Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tom & Susan: Lourdes & Betharrem, France - Trip Report


The alarm went off way too early this morning.  I wanted to break it!  Gosh, did we both sleep well!  We struggled to wake ourselves up and moved about rather slowly, trying to re-focus and get ready for the day.  Awakened, we prepared for today's ventures ... Lourdes ... drive to the Shrine in Betharram ... and back to Lourdes for the evening.
We both were starving.  We realized that we had not eaten a meal for almost 24 hours (we're starting to waste away which is a great thing).  We went down to "bread-fast" and, to our delight, there was a very nice selection of meats, cheeses, eggs,  a croissant and bread roll.  I think I downed 3 sandwiches without blinking an eye.  Content and full, we headed out to The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and, hopefully, Mass at the Grotto which is our custom. 
As we approached the main grounds to the Basilica, the streets were absolutely packed.  In the years we have been coming to Lourdes, this was the most people we have ever seen.  As we neared the St. Joseph Entrance, we heard "angelic" music coming from the Shrine.  While walking quickly, then, to find out what was going on, we realized that Mass had just begun in the Main Esplanade of the grounds.  There were throngs of people and it was an incredible sight.  To see so many of the sick and suffering who were brought there by the volunteers ... in beds, in wheelchairs, with canes and walkers ... and all of the Faithful who were surrounding the Basilica grounds.  There had to be close to 100,000 people there.
The Mass was serene and beautiful.  A Cardinal & a Bishop were Concelebrating Mass and there had to be about 100-150 Priests who were assisting and ready to help with distribution of Communion to the large crowds.

At the Offertory, there were about 200 "Ushers" taking up the Collection.  Susan turned to me and said ... "Father Tom would love to have this one!"  (LOL).
The two of us watched in amazement at the organization that took place for such a large, large crowd.  At times, our instincts as Ushers kicked in and we wanted to help ... but quickly realized "they had it all under control".  We stayed in our place as one of the Priests came to our area for Communion Distribution.  We Prayed and tried to take in this wonderful experience.  There were so many young people in the Square helping out as volunteers ... they appeared to be from many, many countries and it was apparent that they were taking their jobs very seriously to assist with the Mass and those in need during the Mass.  It was a wonderful sight to see this generation actively involved in our Catholic Faith.

As the Priests were heading back to the Altar after completing their Communion Distribution, there, in a crowd a couple of hundred feet away from us was a "Father Brian King Look-Alike" ... albeit, about 30 pounds heavier that "Our King".  This Priest had the exact same demeanor, the same walk and the same solemn and respectful looks as Father Brian ... it was "surreal".  I tried to get a photo but now know that it didn't turn out.  So the "Father Brian King Look-Alike" will remain just "our memories".  We did decide to name Father Brian "Our Angel of the Morning" on this day.
As Mass was about to end, we realized that there was no way we could get to the Grotto, Candles, etc. without having to deal with the large crowds.  So, quick change of plans and we walked back to our hotel and car to head to Betharram to see "Our Lady of Betharram" and the Shrine.  We knew that the Shrine was going to close from Noon until 2:00 P.M., but we hoped that we would have time to get in and see what we wanted to see before that time.

We arrived in Betharram about 11:45 A.M.  Luckily, we found a parking place close to the Shrine of Our Lady of Betharram that houses another miraculous statue of Our Lady.  Many miracles have been attributed to this Shrine and the statue of Our Lady.
We entered the very, very old Church and Prayed our Hail Mary as we entered (our normal custom at each Holy Place we visit).  I took a picture of the "No Photos" sign and started snapping our pictures.  I have realized that they just don't want you to use a flash when precious and old relics and articles are contained within a Sacred Shrine which makes perfect sense to me.
We had time to snap a few photos, kneel before Our Lady's Altar to Pray, and time to light a candle on behalf of all of you whose Intentions are traveling with us and to place those Intentions into their registry.
At about 1 minute until Noon, we tried to get into the Religious Store ... just as the door was being closed and locks (nothing new to us as you know).  A very nice Priest came out of the Sacristy ... Father Michael ... and explained that they would re-open at 2:00 P.M. as he began to turn off the lights and lock doors.  We had a quick conversation with him after he asked where we were from.  He apologized that he had to "lock us out" and we told him it wasn't a problem at all ... we are used to that on these journeys ... and he laughed.  We promised that we would return around 2PM to finish our visit to the Shrine and get our mementos.
