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Lourdes 2011

The following is an excerpt from the personal journal I kept throughout my ten days in Lourdes, France. Please excuse the grammar, but I wish to keep the text as close to my handwritten copy as possible. As hard as I have tried to describe my time in Lourdes, someone cannot fully understand the effects of the Grotto until one has traveled there and experienced it in person. I hope every one of you receives the Invitation from Our Lady, and may one day find him or herself in her presence as I have the past ten days.

Thursday July 14, 2011
Bastille Day!!!

I AM IN FRANCE— this is soooo exciting! Specifically, I am on a bus from the Pau airport to Lourdes. Thirty hours of travel down, thirty minutes left to go!

Matt, Sean, Cynthia, and I are so pumped about this pilgrimage. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but my money is on the idea that it will be inspiring and life-altering.

I started 5:30 am yesterday morning in Georgia. Plane ride at 9:20 am. Landed at JFK 11:30 am. Met up with everyone at 2:30 pm. Longest three hours EVER—period! Very scary airport up there in NYC. 6:15 pm plane to Paris. Arrived 7:30 am today. 8:45 am plane to Pau. Arrived 10 am. 30 minute bus ride to Lourdes—still in session.

We are going to tour Lourdes today and see how we will be spending our ten days here. Tonight is the Bastille Day celebration, which means fireworks over the castle in Lourdes! We are ready to get out and see what there is. We are ready to get to work helping Our Lady of Lourdes heal our fellow Pilgrims.

An exciting adventure is ahead! I only hope I can keep up!!


Saturday July 16, 2011

It’s been two days already.—I can’t believe how time is going. …It’s as if every moment lasts forever; we do things in short amounts of time, but they feel like they last forever. At the end of the day, anything you may have done feels like a million years ago. It’s odd how this could even be possible.

That first night—wow. We went to the Grotto for a Candlelight Procession. But, there must have been thousands of people present at the Grotto. We marched around the domain and had to of said the rosary at least five or six times in at least fifteen different languages (no exaggeration!). The Procession was absolutely amazing, and we (as in the “Americans”) learned that the British boys have quite a set of lungs to them—belting the Ave Maria counts as “singing”, right?? Needless to say, we “Yanks” went to sleep immediately after the procession from pure exhaustion and jet-lag.

Day One officially begins. We are anxious, nervous, excited, and some—just plain scared. What would happen—would we be disappointed? Overwhelmed? Completely nuts? No one knew what to expect. But soon enough we had no time to worry—the hospital pilgrims had arrived.

Venetia. The first pilgrim I met and helped in Lourdes. I assisted her off the bus and wheeled her upstairs to our floor. Little did I know, I was about to have my first “experience”. Venetia, stubborn as she is, did not want to go to lunch. No, no, no— she wanted to go to her room and do I don’t even know what. So, what else could I do? She was mid-sixties, and I, the first-time American, had no ammo in my gun yet.

I helped her to the lou, which was an experience in itself. I helped her change her clothes, put together her wheelchair, and basically did everything wrong! I almost dropped her out of her wheelchair at one point.—I had no idea what I was doing. But I got on with it, and we eventually made it to lunch where Venetia was welcomed by her fellow hospital pilgrims (HP’s) and friends from England. Who knew she could be so popular?!!

Rob. What a guy. I was supposed to take him from the lunchroom to his bed. Period.

We were together the next two and a half hours. I helped him unpack, put his clothes away, organized his toiletries and meds—everything. Rob has down-syndrome, hayfever, and a bunch of other medical issues. But no matter what Rob faces daily, he is the nicest guy you could possibly meet. Seeing these people persevere through their intense disabilities every day, it’s just… well, I don’t even have the words to capture the feelings I felt.

Later that night we met our Groups, the people we’d be with morning to night the next nine days. I’m in Group 2 with Sean Buckley, Rosie, Paddy (surprisingly a male name), and a few others. Danielle, my group leader, is AMAZING— but more on her later. We went to the Grotto as a group and prayed a decade of the rosary before we parted ways for the night.

Day Two. Our alarm clock totally fried! Something about the voltage, but either way Cynthia and I experienced our first jerk-start morning. We made it on time to wake up the HPs, so no worries. But everything you do really makes the experience.

This morning I worked with Danielle to get Room 107 ready for the morning. We showered a woman, which is the most humbling experience I have ever had. Danielle and I were both new to this, even though this was her third year. Thrust into another impromptu situation where I lacked all control as the naïve first-timer from America, Danielle took the reins and we conquered Room 107. No time like the present to learn something new, right?!! Her patience and care for the HPs surprised me. It’s stunning the amount of love people can show towards strangers.

