AGM 2021. Address of the President of the Irish Hospitalité, Ms Máire NíBháin.

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When the plane lands in Tarbes I thank our Blessed Lady for inviting me back to work with the sick in Lourdes. I’m full of happiness; I admire the lovely mountains visible enroute. The streets of Lourdes are always full of people. They all look happy as they ramble along. I go to the Grotto and, heeding the late Sr. Patrick’s advice, I offer up, in advance, all the work I’ll do in Lourdes whether on stage or pilgrimage. Another unwritten rule she had was to be always aware of people who might need help, from pushing wheelchairs to lighting candles for people.

Nobody leaving Lourdes in September 2019 could have ever imagined the present Covid-filled days. A year ago we heard of the pandemic and thought “sure t’would never come here.” Our forefathers survived famines and persecutions even though there were many casualties but Covid stole in quietly and is in no hurry to leave. Many of us have increased our prayers for a troubled world and visit Lourdes via TV or mind’s eye while we try to drum into our minds, “this will pass.”

We may visualise ourselves sitting at the Grotto in the gentle breeze, Rosary in hand with the soft lapping of the Gave in the background. We fondly remember the Blessed Sacrament and Torchlight processions and wonderful Masses. I cannot forget the kindness and camaraderie enjoyed with fellow workers. The invalids are the VIPs in Lourdes. They are inspirational people who keep the best side out and unknowingly teach us, the helpers, how lucky we are. We make a special effort to make their trip as prayerful and as meaningful as possible in whatever service we work. I would also like to acknowledge the Lourdes helpers who quietly visit sick people they met in Lourdes, in nursing homes and long-term hospitals, when they return to Ireland.

The Irish people have been drawn to Lourdes for a long time. They initially travelled by boat to Bordeaux and people had a great time as they danced the night away on deck. Nowadays people mostly travel by air.

People have been fascinated by the possibility of miracles in Lourdes. I’ll mention a few:

  1. Fr. Willie Moran O.C.D. was on his way to the Grotto one July day in the early 90’s. The Blessed Sacrament procession was outdoors on Rosary Square. As he passed the Seven Dolours Hospital he met three Dublin women, one had a lifeless baby in a buggy. That woman asked Fr. Willie to bless her baby and they went on their way. A year later Fr. Willie was again in Lourdes and met the three women with the buggy in the same place. The mother again asked for a blessing for the baby. When he bent down to bless the child he got a slap across the face. He asked the mother: “when did this happen?” She explained how a little while ago she had lifted up the child for a blessing as the priest passed them with the monstrance during the Blessed Sacrament procession. She felt heat spreading through his little body. She put the baby in the buggy and raced out St. Joseph’s gate with her two friends in tow. The baby had been cured. The mother’s problem then was how would she tell her husband when she met him at the airport that evening. Fr. Willie advised her to hand him the child and say that they had got their miracle.
  2. I met a lady from Sri Lanka working outside the women’s Baths in 2018. She had been coming on stage for a few years with her husband. She started to tell me how this came about. She and her husband had intended visiting Lourdes sometime in the future. Fate took a hand in their lives however when her husband was diagnosed with cancer and advised to have an operation. He had a pal, an oncology consultant working in Norway who offered to perform the operation if his friend could travel to Norway bringing a copy of his x-rays. Himself and his wife set off and decided to visit Lourdes enroute. They visited the Grotto and each had a bath before going on to Norway. The doctor there took a new set of x-rays. He compared the two sets and found no traces of cancer. The man and his wife return to Lourdes every year they can in thanksgiving and some friends have come with them.
  3. I don’t think I ever met Mrs. Winifred Feely in person. I know she was in Lourdes in the early 80’s when I started there. She worked in the Medical Bureau, had a doctorate in Law, spoke many languages. She spent part of the year on the international lecture circuit talking about Lourdes. She was born sickly, with a curvature of the spine and was a semi-invalid. She had three major operations and spent a year suffering from lung troubles. Then later she developed a cancerous growth in her chest and the doctors told her that it was “inoperable and inaccessible.” By that stage Winifred was in her early 50’s and married. The growth in her chest had affected her throat. Her voice was gone and she had trouble with breathing. She was terminally ill. She came to Lourdes as an invalid praying for a happy death, a short time of life to devote to others, and to show some gratitude to God for all she had received from Him. She visited the Baths and found the cold water very disagreeable but she decided to have a second bath and offer it up as a penance for others. She was cured of all her symptoms, she had no more pain, her voice came back, she no longer had any difficulty in breathing and she could run and walk freely. She lived until her 96th year. During her travels she came to Dublin and she gave a lecture in aid of St. Joseph’s School for Blind Boys at Grace Park Road in Drumcondra in 1961. She returned to lecture there in 1972 and her lecture raised £100 – a lot of money then. This enabled the school to send two extra blind boys to Lourdes in addition to the four already scheduled to go. All her lectures were about Lourdes. She said she was acutely aware of the bigger miracle that defines Lourdes. That miracle isn’t just about rituals or cures; it is about selflessness, the desire to give and to help others, the willingness to take care of people who are battling life’s troubles. She also said “so many people see Lourdes in terms of torch-lit processions which are admittedly edifying but to me one of its great marvels is the hundreds and hundreds of voluntary works who pour in every year. To witness, as I so often have, the dedicated unselfishness of doctors, nurses and those who come to help, so see in turn the tremendous spiritual graces given to the sick, this is the miracle of Lourdes so many miss.”

May God and his Blessed Mother keep us safe and lead us back to Lourdes in due course.

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