Monday, June 5, 2017
Toni Pallatto - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | In the early 1850s, Lourdes, France, was a modest district town with a population of 4,135, a passageway for travelers on their way to surrounding spa towns. Today, over 6 million pilgrims visit Lourdes annually in hope of healing, both physically and spiritually.
In the early 1990s, the land on which Our Lady of Lourdes Parish sits was covered with trees, grass and other vegetation, neglected by human hands. Today, this bustling parish has over 6,000 families involved in the mission of Our Lady of Lourdes, physically and spiritually serving as an outreach in Miami for the small town of Lourdes, France.
“I firmly believe your parish is your parish for a reason,” said Msgr. Kenneth Schwanger, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. “Our identity is that of Our Lady of Lourdes, and what a better way to have that flourish than with a commitment to the sick of Miami, and indeed, to the sick of the world.”
Msgr. Schwanger started this outreach and healing ministry, Lourdes to Lourdes, about five years ago.
“My husband Edwin and I were in the first group of five people that went to Lourdes, France, five years ago,” said parishioner Charo Rojas. “This was all new to us. We did not know that we could volunteer and participate in helping the sick visit the piscines (the pools of water at Lourdes). Through the North American Volunteers, we started our training and formation, walking in the steps of St. Bernadette and learning how to assist special needs pilgrims.”
The walls of Our Lady of Lourdes parish hall highlight this connection between Lourdes, France and Lourdes, Miami. They are decorated with the story of St. Bernadette and the 16 apparitions, the Lourdes to Lourdes connection, the healing miracles of Lourdes, and the names of those who have been consecrated to Jesus through Mary.
The Miami parish has formed a partnership with the North American Volunteers who serve at Lourdes. Several times a year, they take and help people on oxygen or kidney dialysis, with infusion or feeding pumps, in manual or motorized wheelchairs, to the grotto of Lourdes in France, where St. Bernadette witnessed the apparition of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. All the sick are welcome, whether or not they are Catholic.
Youths and young adults are involved in the ministry, as well.
“During the month of June, when most students are on summer vacation, we offer a pilgrimage for young people to serve,” explained Msgr. Schwanger. “They learn the message of Lourdes in daily catechesis modules in the morning, and live the message of Lourdes in serving in the kitchen and with the pilgrims during the afternoon. It gives them the opportunity to ground their religion in the ‘why’ of Jesus and the ‘why’ of their faith, and in the love found in the message of Lourdes.”
Not everyone is able to travel to Lourdes, France for this experience, so Our Lady of Lourdes Parish brings a virtual pilgrimage to others.
“We bring a Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage experience to prisons, schools and parishes,” said Rojas. “We have a rock from the Lourdes grotto, Lourdes water, eucharistic adoration, and a candlelight rosary procession. We have brought this experience to St. Hugh Parish, and we are bringing it to Krome Detention Center, the convention of the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and St. Richard-Holy Rosary Parish.”
In addition, Our Lady of Lourdes Church offers two healing Masses each year, on its feast day in February and on the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary Aug. 15.
“On the 11th of each month we also gather the people of Miami for a eucharistic procession with benediction of the sick and for a candlelight rosary procession to the (parish) grotto,” said Msgr. Schwanger. “Our ‘yes’ means that Lourdes, France, has a permanent place in the life and ministry of Lourdes, Miami.”
For more information, or to donate to this ministry, visit www.ololourdes.org/wishlist.
Lourdes to Lourdes connection
As part of its Lourdes to Lourdes Connection ministry, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Miami organizes several pilgrimages a year to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France:
- Special needs pilgrimage: An invitation for the sick, handicapped, elderly or pilgrims with special needs and their families to visit Lourdes accompanied by volunteer companions and caregivers.
- Volunteer services: Lay and medical volunteers help pilgrims in services such as bathing, toileting, dressing, feeding, friendship, transportation, housekeeping, etc.
- Serving the sanctuary: Lay volunteers offer assistance in the baths, at the train station, in the sanctuary and supporting sick or disabled pilgrims at either of two specialized Accueil hospital-like facilities in Lourdes.
- Youths and young adults: Young people serve in the dining room, help with housekeeping, hospitality, transportation to all Mass outings, processions, tours and visits as well as the final clean up. Daily participation is required in catechesis, service assignment, prayer, a catechesis task, pilgrimage transportation and any other service assigned.
- Donations: The Accueil Notre Dame is a facility where sick pilgrims reside during their stay in Lourdes and it must be filled with different types of medical supplies. To donate equipment, or make a financial contribution, visit www.ololourdes.org/WishList.