Right outside the front of the  Church was a path leading to the First Station of the Cross that led up the mountain.  We had planned to Pray the Stations of the Cross if it was possible for us.  We realized that, today, we were having no aches and pains (not my back or hip ... not Susan's injured foot).  So, off we went to begin the Stations. Without any walking sticks, not even the cane.
It was a beautiful beginning for the Stations.  As we climbed and climbed, it was getting hotter and hotter after a cold and windy morning.  At one point, we stopped to peel off 3 to 4 of the layered clothing we had on from the morning's activities.
About half way up the mountain Praying the Stations of the Cross (no one was around ... just the two of us and beautiful and serene peace and quiet.  Tired and sweating profusely, I had my doubts whether or not we could make it to completion.  That was ... until I read my part of a passage from one of our Stations of the Cross Prayer Booklets ...
Jesus says ... "My eyes burn, my face burns, my blood and sweat are poured out for you.  I am drenched.  The heat ... the unbearable heat.  My mind is willing but my body is failing.  I am so tired yet, I must continue."  (Taken from A Reflection of Jesus and His Mother by Father John Pasquini). 
Contemplating the passion and suffering that Our Lord Jesus Christ did for all of us ... for all humanity ... there was no question that we would continue to completion with our Stations of the Cross.  And, as we approached the final Stations near the top of the mountain, it was well worth the struggle to reach it.  There, at the top and at the end of our Prayers, a wonderful peace had engulfed us and we both felt a special closeness with Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother ... it's hard to explain, but it was an incredible feeling that we were both grateful for.  We spent I don't know how long in our own "quiet time" in a beautiful setting. 
We began our descent down the mountain and back to the Shrine.  It wasn't so bad ... it took less than two hours to reach the top of the mountain and return to the Shrine.  We had a little time before Father Michael would re-open so we decided to drive down the street a bit to a little side-road 'cafe' we could see ahead to enjoy a cold beer to satisfy our thirst and kill a little time.  We sat out on the patio and enjoyed the views.  We noticed 6 cross-country cyclists sitting at a near by table and we picked up that they spoke English ...  I asked where they were from and they said "United States".  I told them that they were the very first English-speaking people we have encountered in 11 days ... their humorous reply was ... "we're sorry about that".  As it turned out, they were from Colorado, Texas and other States and had joined each other to bike over 700 miles through the mountains and countryside of France.  It was a nice moment to cross paths with some fellow Americans.
We were then on our way back to the Church after a brief respite.  We arrived exactly at 2PM and found that the Shrine was still not re-opened.  We sat on the side wall and patiently waited for Father Michael to open the doors.  Father Michael had now become "Our Angel of the Afternoon".
We had all the time we needed, then, to re-explore the Church and visit their Religious Shop to get our usual memento for our religious table at home and a medal of Our Lady of Betharram for Susan's bracelet.
We then returned to the place of the original Statue of Our Lady which is kept in this Shrine.  We said our Prayers, gave our thanks and your Petitions to Our Lady and departed to head back to Lourdes.  What a wonderful Shrine and Stations of the Cross .. it had been a beautiful & memorable experience to visit Betharrem.
We began our return to our hotel in Lourdes.  Both of us were very quiet along the way ... just reflecting on the beautiful morning and early afternoon we had spent at the Mass in Lourdes, the Shrine of Betharram, the Stations of the Cross and our Prayerful encounters with Our Lord & Our Blessed Mother.
Upon returning to Lourdes, we decided to go back to our room and, once again, try to get online so that we could get the San Sebastian de Garabandal Trip Report out to all of you before heading back to Our Lady of Lourdes for the evening.
Quite frustrated that I could not get connected to our AOL from our room and very determined to accomplish my goal, I took my computer and headed down to the lobby where I knew they had a free computer and desk for their guests.  I unplugged their modem and plugged mine in.  CONNECTED INSTANTLY!!!  I finalized our Garabandal report, background & photos and sent everything off to all of you.  Happy that I had accomplished my goal, I returned to the room so concentrate on plans for the remainder of our day in Lourdes.
Knowing from past experiences that most people who were visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes would return to their hotels for dinner and rest and that the crowds would be minimal compared to earlier that day, we decided to head out to the Grotto of Our Lady so that we could deliver "a few of your Special Intentions" (see photos!!!) at the Grotto that Susan had carefully taken from all of our notes from before our trip and during it as she sat on the bed in our room with sprawling piles of papers and notes to be delivered to Our Lady of Lourdes.  We were just hoping that the huge pile of your Intentions would fit in the Intention box at the Grotto.  We also planned to get our Lourdes Holy Water to bring home with us to share with those in need and light a large candle for all of your Intentions to be delivered to Our Lady. 
