The Dublin Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes began yesterday, 7 September, as more than 2,000 pilgrims departed from Dublin Airport for the French Marian Shrine. The pilgrimage, led by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, is the largest pilgrimage of its kind to leave Ireland each year.
Now in its 68th year, the annual Dublin Diocese pilgrimage to Lourdes has this year seen increased demand for spaces this year. Almost 200 sick and elderly pilgrims are among those travelling to Lourdes. The sick pilgrims will be staying at the Accueil Notre Dame which is ‘a place of welcome’ close to the Grotto in Lourdes, with many of the facilities of a modern hospital. Assisting them on the pilgrimage will be 45 nurses, 8 doctors and hundreds of volunteers.
The pilgrimage is also joined by 130 secondary students from throughout the Archdiocese, as well as representatives from Crosscare and the Diocesan Child Safeguarding and Protection office
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin celebrated the opening Mass for the pilgrimage at the Grotto this morning, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin.
In his homily, Archbishop Martin said, “Every year as we gather as the Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes for our opening Mass here at the Grotto we have the same sensation. It is a sensation of quietness, of silence, and of prayerfulness. After all the hectic business of getting ourselves ready for the pilgrimage and the nervousness about travel, we find ourselves suddenly in a place that is unique. We find ourselves taken away from the rush and the noise of our everyday life.
“Noise is sadly part of our everyday environment. Silence is something we rarely have the occasion to encounter. Silence can be restful but it can also bring a certain unease with it. There is also a sense in which with silence we find ourselves alone with ourselves. We are afraid of silence. We cannot wait somehow to regain something of the noise of the everyday. We do not like to be on our own with ourselves.”
He continued, “Lourdes is different. Here we encounter a silence that makes us reflect. It makes us for a fleeing moment see things differently. Noise imprisons us. Silence opens us out to something different.
“The silence of Lourdes is of course not a silence of emptiness. The silence of Lourdes belongs to a unique atmosphere of prayer. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon as darkness falls, you can see every day men and women who come alone here to this Grotto quietly to pray. Men and women, young and old, who normally find it hard to find time to pray, rediscover for a moment what prayer is about and how prayer is less complex than we sometimes think.
“The silence of Lourdes is then not just about being on our own with ourselves. Prayer opens us beyond ourselves. It opens us to the transcendent, to something that takes us beyond our day-to-day environment. The silence of Lourdes opens us to God.”
Archbishop Martin went on to say, “Here is another fruit of the silence of Lourdes. The silence of Lourdes helps us to move beyond thinking about ourselves and begin to see others differently. Illness and physical or mental frailty are not looked on as reducing the dignity of anyone. Here in Lourdes it is the sick and the weak who have pride of place and who become central in our interaction. This is the experience of our helpers, young and old, veterans of the pilgrimage and those who are here for the first time. Prayer and silence help us to relate with others in a different way. It is that experience which brings our helpers back to Lourdes year after year.
“To our sick pilgrims may I say on behalf of all here on this Diocesan Pilgrimage: you mean so much to us! We come to help, but we come also to learn from you. Know that the Lord is with you in these days in a special way and that Mary embraces you with her special protection.”
“Today we celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, the birthday of Mary, Mother of God… Mary is there to help us even when we do not expect it. Think of poor Bernadette, who sets out on a simple journey to find wood for her family. Mary surprises her and changes her life.
“Bernadette is from a poor family, of no significance in the social life of this town. She is someone who, to use a word that is very important to Pope Francis, she lives on the periphery of society. It is to such as her that Mary comes and touches their lives.”
Archbishop Martin concluded his homily, saying, “The more we reach out to the periphery, the more we will realise that Jesus is there. Jesus is there in those who suffer, in those who are ostracised, in those who fail and fall into sin, in those who seek the meaning of life. It is in the periphery that we learn the weakness and the false certainties of many of our own ideas of faith.
“In all humility then we turn to Mary and ask her to bless us and to be with us in these days and to fill the silence of this place and to fill our own hearts with a sense of the protective and caring presence of Jesus in our lives.”
The full text of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s homily can be found on www.dublindiocese.ie.