After wake-up, everyone went to a Prayer over the Hands ceremony divided by groups. After this, Radha— my HP for the next three hours— and I went to the Grotto to pray. Little did I know, a mere five minutes later twenty priests walked up to the Grotto’s altar and started a mass in French. An hour and a half later, I swept Radha off to the Ampleforth Pilgrimage group photo.

Out of all interactions with the HPs so far, I have a few favorite lines. They ask: “So, where are you from?” I answer: “America.” Their response: “Well, I knew that already.” Apparently I don’t sound British?! This is quickly followed with my next favorite line. “Oh, your name is Jamie? Isn’t Jamie a boy’s name?” To which I respond: “Well, yes, sometimes it is, but as you have already pointed out, I’m not from England! And I am indeed a girl.” You’d be surprised how many times my gender was disputed in the hospital on lists and whatnot. As if the white dress wasn’t a dead give away!
Later that night, everyone gathered for bingo. I am happy to report Sean, Rosie, and I won the very first game of the night, an adaption named “GROTTO!” We were very proud of ourselves as we listened to the yells of seventy-odd HPs who thought they had the winning card!


Tuesday July 19, 2011

Everything is amazing. I can’t believe I am here doing everything that I’ve been experiencing. These people, the HPs, open up to me in ways that I could never dream of doing myself. Their life-stories are filled with hardship and sorrow, and yet they triumph over their woes every day of their lives. If I had as much valor and courage as these people, I would be soaring high above the clouds with them on their journey.—As it is, I do not, and I am left standing on the ground while the others pass me by. There is no high like the one you get from truly caring about, deeply praying for, and learning to cherish someone else; these are the things the HPs have taught me—things I do not want to forget.

Today Geronimo and I had lunch together consisting of a picnic on the roof with all of the HPs and volunteers due to rain. He wants to buy me ice cream—the “way to a girl’s heart” he claims.

Yesterday Cynthia and I took Wendy out for a bit. It was fun, and I realized that there is something different I can gain from experiencing the light and warmth radiating from each HP. I absolutely love the work we are doing here.

But, sometimes, it is hard. Taking people to the lou, bathing them, wiping the spit dribbling from their mouth. Sometimes I lose myself in the idea that certain people are so helpless, with no authority on their own lives. They spend their days shuffled from place to place. They chose to come here, but I wonder what they truly think of the entire experience. I am only with them for ten days. I cannot fathom the difficulties of a lifetime.

I went to the Stations of the Cross last night. It was beautiful, but the service was not what moved me. The hymns, between each station, sung by the patients were inspiring. Their grief, their hope, their love and forgiveness rang throughout the room, echoed on the walls. It was amazing. Their belief crushed me—I began to cry. How could they love so much when they were handed such a life? How could they be so fulfilled, when I struggle with a normal life every day? Why can I not love and forgive as they do? Will I come to know these feelings by the end of this pilgrimage?—I think the answer is yes. And I hope I grow in the next four days I have left.

Today I met someone. He is another volunteer, but on his second pilgrimage. Martin— my nineteen year old Slovak mentor of sorts. Everything I have been questioning, he understands. It’s as though he came and found me specifically to help with my thought process. He’s deeply religious, and relates to all the doubts I have been having. He has helped me understand what I am experiencing and why I feel the way I do. It’s amazing to be able to sit down with someone I have never met before the past day and dig into a religious philosophical discussion. Martin has such an understanding of why he is here, what he wants to gain from the pilgrimage. He’s just… everything I wish I could be, everything I aspire to be. I think it was in God’s plan for me to meet Martin. I am better for knowing him.

It’s already Wednesday, 1:20 am. The days have gone by soooo fast. Only a few days left. Where did all of the time go?


Wednesday July 20, 2011

This morning my group was on general tasks. The rest of the pilgrimage went to the baths this morning. All of the HPs were bathed, along with most of the non-HP volunteers. Unfortunately, my group was unable to participate. But, I hear the water was absolutely freezing and the entire experience was invigorating and renewing. But don’t take my word for it—trust everyone else.

Later, all of the “young females” went to Cenacolo. This is one of sixty houses abroad for ex-addicts (drugs, alcohol, etc), a half-way house of sorts. We took a tour of the grounds and learned their way of life. Fourteen women living together, ranging from four years old to middle-aged, working together to survive.

Here’s the miraculous bit: they live off of providence alone—that means they pray for whatever they need, and God delivers it. These women live off faith alone. Can you imagine? It was inspiring. They learn trades with their hands: crafts, glasswork, gardening, cooking—everything. I could not believe people could live such amazing lives after coming from such hard backgrounds and past lives.

