Concluding Mass of Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage

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Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes


Homily notes of

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin


Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 12 September 2020

The final hours of our annual pilgrimage to Lourdes have always been special moments.  Ourfinal Mass is celebrated; there is the emotional passage when the sick pilgrims pass though the Grotto; candles are blessed and lit, as a final farewelland also as a sign of prayer that is ongoing and continual.  

The sick gather for an evening meal and bags are packed as we all prepare to leave the extraordinary atmosphere of Lourdes and return back to our ordinary life.

There are tears.  Addresses are shared.  Friendships that cross the generations are sealedthrough sharing of addresses and emails. The sick know that they will miss the care and support themhave received.  In many cases, the experience of contact and friendship of the pilgrimage days will help alleviate the return to loneliness that they know they are to experience.  

Young people look back on their experience and realise how they have discovered within themselves a sense of tenderness that they would otherwise have been slow to recognise.

Everyone tries to find a moment to be alone at the Grotto, hoping in prayer and silence to puttogether and interpret the pieces of that mosaic of experience that is unique: our Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes.

On many occasions at the final Mass, I have asked the question: how is it that this experience in Lourdes of solidarity and care, with the elimination of barriers of age or wealth or health standards, the respect of each other’s differences, deep faith orstruggle with faith – how is it that this experience cannot be repeated when we return to the hard reality of daily life.  Lourdes changes hearts; we have to keep our renewed heart alive.

You may remember that on other occasions, in trying to grasp the uniqueness of Lourdes, I have asked if some wealthy entrepreneur decided to establish a Disney like replica of Lourdes elsewhere, would it be the same, even if they slavishlyreplicated all the details of the daily programme.

When I ask that question the universal response is no.  There is something unique and irreplaceable about Lourdes.  I remember when I was in Geneva a nonCatholic ambassador came to me and told me that he and his family on holiday in France just happened to stumble at what he called “the HolyShrine”.  He was in Lourdes for a few hours and could not even remember the correct name of the place.  Yet the uniqueness of Lourdes struck him deeply, even though he had no way to explain it.

The secret of Lourdes is to be found in Mary and Bernadette.  The story of Lourdes is in many ways an unlikely one.  At a time of change challenging the religious culture of Europe, Mary turns to a young, poor, almost illiterate girl, living in poverty in a remote village.  The story is one of simplicity.  There is nothing staged or dramatic.  This innocent girl is hardly believed yet, bit by bit, she convinces even the rationalist authorities slowly of the authenticity of her encounter, not by force of reasoning, but thorough the strange power of simplicity.

When we reflect on the renewal of our Church we very often look to intellectuals, we turn to learned theologians, to bishops with the gift of preaching, to experts on the reform of structures.  All of these are important.  Yet people hearts are touched firstly by simplicity and authenticity.  It is only with a sense of simplicity that really encounter and witness to whom the Lord is.  When we place ourselves at the centre then we preach ourselves.

Jesus is the one who emptied himself and gave himself for us. It is simplicity that permits the tender embrace of the Lord to wrap itself around us.  It is in simplicity that we put aside our arrogance and sense of self-importance.  It is in simplicity that we empty ourselves and yet find our true selves. Lourdes is a place of faith, a faith expressed in humble words and thoughts, a faith of the heart rather than of cold ideas.

Bernadette and Mary are forged together in a story of simple faith that changes hearts.  The simplicity of faith reminds us that our lives are in thehands of someone greater than we are. This is the secret of our Lourdes experience. This simplicity does not rob us of our dignity. Rather it enhances our dignity and allows us to discover it anew.  

We end our virtual pilgrimage.  Let us go away this afternoon with those same rich experiences that we had on the final evenings of all our pilgrimages. Let us keep the spirit of Lourdes alive in our hearts and in our interaction with others. We remember in our prayers the sick who had wished to be with us, the veterans who have served the pilgrimage over the years, the medical staff, the young people who in Lourdes have learned something about self-giving, those who have found peace and forgiveness of their sins in the shrine of Mary conceived without sin.