Volume > Issue > An 'Inside Story' About Lourdes

An ‘Inside Story’ About Lourdes


By Joseph P. Neville | February 2002
Joseph P. Neville is Professor Emeritus of Material Science at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts.

On February 25, 1858, during the ninth of 18 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to 14-year-old Bernadette in Lourdes, France, a spring appeared. Pilgrims from across the globe now come to the Catholic Shrine at Lourdes, the site of the apparitions, seeking God’s help through the intercession of Mary in the healing waters of the spring. Many miraculous cures have been officially recorded there, as well as countless others known only to members of individual tour groups. The site has grown over the years and today consists of seven churches, five large conference rooms, and numerous hotels for the sick. The town of Lourdes has expanded to offer all the services a tourist needs.

Lourdes is almost completely run by volunteers who spend their vacation helping the pilgrims. These volunteers receive no money, and pay for their own room and board while there. A campground is open during the summer where youth can pitch tents and cook their own food. (To see them working at the shrine renews one’s faith in youth.) Many Boy Scout troops from Europe come for a week during the summer as a service project.

For the past 14 years I have been a volunteer at the shrine in Lourdes. I try to go for two weeks each year. I have been assigned most years to work either in the men’s baths or outside the women’s baths. I have also worked at the Grotto and the train station. Assignments are based on the needs for staffing and the physical abilities of those who volunteer. Some help carry the sick off trains, some organize processions, some act as guides or interpreters, and others assist in the hospital. Some people come with a group and spend their time assisting a specific sick person. Others, like myself, come as individuals and spend their days at assigned tasks. Tourists, pilgrims, and workers come to Lourdes and many people progress in that order as they learn more about the workings of the shrine.

I first arrived at Lourdes as part of a typical rush tour of Lourdes and Fatima. I was impressed with the Boy Scouts who were assisting at the procession and decided to bring an American Boy Scout troop over for a week. After several years of preparation, I finally arrived with eight Scouts for one week. We had a delightful time mixing with Scouts from Germany, France, Italy, and Holland. Cooking our meals with them in a huge kitchen at the campground as well as working with them during the processions and sharing campfires was an experience we will never forget.

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