Those diagnosed with illnesses seek medical treatments yearning for a cure from their infirmity. When their illness becomes serious, many turn to their faith or seek spiritual support to help them cope and find meaning and hope. In caring for the whole person, tending to and nurturing their physical needs, as well the emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions of the individual, give them the best opportunity to heal.
In the practice of medicine, one of the main goals is to relieve suffering; however, it becomes a priority when the illness is incurable. To relieve suffering, physicians and other healthcare providers must be skilled in the treatment of pain and distressing symptoms from the underlying disease, as well as attending to the emotional and existential causes of suffering. Spiritual care is one way to address these needs. It embodies religious rituals and practices, as well as endeavors that comfort and support the seriously ill person in their search for meaning and for connection to what is infinite or transcendent. Patients living with serious illness often share that their positive spiritual and religious coping has lessened their psychological distress and depressive symptoms, fostered a stronger social support, and improved their quality of life.
As a palliative care physician and a member of the Order of Malta, I have been privileged to be serving on the medical team for the past 4 years. One of my roles is to accompany Malades and their companions to Lourdes in search of comfort, healing, peace with their prognosis and, perhaps, a miraculous cure. No one who comes to Lourdes goes away unchanged. I have witnessed many leave Lourdes with an inner peace they did not before experience. I have also seen many come away with a greater acceptance of the difficult circumstances in their life now filled with greater hope, trusting that there is a redemptive value in their sufferings, and a deeper faith that God will bring good out of them. After each pilgrimage, one question always lingered with me: how can I share this journey with those who are unable to go to Lourdes, due to physical or financial limitations? Serving the Malades and seeing Lourdes through their eyes gave me the idea to incorporate virtual reality to the Lourdes experience. Virtual reality can be employed as a palliative care tool to bring Lourdes to the many Malades who cannot make the journey or those who may not know such a sacred place existed.
In May of 2023, we embarked on the 8-day 48th Annual Spring Pilgrimage to Lourdes with the Order of Malta - Western Association, USA. Our team consisted of a videographer and a producer. With their creative and technical abilities, and my familiarity with the Pilgrimage and the town of Lourdes, we captured footage of moments and places in Lourdes for our project. The team produced a three-and-a-half minute promotional video of our Pilgrimage, followed by five virtual reality videos between 8 and 14 minutes. The videos feature sacred spaces throughout the town of Lourdes, including the town itself, Grotto, Stations of the Cross, Candlelight Procession, Underground Basilica, and the Abbey at St. Savin. We debuted our project at our Orange Team Reunion on August 12, 2023. The promotional video, along with the five virtual reality videos, can be found on YouTube by utilizing this link: https://www.youtube.com/@SacredSpacesinVR. Be sure to click the “Play in app” to get the best experience possible.
As a physician, I deliver medical tools and therapies that promise people hope. This hope is rooted in the scientific discoveries of the past, experienced in the treatments of the present, and become inspiration for the future. I am most privileged to incorporate the science of medicine with the humanity and spiritual framework in the care of my patients and their family. Sharing the Pilgrimage and sacred spaces in Lourdes with those who cannot visit will be an important part of fostering this spiritual framework.
I am most grateful to Ken Olsen, Mark Tiernan, Paul Tosetti, John Sylvia, and Scott Vick from the Order for their support of this project.
For the greater glory of God and a deeper devotion to Our Lady.
Dr. Vincent D. Nguyen, KM