pilgrims Blessing from Father Bill……