There was more of a crowd that we thought once we arrived on the grounds, but we walked our way to the Grotto of Our Lady and found that a Rosary was being Prayed there with two Priests presiding, large groups of teens/young adults and the Faithful.  Angelic songs to Our Lady rang out from in front of the Grotto.
As we stood in line patiently to enter the Grotto, touch the walls, Pray and present your Intentions, there was an older man in a wheelchair next to me being pushed by his wife.  As we neared the entrance to the Grotto, he motioned to his wife that he wanted to get out of his chair and "walk" through the Grotto.  I helped the man as he struggled to his feet, not knowing if he was capable of walking through the Grotto.  He took his cane and struggled as he proudly and humbly walked through the Grotto ... it was quite a profound moment to witness this man's "faith" and I Prayed that his Prayers will be answered.
We continued on through the Grotto.  It never ceases to amaze us the comfort, happiness and peace we feel at we walk through the exact location where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirousj.  We placed your Intentions in the deposit box (they all fit which we were thankful for).  I silently told Our Mother that "she was going to be very, very busy tonight to try to respond to so many needs and Prayers (LOL).
We proceeded to the area near the Grotto to light the candle we had purchased to light and offer up your Intentions.  They were just beginning to clean out all of the holders in the large area where the Faithful have left their lit candles.  I searched for a place that would fit the candle we had purchased and I finally found the "special spot" that I wanted.  A kind young man who was working in that area allowed us to put our candle in the holder and promised that even though they were supposed to be removing all the candles and cleaning the areas before the evening celebrations, he would leave our lit candle where I was placing it.  So there we had "Our Third Angel of the Day ... Our Angel of the Evening ... the Candle Man at Lourdes".
We then headed to retrieve our Holy Water from Our Lady of Lourdes.  I realized that the bottle I had purchased was much larger and held much more Holy Water than anticipated.  That's okay, though ... we may have to leave some clothes behind for our return trip home ... along with the heating pad and other "untouched might need items" packed away in our trunk.  Whatever it takes to get the Lourdes Holy Water back home will be done.
The Holy Water bottle was so heavy that I told Susan we had to delay dinner to walk back to our hotel and deposit it in the trunk of our car with other Holy Water we have retrieved during this trip.  I panicked a bit when I thought that I just might miss another meal if we didn't hurry so we walked very fast.
We opted for an Italian restaurant in Lourdes and ordered a couple of pizzas and a small carafe of red wine to accompany it.  We ate with vim and vigor ... barely speaking as we "chowed down".  I am beginning to think that next to sleep, "meal time" has become another priority.  The pizzas were great even though I accused Susan of eating 1/2 of mine as well as hers ... it just disappeared before my eyes!
Satiated, it was time to head back to the Grotto of our Lady and get in line for the evening Rosary Procession at 9:00 P.M.  I expected an extremely large crowd because of this morning's Mass attendance, but learned that Rosaries were Prayed throughout the day to accommodate the vaste crowds who traveled to Lourdes this weekend for the Rosary Festival.  It was a well-attended Rosary Procession but not like this morning's Mass. 
We had brought our candles from the Fatima Rosary Celebration with us and decided to use them (after all, Our Lady is Our Lady and we're sure she doesn't care what types of candles are lit in her honor.  Of course, we stood out like a sore thumb with my blue candle holder and Susan's pink one ...
The Rosary Procession, as always, was a majestic, heartwarming and spiritual experience.  The singing of the Ave Maria, the throngs of Faithful, people being pushed in beds and wheelchairs, people walking Prayerfully with canes and walkers ... everyone Praying fervently for help from Our Blessed Mother ... whether it was for themselves or for others ... we were all united in Prayers and Dedication to Our Mother.
As the Rosary Celebration reached its conclusion, and realizing that it had been a long, tiring (but beautiful) day, we made our way slowly back to our hotel, sharing an ice cream cone along the way.  I couldn't think of anything at his point besides the two large beds awaiting us in our hotel room.
Once in our room, we both decided that we were too tired to even download photos from the day or draft our Trip Report.  We changed into our "PJ's", knelt to Pray our Evening Prayers and give thanks to Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother for this wonderful day, shut off the lights and pulled up the covers ... each in our own bed for this night's beauty/exhaustion sleep. 
