It has been a crazy couple of weeks full of life-changing moments, traveling, and more traveling. These past few weeks have been full of Our Lady. If you’re wondering what I mean by that, it means that in the past three weeks, the image of the Black Madonna visited the Gaming campus, I spent a week in Lourdes volunteering at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, and I made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje.
It all started three weeks ago when the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Black Madonna, was making a pilgrimage across Europe from Czestochowa to Fatima. Along the way it stopped at our home in Gaming. Most of us had journeyed to Poland the week before to see the image of the Black Madonna, and one week later she was visiting us. After a beautiful evening of Eucharistic Adoration with the image, it continued on its pilgrimage, but this would not be the end of our encounters with Mother Mary.
After an intense week of midterm exams I made my way to Lourdes, France, with 55 other students to volunteer at the Shrine of Our Lady. This week could not be summed up in words, but I can try to give you a glimpse of the beautiful and inspiring faith we saw there. Hundreds of people came to pray and bring their intentions to Our Lady of Lourdes. Many coming to experience miracles of physical healing left having experienced miracles of spiritual conversion. The pilgrims that we served there were some of the most joyful people I’ve met in my life. All of them struggled with different illnesses, and yet all of them wore beautiful, bright smiles on their faces. I felt that their faith did more for me than anything I had done for them during that week.
Life in Lourdes truly puts everything else in perspective. It is not about helping yourself, rather it’s about serving others. It’s a place where everyone is trying to help those in need and everything revolves around prayer, faith in Christ, and Our Lady. Some of the highlights of the week definitely include volunteering in the baths. This truly is where I was blown away by the tremendous faith of the pilgrims. Mothers and their mothers would line up excitedly hugging one another with tears in their eyes. For many people, just coming to Lourdes had been a life’s dream, and no matter what God had in store for them, simply being there was enough. Most days were nonstop and incredibly busy, but they were followed by quiet nights in the Grotto or in adoration. That week in Lourdes went by so quickly, and when it came time to leave, no one wanted to go. We all wanted to stay there wrapped in the peaceful mantle of Mary, but Our Lady had different plans for us.
After planning a trip to Switzerland that promised to be a great time, I was crushed to find that the weather would be terrible and that we wouldn’t even be able to get there because our train was booked. Like I said, Our Lady had other plans. I ended up deciding to go to Medjugorje that same day – just hours before we left – and I am so happy I did! First, I have to start by saying that we stayed in a castle. Literally a castle with towers and everything, provided by two lovely people named Patrick and Nancy, who dedicated their lives and money to Medj and have been giving lodging to priests, religious, and Franciscan University students for years. By meeting them, I immediately felt that Mary was truly present in this place. They were two of the most loving, caring, and humble people I have ever met. They greeted us with kisses and food… So much food! The weekend only got better from there. I went to confession, daily Mass, hiked up two mountains to the sites of the Marian apparitions, and met one of the visionaries who greeted us and talked to us about the messages of Mary. It went by so fast, and when it came time to leave, once again no one wanted to leave. The morning of our departure there were tears and hugs, songs and kisses, and more tears. On the way back, our Theology teacher, Professor Cassidy, reminded us that our experience in Medj does not end when we leave: it only begins. We must bring our experience back with us and let it permeate our lives. Christ and Mary are always with us. Just because we aren’t in Medj or Lourdes doesn’t mean we fall asleep in our faith. This is one my favorite things about going to a school like Franciscan – your professors aren’t only teachers, they are also friends who care for you and who lead you in your faith.
In other news, it has also begun to snow here in Gaming, and for a kid who was born and raised in Miami, it’s a little exciting.