The most surprising part of the experience was when I met a young girl named Erica. She is twenty years old and has travelled from a house in St. Augustine, Florida to Italy to her current residence in France. She now speaks Italian fluently, and currently is working on her French. She has only been in Lourdes for six months. She used to live forty minutes from my house.

Erica went to school at South Forsyth High in Georgia. My best friend of many years just graduated last month from there. Erica graduated in my friend’s older brother’s class in 2009.

Erica knows where I live, where my brothers go to school, and the mall I shop at.—She could have been anyone I know. I know where Erica came from, the experiences she had—I’ve been there before. To see her rise from the ashes, and become so much, hit too close to home for me. Her life had to be hard, but she has come so far in battling against it. And now, she has come back to the faith, cleaned up her life, and reinvented herself as a new, better person. Her story and her faith inspire me, and I only hope one day I may see the world as clearly as she does. (And I’m sure she is praying for exactly that cause!)

Later on we returned and had group masses. Ours was in the second (middle) church of the Basilica. Hew and I ended up having to go and get water. I also ended up telling him my entire story, from why I came to Lourdes to my return to Catholicism to my impending plans for Uni (university in “British-speak”). He was incredible. We really connected on a deeper level on our twenty minute quest for water. Yet again, the little parts of the day truly make the difference in what someone takes away from their pilgrimage to Lourdes. It’s astounding that people here actually care and want to listen. Everyone came with an intention—we are all here for the same purpose.

Later that night was the ward party. Niamh and I wore our blue berets. I also face-planted into two rows of chairs in complete “Jamie-style”! Let’s be honest—it wouldn’t be a party or group event without me loudly crashing down at least once!!


Thursday July 21, 2011

Today Rosie and I carried the Ampleforth Banner. And I carried a candle in the “Mass for Deceased Members of the Pilgrimage”. It was in the Rosary Basilica, which is the bottom, ground-floor level of the three churches of the Basilica.

My group had their retreat day today. We drove forty minutes to a mountain and sat in a room with only two walls. So we bundled up with blankets and prepared ourselves for the next four hours of reflection.

Up until that point, I did not know why I had come to Lourdes. When asked previously, I would simply reply “Joe Michaud brought me.” That seemed to satisfy enough people. But not today—that answer would not work.

Throughout the afternoon, I came to realize God’s path for me. He brought me to the Abbey at age fourteen. I was lost and scared, looking for something—anything. Once I arrived, He helped me find my faith. When I thought I wouldn’t be able to return after my IV Form year, He connected me with an alumnus who wanted to award me an Alumni Merit Scholarship, covering my tuition for my last two years. He took me to Rome, finding the scholarships and connections to help me get there as well. In Rome, I came to know the ultimate power of God. The next summer, this summer, God brought Joe to me, who brought me to Lourdes. And it is here where I truly came to know God.

No matter what had happened to me in the past, what I’d struggled with, who I’d had conflicts with, it was all in preparation for this moment. Everything I had done in my life had led me to this afternoon, this serenity and complete calm on the mountain.

All around me, people were surviving. They took their lives, got up, and moved on, moved towards God. Their extreme faith brought me to tears. The Pilgrims, Erica, everyone—they all were here to help me realize why I am here.

At this point I knew why I had come to Lourdes. I came to Lourdes to find the faith. To find the people who could survive and persevere. To find the people I want to become. To see who I will be, all seen through God’s eyes, with the help of Mary and Saint Bernadette.

I came to Lourdes to be saved.


Friday July 22, 2011

We left. We had mass early, said our quick goodbyes, and left. It was not bittersweet—only bitter. Leaving these people feels like I cut off one of my own limbs. There was nothing sweet about it.

Before we left, we went to Mary’s crown in front of the Basilica to say goodbye and pray for another invitation to Lourdes. I know mine will come—no one could keep me from coming back. (I mean, if I left a limb there, I WILL be coming back to get it!)

We walked down the steps towards our bus, got in, and drove away.

I wish I could say I watched France fade away as we drove towards the airport, but I can’t. I am horrible with goodbyes, and there may have been a little something about being dead asleep most of the trip!

I miss France, but I know I will be back again soon. I can’t stay away—there must be something in the water. :]


The Amazing (Faithful!) World Traveler,


Jamie Lynn Chapman


Post-France:
Tuesday July 26, 2011

The purpose of Lourdes was not to treat the HPs. It was to take them and make them Kings and Queens for a week. We do not treat them as patients—for one week in their lives, they are completely normal. They get pulled in chariots by strong young men anywhere they want to go, and people in the streets move over for them to pass. Random citizens give up their seats at mass, in cafes, and all over town for the HPs. The world comes together to celebrate these miraculous people in Lourdes. The purpose of Lourdes is not for us to teach the Hospital Pilgrims how to heal, but for them to teach us how to live.



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