From its formation in the eleventh century, the Order has assisted pilgrims in search of healing. For centuries, the Order assisted pilgrims traveling from Europe to the Holy Land. Since the middle part of the twentieth century, the Order, including its Western Association, has assisted pilgrims travelling to the Grotto in Lourdes, France.
Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, a Lady dressed in white with a blue sash, a Rosary, and yellow roses on her feet appeared eighteen times to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year old peasant girl with little formal education. Each time, the Lady appeared in a grotto adjacent to the River Gave below a state-owned forest in the town of Lourdes, which sits at the foot of the Pyrenees in southern France near the border of Spain. Each time the Lady appeared to Bernadette, Bernadette was accompanied by others. The Lady invited Bernadette to pray the Rosary. She also instructed Bernadette to pray to God for sinners, to dig a hole in the mud at the base of a grotto, which revealed a spring, to drink the water, and to ask the local priests to build a chapel on the site. On March 25, 1858, Bernadette asked the Lady her name and was told "Que soy era Immaculada Councepio," in English, "I am the Immaculate Conception." As news of the apparitions spread, large crowds came to the grotto of Lourdes to witness Bernadette's trances. Miracles were reported as pilgrims bathed in and drank the water from the spring.
The Summer Pilgrimage to Lourdes
In early July, members of the Western Association travel to Lourdes to host the Young Adults Summer Pilgrimage. The group consists of approximately twelve adult chaperones (including at least one chaplain and one campus minister) and approximately 44 young adults ages 16 to 23. The pilgrimage lasts ten days including travel. In Lourdes, the group stays at the Hotel Vesuvio, shares all of their meals rogether, and attends daily Mass together.
The Young Adults Pilgrimage group registers with the volunteer service of Lourdes, known as the Hospitalite Notre Dame de Lourdes (HNDL), from which each member receives his or her assignment. The daily schedule varies. The HNDL assigns members where they are most needed on any given day. Under the direction of the HNDL, our members assist pilgrims, many of whom suffer from debilitating medical conditions, at the Baths, the local train station, local airports, during the torchlight procession every evening, during the Blessed Sacrament procession every afternoon, and at the Sunday Mass in the glorious underground Pius XX Basilica (which has a capacity of 25,000). On most days, the pilgrimage chaplain gathers with our members to discuss the day's activities and to share reflections.
One past participant of the Young Adults Pilgrimage described the work this way: "The days are long and the work is tiring, but very satisfying. I couldn't wait to get up each day and see what new responsibilities we would be given. It was all so rewarding. Just seeing the look of happiness on the faces of the sick we were helping made it all worthwhile. I will never forget the pilgrimage." Typically, almost half of the young adults participating in our summer pilgrimage return for a second year. Some return for a third pilgrimage.