In late September in am going to Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal. If you are not Catholic, you may not be familiar with these places. To tell you the truth, I knew a little about them but not much.
They are two of the most famous pilgrimages for Catholics. Both were places that visions and miraculous events are believed to have taken place. Both have become pilgrimages for people searching for a physical and emotional healing. Usually people bring back Holy Water or Blessed Rosaries that kind of thing for sick friends and relatives.
I am technically Catholic. I rarely go to church but I do my best to do the right things. Besides, it has become pretty tough to be Catholic these days. Unforgivable scandals and hypocritical followers have left me wondering about being Catholic. I’m happy to say I think our new Pope Francis is a breath a fresh air and gives me hope for the future of the church.
My cousin and her husband were going on this trip with her church and was telling me about it over lunch one day. I mentioned that I thought it was a really interesting experience and if I had known I would’ve tried to come too. Then before I knew it she was on the phone with the travel agent and I was going.
This is a trip I had never even considered taking but the opportunity presented itself and it seemed like an adventure.
The notion of visions from heaven, messages from above and miraculous healings are fascinating. As a medical person I can’t help but wonder about the placebo effect. You know how if you believe strongly enough that you were going to get better, sometimes you do. But some miracles I associated with these places have no scientific explanation. The Catholic Church researches this stuff very rigorously. If there’s any chance they can be explained away, it doesn’t count as a miracle. It’s kind of weird that they have protocols for such things but they do.
I guess I must be a pretty cynical person because if you’ve read any of my previous blogs you may have come across one entitled Take Me to Church. I wrote about how I was suffering from a vasculitis associated with my rheumatoid disease. I had wave after wave of it for months. I had seen several doctors and been on several different medications. I was in and out of the hospital and couldn’t go to work for months. Then an old friend called me out of nowhere. She tricked me into going to a Healing Mass. She told me we just had to stop in this building for a minute before we went to dinner. It was really a Healing Mass and she wouldn’t let me leave. After that night, my vasculitis disappeared and has never come back. Strange but true.
After that happened I thought about it for a long time. I guess it could’ve been a coincidence. Then I think of that saying that there are no coincidences, it’s just God’s way of staying anonymous.
If I really was healed from vasculitis during that Mass, what did that mean for me? Did I have to go out and be some super good person from then on? Was I supposed to go around sharing with everyone that this happened to me? I’m not a goody goody person. I’m more of the black sheep. I’m not even good at going to church. I curse like a sailor. I tell dirty jokes and generally dislike everyone I meet until I find a reason to change my mind. There must be another explanation.
OK, so now I have this chance to go to Lourdes and Fatima. I’ve been researching Lourdes and the story behind it. Wikipedia says that the young girl that we now refer to as Saint Bernadette was led to a hidden spring by a vision of a woman bathed in white light. She was instructed to drink the water and bathe in it. And since that time people have been bathing in that water and hoping for a miracle of their own.
The Internet says there of been 17 confirmed miracles from Our Lady of Lourdes and another few thousand that are claimed to be miracles but have not been officially approved miracles by the Catholic Church. Pilgrims come from all over the world with their problems and health issues hoping for a cure. People wait hours in line for the chance to bathe in this water. I thought if I’m going all the way to France to experience this place, I’ve got to do the bath.
So now I’ve been trying to figure out how this bathing works. This is what I found out so far and what I have mixed feelings about. Men and women are separated into different waiting lines. You shuffle long in line sometimes for several hours. When it’s your turn they move you into a chamber where you are told to quickly undress. You have to get naked. There are nuns there that guide you and what you’re supposed to do. They put some kind of wet cloth thing around you and your lead into the bathing chamber. I’m going to include a picture but it kind of looks like a sunken stone tub.
They say the water is icy cold since it comes from this underground stream. The nuns help you down to stand in the tub, you say a quick prayer, and then they lay you back into the water to about your shoulders. They help you out and move you to another chamber where other Nuns help get you dressed again. They say this happens over just two or three minutes. They have to move right along to keep the line moving.
People who have written their experiences on the Internet and say it is a truly amazing experience. Even people who did not expect to be overwhelmed later describe it as an experience they cannot really put into words. So of course I’m dying to try something like that but I do have some concerns.
Where will my handbag and my wallet, passport , etc. be while all this is going on? And how often do they change that water? I found references about them changing the water twice a day and topping it up throughout the day. Suppose the person in front of me has open wounds? Or they are just really stinky?
I mean isn’t that a health issue? All those sick people with God knows what’s wrong with them all bathing in the same water all day long? That water has to be full of every bacteria known to man. And what about MRSA? I don’t want to come home covered in some flesh eating bacteria.
Do they ever CLEAN these tubs? I wonder if they have any studies on people getting sick from it. I can’t seem to really find any information about this. Am I the only one totally grossed out about this? I am planning to let my cousin Carolyn go in before me. That way I will get mostly her germs and that seems pretty safe.
And we have to be naked? What’s that about? So I’m naked in dirty bath water from diseased people from all over the world, surrounded by nuns and getting dunked in 50° water? God thought this was a good idea? I’m all about an adventure but I am a little concerned.
I was more thinking like this would be a cool place to meditate and just be in the moment. Try to feel the energy of a place. I thought if everyone else was saying the rosary I could just do my mindful meditation thing. I already have a handful of autoimmune conditions and am a bit immunosuppressed. Is it a good idea for me to submerge myself naked into a vat of unknown disease causing bacteria?
OK, maybe I’m overthinking this. I should just get dunked, say my prayers for my peeps and feel the energy of the people and place.
We leave in just a month and a half so I have time to think about it but not a lot. Part of me wants to be all spiritual, open my heart and just be in the moment. Meanwhile the pharmacist in me says bacterial contamination, communicable diseases and sweaty sick people from all over the planet. I’m going to need a lot of hand sanitizer.
I have a handful of people I love that have some serious health conditions going on. I’d like to pray for them when I get there and somehow do this bathing thing for them. I want to bring them some Holy Water and pray for them at this amazing place. If there are any chance of a miraculous healing, I would love to send some of that energy to them.
So it may be a very enlightening and spiritual experience or I may come home looking for an infectious disease consult. I’ll be blogging my adventure as I go so you can come along too.