We wished each other a "Good Night" as we always do when we share our good night kiss.  This time, I threw my hand out to shake Susan's hand because there was no way I wanted to get up from my quite comfy and warm bed to share our customary kiss.  Susan realized what I was doing and took my hand to shake it in return.  With that, we both exploded with laughter in a giddy and child-like manner.  As Susan was getting more and more hysterical with laughter, she jumped out of her bed, came to give me a kiss good-night and, within moments, we were both fast asleep.
Tomorrow ... early away, early to rise ... off to visit Our Lady of Torricuidad, Spain.  Night-Night.
From Blessed John Paul II - part of his concluding prayer at the burial shrine of Jesus in Jerusalem...
O Mary, you are the joy of the angel's, the comfort of all the afflicted.  We proclaim you as the stronghold of all Christians, and most of all, Our Mother! AMEN
God Bless all of you
Tom and Susan
 Our Lady of Betharram

In the South West of France, at the foot of the Pyrenees, there is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Betharram. In a particular way, the Virgen has taken over the whole región. – Lourdes, the center of pilgrimages known world wide, is 15 kilometers from there. In the XIX century, Saint Michael Garicoïts made there the cradle of a new community, the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
According to some, the origin of the Sanctuary goes back to the XI century, at a time when the whole of Europe, instigated by Saint Bernard, was covered by homes of Marian devotion. When returning from their campaigns against the Moors, the knights of the Crusades came to render homage to the Virgen. Betharram was also a stage for the pilgrims who marched through from all over Europe toward Compostelle. Its name appears for the first time in 1493 under the term of Gataram.
The popular tradition bears witness to three miracles attributed to the Virgin Mary in this place.
One day that the shepherds were leading their flocks along the mountain stream – Gave – they were suddenly attracted by a very bright light coming from the rocks. When they approached and were near, they saw a beautiful image of the Virgin. As soon as the people of the village of Lestelle were informed, they decided to build a chapel to put in a statue, but on the opposite side of the stream, because of the lack of space there where they had found her. But, every time they placed her there, mysteriously, she crossed to the other side of the stream. The people from the village then understood that Mary wanted to remain in the initial place. And so it was then that they constructed the first Marian Building of Betharram.
The second miracle dates back to the year 1616. Some peasants from Montaut, not far from Lestelle, were returning after a long hard day of work out in the fields, when a violent wind rose and devastated the hill threatening Betharram. The cyclone beated on the great wooden cross at the summit. But as soon as it fell on the ground, it was seen completely surrounded by a halo of light. The news rapidly spread around the country, and an immense crowd gathered there coming in procession to the chapel of Betharram to thank God for this prodigy.
Now we come to the third extraordinary event; this is important since it gave its name to Betharram. A young girls bent over the edge of the Gave – the mountain stream – to pick a flower, and she fell head long first into the swirling, whirling water. She was about to get drowned when she invoked the Virgin of the Sanctuary, with a loud cry. Miraculously, a branch appeared: and in this way she was able to heave to the shore and save her life. As a sign of gratitude, she wanted to offer a golden branch to the Madonna, and thus she became for all the Virgin of Betharram – that is to say – “a beautiful branch”, in the local dialect.
To these three miracle, narrated by ancient authors, popular piety has added many others, of a similar nature. One of these was even mentioned by Bernadette Soubirous; upset because of the great curiosity of which she was the object, one day the saint exclaimed: “Why seek at all cost to see me? What more do I have than others? God serves himself of me just as he served himself of the bullocks of Betharram”. Bernadette refers here to a tradition according to which some bullocks went away from the herd to dig the ground, and they found on their hoof a statue of the Virgin.
Whatever may be the historical exactitude, these miracles give witness to a fundamental truth: Betharram has always been considered as a sacred place, which has nourished faith and the Marian devotion. Throughout the times, pilgrims who come to place themelves under the protection of the Virgin are always more numerous. Hubert Charpentier (1565 –1650), a priest architect had the idea to open a hospice for the pilgrims and a house for the priests in charge, who also rendered services in the parishes around. And thus, the first chapel was enlarged in order to build a Sanctuary worthy of that name, extended by a monastery belonging to the chaplains of Betharram. In addition, Hubert Charpentier also had a monumental Way of the Cross –Via Crucis – set up above the Sanctuary at the side of the hill.
The whole gave way to make this Sanctuary one of the most visited in France in the XVII-XVIII centuries, the golden centuries of Betharram. At that time it was the third most popular pilgrimage of the Kingdom, according to Saint Vincent de Paul. But the French Revolution interrupted this expansion, at the end of the XVIII century, destroyed the Calvary, confiscated the property and expelled the chaplains. The only thing saved was the Sanctuary.
Roberto Cornara, archivist