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Lourdes Diary: Seven Days at the Grotto of Massabieille

by Father James Martin. S.J. Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

Father Martin went to Lourdes to serve as chaplain for a group of pilgrims sponsored by the Order of Malta, an international Catholic association devoted to charitable works. During his stay, Martin kept an illuminating diary of his trip. His touching and humorous account of the busy and gratifying days that he spent at Lourdes is a vivid description of a place filled with a powerful spiritual presence. “Lourdes is now one of those places where I have met God in a special way, “Martin writes. Through this diary, we are able to share in his journey and feel the presence of God that he encountered there.

In the diary on Wednesday, April 28th, Martin wrote: “The Order of Malta has asked is to arrive at Baltimore/Washington International Airport three hours before our 7:00pm charter flight direct to Tarbes-Lourdes-PyreneesInternational Airport which is located a few kilometers from Lourdes. We are greeted by a sea of people, mostly middle-aged or elderly, some wearing silver medals dangling from red ribbons denoting the number of pilgrimages made. Many in the group seem to know one another. Rob makes a beeline for George, Brian and me and welcomes us to the group.

Scattered in the crowd are men and women seated in wheelchairs or looking painfully thin. Couples cradle children obviously suffering from illness or birth defects. These are, as I already know from Ruth Harris’ book, the madades, or the sick, the main reason for the journey. Their trips have been paid for by the order—a wonderful act of charity. Everyone, including the malades, boards the plane cheerfully.

The flight begins unlike any I’ve been on, with a bishop leading us in the rosary.The in-flight movie, not surprisingly, is the Song of Bernadette, which I have not seen for many years.It corresponds reasonably well to the original story of the apparitions at Lourdes, though it doesn’t show enough of Bernadette’s natural toughness—which to me makes her a more convincing saint than the film’s soften version.”

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