Last weekend I was meant to be in Seville competing in my first Olympic triathlon. Although I hadn’t been very well on and off for a while I was determined to try and train through it all and complete it! It was clear that someone had a different plan for me. After a couple of good training sessions two and a half weeks before the event I fell ill again and spent another 4 days in hospital. This time I felt that the training had something to do it with it. So naturally, I pulled out. For a while now my friend had been joking that she was going to take me to Lourdes and get my dunked into some holy water to heal me! In the lead up to all of this my friend and I had been receiving little messages from Our Amigo. Everything was pointing at us to go to Lourdes. The day before I was admitted to hospital I bumped into her parents who happened to have a planned pilgrimage trip with a group from Gibraltar the same weekend of the event, they told me that we should join them. After then being release from hospital the week later, it was clear that we needed to go to Lourdes. So just like that we signed up!
I arrived in Lourdes with an open heart ready to experience everything. I really didn’t expect to get so much out of it. The day usually started with a private mass in one of the little chapels. Although sometimes a little early, this was my favourite way to start the day.
When we arrived, what really caught my attention was the other pilgrims. Massive crowds surrounded the Grotto and just seeing so many people gathering at this sacred site, the hundreds of people queuing up at the baths, the thousands of people doing the processions, all the different spoken languages, it all made my heart pound stronger! I am amazed at the ways the Lord works to draw us, the children of God together. Lourdes allows one to truly see Jesus in the faces of all the people around them.
Our plan was to go to the baths three times. It turned out I only needed to go twice. The first time we went in we were really lucky not to get too much queue. We waited on the benches provided and we were into the changing rooms fairly quickly. At first I felt very nervous. I had no idea what to expect and it all felt a little intimidating. There were three women there to help me so I followed their instructions and said my petition to Our Lady. I then made the sign of the cross, they walked me down the bath, sat me down quickly and stood me back up again. The water was very cold and it absolutely took my breath away but I loved it. Before I knew it I was dry and popping my clothes on again and thinking about the next day to do it all again.
The next day we planned to go after lunch and when we arrived there was already a massive queue. We waited it out and even queuing up was a beautiful experience. There were different priests doing talks and prayers. There was music and singing. But the best part of the wait was watching people going in and out. Their faces were glowing when they came out, there were tears of sadness and happiness. All I could feel was an overwhelming feeling of faith and peace.
We were called in separately this time so I didn’t have the comfort of having my friend with me. I started feeling nervous again but was praying the rosary to try and calm down a bit – it worked. It was my turn to go in and I followed the instructions as before. This time though, after I had sat down in the bath I asked them if I could have some water poured on my head. The women poured some out of a jug into my hands so I could put directly onto my head. Then they asked me if I was sick. I’ve never been asked this question in this way before and I really struggled to say yes. I was admitting to complete strangers that I was sick. Something I would almost always lie about. It was hard. Once they knew that I wasn’t well it all changed in there. They bent me forward and started pouring the water all over my head whilst praying. They then stood me up and placed my hands on the statue of Mary at the end of the bath and carried on praying with me whilst embracing me. They gently turned me around and walked me back up the steps of the bath. That’s when one of the women put the cloak back on me, placed both her hands on my face kissed my forehead and made the sign of the cross. She kept her hands on my face, looked into my eyes and said in broken English “You’ll be OK”. It was a very emotional and powerful experience. Once we left the baths I knew that I didn’t need to go back the next day. Something happened in there that was so special I will never be able to describe it properly and I will never forget that moment. It will forever be an experience that will stay in my heart.
The rest of the day was a build up of emotions that were just waiting to burst out! I knew the second I had some quiet time it was all going to come out. That evening we went to the Grotto and prayed the rosary. This is where the tears started to flow… Every time I looked at Mary I would re-live the bath experience and see the women holding my face telling me I’ll be OK. Every time I would close my eyes I’d see the women again embracing me. Even now when I close my eyes I see her. I know this was a direct message from Our Lady, I can feel it in my heart.
On our last night, before the procession we headed down to the Grotto. I was still full of emotion from the day before but I felt a sense of peace that I had never felt before. I closed my eyes and felt my heart go to heaven. I handed it straight over to Jesus and Mary. My whole heart, body and soul is in their hands now. It is the most incredible feeling ever.
We experienced beautiful processions, private masses, international mass, confession, the baths, the stations of the cross, tours and many other things. But what I experienced the most was realising the love I have for Mary. The love and intimacy that I have now for our Blessed Mother is brand new.
I was also incredibly lucky to be able to share such an incredible experience with my best friend. Without her the trip wouldn’t have been the same. I am forever grateful for the day that the Lord decided it was time for us to cross paths and go on this journey together…Stuck at the hip!
I was sad to be leaving this beautiful place, but I know that the lessons I learnt in Lourdes will always be a part of me no matter where I am. People go to Lourdes for spiritual or physical healing. I was going for the experience and hopefully to feel a little better after it. I can certainly say that I have come back a different person and still feel like I’m floating on cloud 9!
I look forward to my future visit as I have no doubt that I will return one day. In the mean time, I can close my eyes and be back at the Grotto with Mary.