Lourdes, 15th August 2011: testimonies by a Little Sister and three novices

Along the paths of Lourdes together, pilgrims in the steps of Bernadette

The departure of the French National Pilgrimage, led by the family of the Assumption, took place on the 11th of August. 
Here we are "en route" with the patients in the "white train", for five days at Lourdes, guided by the prayer of Jesus, the Our Father, and service. During the whole journey we prepared our hearts for this special time: singing, meditation on the Word, the rosary, encounters between the pilgrims. With Bernadette, listening to Mary who leads us to Jesus, we learn to pray through listening, the service of the sick, the children, the nursing staff. We learn to become brothers and sisters through total availability, a smile, a little gesture, a word – we encounter one another as brothers and sisters, members of the same family. 
The Eucharistic celebrations, presided over by Mgr Emmanuel Lafont, were special times that nourished and renewed our faith. The tenderness and the mercy of the Father were constantly visible in them – the beauty of God to be contemplated: He who teaches us to forgive, to kneel to receive his Mercy and so be born again, to change our outlook, to look at our neighbour and our world with the eyes of God. 
Experiencing a day of fasting and prayer, letting ourselves be nourished by bread and forgiveness, drinking from the source – all this makes a space for God in our heart so that we may become, like Him, people who forgive. So, what a joy it was to see, in the big field, all those faces, those of young people, the sick, persons of all ages, who were going to encounter His servants to receive His forgiveness. 
’A woman named Mary’ 
A highlight of this pilgrimage was the stage presentation by Rober Hossein of ’A woman named Mary’, which was specially dedicated to the sick. There were thousands of pilgrims present, from all parts. It was a sharing of the Word, in a different way, offered to all, a sign of the universality of the Good News. 
The national pilgrimage in also service: in the reception areas for the sick or for the pastoral animation. For my part, I was in the catering area, well-known to the pilgrims and nursing aides where the means are served. I experienced how service means giving without counting, freely. Welcoming people early in the morning, being available means forgetting oneself, one’s tiredness so as to help the others to go to their service. I can see again the aides we met early in the morning at the sanctuary and the greetings we exchanged. We were in communion and service then becomes a prayer: May your will be done! 
The universal face of the Church going to encounter its Pastor 

Tuning our desire to that of God so as be men and women who are free. Our founder Etienne Pernet (an Augustinian of the Assumption) used to say: ’May your actions speak Jesus Christ’, and, ’I will pray in coming and in going, at every moment and everywhere, insofar as I can.’ These words resonated in me, making me say that God is there, through the little daily actions and each little action becomes a prayer, the presence of God. 
As I am writing these few lines I feel close to the 350 young people who left Lourdes to go to the World Youth Days in Madrid. They come from France, Vietnam, Chile, Korea and Bulgaria – different faces of the universal Church, setting out to meet their pastor so as to let themselves by guided in their life, by the Father. Together may we let him come to us so as to be another Jesus Christ, wherever we are! 
I’ll hand over now to the novices: Thao, Odile and Hoa, who in turn are going to share their experience of the pilgrimage. 
Sister Nathalie Lafforgue, LSA, France
From Thao, a Vietnamese novice 
’This is the second time for me to be with the national pilgrimage to Lourdes. This year, I have been working with the handicapped children. I give thanks for being able to participate in this special time of the ’Pélé-Éveil’. First of all there is the joy of sharing those five days together. This pilgrimage was spent in contact with the whole Assumption family and also with this guiding thought: ’May your Reign come! Pray the Our Father with Bernadette.’ 
The words ’Our Father’ make me aware of the fact that we are all sisters and brothers. I shared some very special times with the handicapped children – going together to the grotto, at the feet of the Virgin; being plunged into the baths; the special time of reconciliation with them. Pélé-Éveil enabled me to live in a special way and it formed strong bonds among us. I think that those days were very enriching, a retreat, an encounter with the others and an encounter with the Lord. All this led me to discover universality and the value of each person. 
For me, it is a fresh start. Jesus is calling me to take a step further in the encounter with others, to deepen my Christian faith. There are so many feelings, but it is difficult to express them in words.’ 
Testimony from Odile, a Malagasy novice 
’I have been on the national pilgrimage. The theme was the Our Father. I participated in the "Pélé-Sourire" with the children aged from 6 months to 2 years. There were over 30 of us, 15 were children. With this group I tried to turn to the Father to pray, to glorify His name and to ask Him for the Bread of Life each day. 
Our day was organised in a special way because these are children who cannot walk or talk. The Father knows them, but they do not know Him. Every day we had a short time of prayer and sharing. Then it was time for games; we also took part in the rosary and the Eucharist. During that time we journeyed together towards the Father by trying to do His will and asking forgiveness. 
Various things were life-giving for me: for example, the prayer, but also the mutual welcome among us. It is that we did not know one another, but we are all looking towards the Father. We can see that we are all sisters and brothers. I am also touched by the trust placed in us by the parents who left their children with us to lead them towards God. I find that gesture very beautiful, strong and vibrant. 
At other times I participated in the rosary with groups from different countries, especially my own – Madagascar. With Bernadette and Mary we presented our country to the Lord, and we also presented this world that is living in difficulties, in dire poverty, so that his Reign may come here below.’ 
Testimony from Hoa, Vietnamese novice 
’Coming to Lourdes has really been something fortunate. Before going I was asking myself: "what am I going to do? What good can I do there?" So, I decided to be part of the Pélé-Éveil so as to be with the handicapped children, to help and accompany them on this pilgrimage. This year the theme was: ’Pray to Our Father with Mary.’ 
But what have I to share and to give to others? Faith, availability, simplicity, listening and a smile! All that impelled me to go towards others and to place myself in a practical way at the service of the person who needed help. In the end, I was very happy with what I experienced during the five days in Lourdes. All of us, the members of our team and the children, learned to pray the Our Father, we discovered his Love through prayer and the different activities. 
This pilgrimage made it possible for me to have contact with many of those who were accompanying the pilgrimage but also with those who were close to the children and to sense their difficulties and their fragility, both psychological and physical. Through these faces I discovered another face of Christ: the Christ who is poor and humble of heart who invites us to offer our heart and to open our hands to welcome reality and to help to live it because the Salvation of God is for all. 
Being on pilgrimage is also being in communion with persons from the whole world and with those who were not able to be there.’ 
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