By Mike Viola
Celebrating 140 Years of the Oblate Lourdes Pilgrimage
In 1883, Missionary Oblates from England and Ireland led the first pilgrimage to Lourdes from a country other than France. A total of 310 pilgrims took place in the pilgrimage. Prior to the trip, the Oblates had circulated a parchment throughout England and neighboring countries on which more than 100,000 faithful had written their intentions of prayer.
Today, the Oblates’ Anglo-Irish Province still coordinates an annual Lourdes pilgrimage involving nearly 1,000 pilgrims each September.
An account of the first Oblate Lourdes pilgrimage appeared in Mission des Oblats in 1883. Here are some excerpts from that account, translated by Fr. Liam Griffin, OMI.
The pilgrims were more than 300 and among them were men like the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Denbeigh, Lord Arudel, Lord Harries, aristocratic women, models of simplicity and charity, converts to Catholicism, who, by accepting the Catholic faith, had sacrificed all their personal fortunes and close relations and family. They came from: England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India.
When the pilgrims processed for the first time to the Basilica, a thrill of emotion passed through the hearts of those attending and tears were flowing. They believed to be taking part in the dream of Catholic England and foreseeing the Kingdom of God brought there. The pilgrims celebrate a Triduum of Reparation and of Supplication.
Each morning they received Holy Communion, they had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the afternoon and in the evening a time of prayer at the Grotto. Nothing was more beautiful than the recitation of the Rosary each evening at the Grotto and their solemn and sorrowful singing of the Miserere with lighted candles; nothing was more touching than their prayers for the sick in front of the Baths; arms outstretched, kissing the ground.
On the evening before their departure, they came together in the Basilica for their last Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; two tables were covered with votive offerings and letters or petitions. They distributed the petitions, the letters and the offerings, carrying them in procession to the Grotto and placed them on the altar. In the evening they held their own torchlight procession; it was a triumphant prayer following the atonement and supplication.
The following day they received Holy Communion a last time at the Grotto. Oh, how so many generous promises went up to the Blessed Virgin! Father William Ring, OMI, put forward the suggestions to the pilgrims that they recite the Rosary each day until the month of May next year: all raised their hands in agreement. One could feel that these pilgrims embraced in prayer once again more fervently their entire families and a great nation.
In the air of solemnity, rosary beads in hand, they dragged themselves from the Grotto to bathe their sick pilgrims, to pray once again at the Baths, on their knees, arms outstretched, in the presence of numerous pilgrims who were drawn by the Solemnity of Corpus Christi and who never tired of admiring this simple and intense piety.
The pilgrims said to Our Lady “see you again” and made a solemn promise that their next pilgrimage would last at least eight days. They are confident that healings were obtained, and that there was an effect on the whole of England which will continue to grow. England came to meet, at Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Queen; Our Lady of Lourdes will bring forward the moment where England will become again, according to the promise of the pilgrims, one of the brightest jewels in the crown of Holy Church.