Here are the two reflections:
Gabriela M. Vargas 20-year-old Assumption University Student, Hometown: Haverhill, MA
Reflection of Lourdes, France. After World Youth Day our group got slightly smaller and marched on to Paris, France, and then Lourdes, France for the 150th National Assumptionist Pilgrimage. Most of us were tired and were feeling mixed emotions about waking up so early for our 6-hour train trip to Lourdes. The train was so clean and comfortable that I was astonished considering I am used to taking the commuter rail back home. Most of us thought this train ride was going to be a time to catch up on sleep; however, the train ride was jam-packed and informative. We had activities ranging from prayer to testimonies to groups of people singing (not always on the pitch but full of love for the Virgin Mary) to reflections on World Youth Day. However, these activities were accompanied by the beautiful views of the barley, grass, mountains, water, and the homes and land of the French people, which brought calm to a busy train ride. In the moments of calmness, most of us took the time to reflect and think about what we were going to experience at Lourdes. For me personally, this pilgrimage to Lourdes was very important. I had recently lost my Abuela (grandmother) the first week of August and she loved the Virgin of Lourdes, I often wondered if she was looking down at me. Or if she wanted me at home with my family mourning. Once I arrived at Lourdes I knew I was where I was meant to be, that this pilgrimage was not only for me but for her. As we walked the streets of Lourdes most of us were thinking “Gosh we look like tourists.” Once we reached the sanctuary most of us were in awe of its beauty and immediately started looking and reading more about the story of Lourdes. For the week most of us would be up early attending to the sick by pushing them in the wheelchair wherever they wanted to go whether that was shopping or to mass or the grotto or to conferences or concerts. Most of us were volunteering 8:30 am-10:30 pm, although at some points it was difficult with the language barrier, we still all got to create relationships and hear the stories of the people we took care of. For me personally the language didn’t bother me because you can still show compassion, kindness, patience, and love without words. Oftentimes while taking care of the sick they teach us new ways of how to love and they did just that here at Lourdes. Although it was difficult at times because of the language or the fatigue, it was so rewarding and spiritually enriching. It truly showed the importance of service in our faith. We can talk and reflect all we want about our faith but service is the true indicator of faith and of love. I believe in service and in suffering is where we find God the most.
Christopher Casey Amherst College
Lourdes, France – Thousands of people are in the Sanctuary at Lourdes and the procession is only filling up the courtyard in front of the basilica more. The first glorious mystery was then announced and The Hail Marys of that decade were prayed by a young Indian girl, an old French nun, an Irish teenager, a Vietnamese nun, and an African woman holding her child, all praying in their own languages. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen: so many people, so many different kinds of people, together praying. After the Salve Regina and the walk back, I sat and talked with my friends that night and began to digest the Catholicity of my church, truly the Universal church. I also sat with the Blessed Virgin and who she was that all these people would come to her. Still unconsciously holding the Rosary after the procession, I prayed she would help me receive the gift of faith and the grace of loving her son more. I also asked her to present to her son my great thanks for that night and the gathering of all those people and just the fact I got to go and see all of it! ————————— This powerful experience came on the heels of many other firsts for me. Traveling with the Assumptionists group from the USA , I first went to Spain, Fatima, World Youth Day in Lisbon, and Paris all before my five day Pilgrimage to Lourdes. As I look back I realize that, coming, I didn’t know anything, really. I didn’t know the Assumptions, what World Youth Day was, I didn’t know anyone else going except my one friend (the program consisted of 160 kids from over 24 countries). And I also, finally, don’t know why I said yes. But the twenty-two day journey led me to travel more miles, see more of the places, meet more friends, and come to a greater faith than I ever could have imagined. So by the end I had millions of 20 something’s at a papal mass, I had seen traditional Mexican dance, gotten to know French youth, prayed late at night with Brazilians, eaten Filipino dishes, been at the Spanish Beach and the Portuguese Capitol. I have heard the Hail Mary in what seems to be every language ever at this point. And I even teared up (an extremely uncommon Occurrence for my stoic self!) at the sight of the Hundreds of Disabled and Handicapped being Chrismated and healed with us at a Mass in Lourdes. Really more experiences than I could have imagined. With the Assumptionists I’ve had an experience that has been profound, interesting, diverse, challenging, and plain… beautiful. Memories that will sit well and glow warmly in my heart.