Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
Photography: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
MIAMI | Elieth Rivera, 87, and her daughter, Mercedes Ramos, have never been to Lourdes, France. But as often as they can, they take part in the next best thing: the monthly processions held at their church, Our Lady of Lourdes.
“We come whenever we can, because we feel as if we are in the sanctuary at Lourdes,” said Ramos.
Mother and daughter were among nearly 2,000 people who gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes for a Mass and candlelight procession April 11, 2022. This one was extra special because the relics of St. Bernadette – uncorrupted fragments of one of her ribs – were visiting the parish for the first time, part of a first-ever U.S. tour which will extend through August and encompass 40 churches in 20 states.
“All thanks to Msgr. Schwanger,” said Josephine Lathan, a resident of France and representative of the sanctuary of Lourdes who accompanied the relics to south Florida.
She was referring to Msgr. Kenneth Schwanger, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, who personally phoned every single parish in the U.S. named for Lourdes or Bernadette to ask if they wanted to host the relics.
Formally founded in 2015 and based at Our Lady of Lourdes, the Hospitalité de Miami organizes the monthly processions at the parish and the twice annual archdiocesan pilgrimages to the shrine in France. Members take the sick to bathe in the miraculous waters where so many have experienced healings, both physical and spiritual.
More than 200 Hospitalité members – all of whom have traveled and served at the French sanctuary – were easy to spot at the Mass and procession, garbed in blue blazers, white shirts and scapulars.
“We’re the only diocese in the whole country that have an organization, the Hospitalité de Miami,” said Debra Bartkowski, pilgrimage coordinator for the group. “So we’re very, very blessed.”
She added that it’s not just parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes who are members. The Hospitalité encourages groups from other parishes to join in the pilgrimages.
“We all know the tremendous blessing that is the pilgrimage to Lourdes,” said Msgr. Schwanger. “St. Bernadette has brought Lourdes and that grace to Miami and to the United States.”
After a brief hold-up in customs, the relics arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes April 7. They spent April 8 at St. Bernadette Church in Hollywood and returned to Lourdes April 9. They will remain there until April 18, the Monday of Easter, with daily veneration ceasing only at 4 p.m. on Holy Thursday and resuming during the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.
After an 8 a.m. farewell Mass on Easter Monday morning, the relics will head to St. Bernadette Church in Port St. Lucie, and from there to other U.S. states. Their final stop will be California.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski and his auxiliary bishop, Enrique Delgado, presided at the multilingual Mass that preceded the candlelight procession around the church grounds. They then lit their candles and joined the crowd of hundreds walking behind an image of Our Lady of Lourdes and the reliquary of St. Bernadette as they prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary in three languages: English, Spanish and French.
“For many people, that the Church venerates relics of saints might seem a bit macabre. Yet, we all know of ‘secular’ relics,” the archbishop said during his homily. “We keep mementos of our loved ones (some parents even keep the first tooth of their child). We honor fallen heroes at cemeteries. Museums are full of these secular relics, and they assist us to recall these persons and the memories that remind us of who they were and what they did.
“‘Religious’ relics serve the same purpose for the People of God,” the archbishop continued. “Relics of the saints are honored in the Church by God’s people because relics are physical, tangible, concrete reminders that heaven is obtainable for us – if we, like the saints whose relics we venerate, follow that path to holiness that the saints walked themselves. The veneration of the relics of the saints also reflects a belief that the saints in heaven intercede for us on earth. A number of cures and miracles have been attributed to relics, not because of their own power, but because of the holiness of the saint they represent and the power of their intercession on our behalf.”
Leading the candlelight procession, as they do in Lourdes, France, were the sick and elderly and people in wheelchairs.
Gina Santos was one of them, pushed along by her husband, Ivan Santos, both parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes. They had presented the archbishop with the book of intentions during the offertory procession at the Mass. Gina had venerated the relics shortly after they arrived. She also did the Geste de l’eau – water gesture – a symbolic “bathing” of the face and hands as well as sipping of water brought from the miraculous spring at Lourdes.
“We pray for peace in the world and for the healing of all those who are sick and come to ask for healing,” said Gina, who has not been to Lourdes.
Elsa Janulionis has. She’s a member of another Miami parish, St. Kevin, but her experience in 2005 at the French shrine cemented her devotion. She said she suffered from psoriasis everywhere from the waist down. “I felt like a monkey scratching myself all the time.”
She had visited five different dermatologists but nothing they did worked. Then she visited Lourdes with another group and bathed in the waters.
“I felt this heat inside me, like a hot flash,” Janulionis recounted. She said she felt immediate relief, and by the time she got off the plane in Miami, “I was healed.”
Since then, “every time I hear something about Lourdes, I run. I want to go back.”
But Janulionis mentioned another motive for her presence that night. Her grandson will be making his first Communion this year, and “I’m trying to make him like the Church.”
So she’s taking him to Masses at different parishes. On Palm Sunday, they went to Our Lady of Lourdes. “Grandma, I like this church,” he told her.
Correction: Josephine Lathan's name has been corrected since this story was originally posted. It is Lathan not Latham.