Sunday, 28 May 2006
It is gradually dawning on me that tomorrow I'm off on pilgrimage to Lourdes. I've been so caught up in various things going on at school that I hadn't actually been thinking any further ahead than 3:15pm on Friday (along with, I suspect, every other teacher in England, I always know exactly when the next holiday starts!)
I took the picture at the torchlight procession one evening last year.
Taking part in the procession in Lourdes is just such a boost for morale. Everyone is praying the rosary, and there are chants in between each of the decades, and during the choruses, the candles all get held up in the air. There is occasionally a moment of drama as one of the paper shields around the candle flames goes up in smoke, but it all adds to the atmosphere.
People are almost always polite and cheerful, putting up with minor inconveniences with good grace, and looking out for each other. It's also really great to see how the sick and disabled are put first... in the USSR there used to be special traffic lanes for the cars of the elite, and in the UK we have special lanes for buses and taxis: well, in Lourdes, there are wheelchair lanes... and believe me, getting run over by a brancardier pulling an invalid buggy is a distinct possibility if you are foolish enough to forget who has right of way!!
Sadly, despite the many beautiful places where one could celebrate Mass, there are a handful of rather ghastly locations - mostly in the newer buildings. However, we have arranged to have Mass in the more aesthetically pleasing chapels: Mass on Monday evening after our arrival is in the chapel of St Michael; we're in the Crypt on Tuesday morning, the chapel of St Gabriel on Thursday and in the Grotto itself for Mass on Friday morning.
The one blip (as far as I'm concerned) is Wednesday morning, when we join the International Mass in the Pius X Basilica. This Basilica is underground, and can seat 10,000 people or so. Apparently, when it was built, it was considered to be the latest thing, using pre-stressed concrete. The overall effect is one of having Mass in an underground car park. Lately there have been some additions - banners with some of the more modern saints - but it's still a car park. My objections to the location on aesthetic grounds have been firmly ignored: the International Mass is a major event, and as such, it forms part of the pilgrimage experience. To be fair, at least the 10,000 people present actually want to attend Mass, which means that the atmosphere is far better than some of the school Masses I have been forced to attend.
I doubt that I shall feel much like hunting for an internet cafe in amongst all the chapels, restaurants and shops selling rosaries and statues. So no more posts until I get back.