Seminarian Samuel Aquilina spent three weeks in August as a volunteer in Lourdes, serving the pilgrims and the sick visiting the Grotto of Our Lady and the other sites close to her shrine. This is his experience told in his own words.
As part of our ongoing formation as seminarians, it is advised to us by the formation team of our Seminary that during the summer, we do an experience of voluntary work. The formation team proposed to me an experience with the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes. This organisation of volunteers is responsible for the running of the Sanctuary in Lourdes, by managing pilgrims during liturgical services and processions and by welcoming pilgrims, especially the sick, the elderly and people with special needs.
My experience in Lourdes was three weeks long, from the 2nd till the 23rd of August. It was my first time in Lourdes and thus the place was completely new for me. However, during my time in Lourdes I encountered several familiar faces. I met the pilgrimage from our Parish which annually goes to Lourdes, headed by our Archpriest, Fr Joseph Curmi. I also met Can. George J. Frendo who was accompanying a group of Maltese pilgrims as a spiritual director.
Lourdes annually attracts more than six million pilgrims. On considering this huge number of people, one realises that many volunteers are needed. My voluntary work was mainly in the baths of the Sanctuary, helping people get down in the baths and at the same time guiding them in prayer during this special and powerful moment for the pilgrim. Work in the baths also involved managing the queues in the waiting area. Another important service was that of welcoming pilgrims at the train station and assisting people with special needs, the elderly and the sick to get out of the train and into the buses. During the daily procession of the Blessed Sacrament and the aux flambeaux Marian procession, I also helped to manage the pilgrims and to position people in wheelchairs.
The experience of voluntary work in Lourdes involved long hours of work. However, as continuously and rightly stated by the responsible of the Hospitalité, work is not everything. The spirit of an experience with the Hospitalité is finding a balance between voluntary work and prayer. These two are not mutually exclusive but on the other hand complementary. Thus, during my time in Lourdes I not only helped as a volunteer, but was also able to live the experience as a pilgrim.