On February 11, 1858, Bernadette and two friends were collecting firewood near Massabielle (“huge rock” in the local language). She heard a noise like a gust of warm wind, looked up and saw a little girl dressed in white with a blue sash and a rosary. A yellow rose was on both of her feet. The girl called “Aquéro” by Bernadette began to pray the Rosary. The mysterious girl appeared to Bernadette seventeen more times. On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette asked her name. The Lady responded:
Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou”, I am the Immaculate Conception.
Millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year, bringing their ills, sorrows, and struggles to Our Lady. Just like Bernadette, we go to have our lives changed by an encounter with God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. God speaks to us in many ways: in the faces of the sick, in the devotion of the crowds, in the quiet prayers of the faithful, in loving service to others, in His Word, in His Presence in the Sacraments.
The Order of Malta has gone on pilgrimage to Lourdes with our beloved Malades, the term for sick patients in French, for over 70 years. However, this pilgrimage, like much of the world, was tragically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020 pilgrimages were cancelled. Lourdes, closed along with the rest of the world. 2021 brought with it more questions than answers. However, the Knights and Dames of the Western Association were determined to bring Malades facing significant medical challenges to the holy waters at Lourdes. The Western Association decided to make the pilgrimage in September of 2021, becoming the only Association of the Order of Malta to make the pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The impact of this decision was impactful for all pilgrims, especially the Malades. Bo-Lau Ng, a Malade said:
I wasn’t sure I was going to make it here last year…but Mary definitely knew that I was supposed to be here this year. I feel extremely loved and cared for. This is only the beginning. I plan on being back, and to provide and to give back.
200 Knights, Dames, Chaplains, Provisional Members, Auxiliary Members, and volunteers accompanied 50 Malades and their caregivers from LAX to the town of Lourdes. To mark this momentous occasion, the Grand Hospitaller of the Order of Malta and Fra' Alessandro de Francisis, Lourdes Medical Director and Professed Member of the Order, traveled from Rome to Lourdes to welcome the Western Association. Fra' Alessandro met with all the pilgrims and gave a talk titled, "The Miracle is Lourdes".
A camera crew accompanied the pilgrims to document this important occasion. Please see the video below.
There were obvious concerns about traveling across the Atlantic to visit Lourdes during uncertain times due to the pandemic. The Western Association medical team coordinated with the Lourdes Medical Director to limit the risk as much as possible. Ultimately it was the will of the Malades that pushed our Members to go on the pilgrimage. Dr. Dan Field, KM, Medical Director of the Western Association said, "The malades on this pilgrimage want to go. Many of them may not be alive to see another chance at gaining the peace and tranquility afforded by the prayer and devotions obtained by a visit to the shrine. Their families are supportive of these desires. The Knights, Dames, and volunteers who are going have expressed their willingness to face the risks in pilgrimage in general, and Covid-19 in particular. "
The support and camaraderie that the Malades give to one another is one of the most special aspects of the pilgrimage. Collen Gates, a Malade highlighted this when she said:
When you’re sharing suffering together, you’re sharing that suffering and lightening the burden of that suffering for each other.
The Order of Malta is the oldest international charity dedicated to providing hospitality for pilgrims. Its mission from the 11th century has been to relieve the misery of the poor and sick, especially those who are on pilgrimage. Our founder, Blessed Fra’ Gerard, was a skilled administrator and fundraiser who operated and expanded St. John the Baptist Hospital in central Jerusalem and built many hostels to care for pilgrims along the route from Europe to the Holy Land.
Today, the Order of Malta remains true to its ministry of serving pilgrims under the Order’s motto “Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum” -- Witnessing the Faith and Serving the Poor and the Sick. As part of an “Order of Pilgrimages,” the Knights and Dames of Malta are delighted to offer an array of opportunities to return to the Lord throughout the year and for those in different phases and states of life. What unites each of these pilgrimages below is a shared desire for personal sanctification and a deeper union with Jesus Christ and the work of our Order.
The blessed Mother is here, working through all these people. This is the opening for a miracle to happen. - Benjamin Bongers, KM and Malade