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A Trip to Lourdes

We saw another consultant on Thursday. He seemed quite hopeful, and made it clear that he expected David to "die an old man", not of Lymphatic Cancer. We learned that it would be standard treatment for David to receive radiotherapy for five weeks after his chemotherapy is concluded. We also learned that it is difficult for the doctors to judge how well the tumour is responding to treatment as much of its bulk will be replaced by scar tissue which shows up on an X-ray looking just like the original tumour! David is never likely to have a "normal" chest X-ray.

After leaving the Bristol Oncology Unit, we drove to Reading where I had a job interview with Racal Research. This went very well (though nothing came of it!) We than drove on to a hotel near to Gatwick airport, where we spent the night. The journey to Lourdes the next day was uneventful. David's temperature was a little high, but whatever was going on seemed to be held in check by the antibiotics that he'd been given to take last Wednesday. Our hotel in Lourdes was moderately opulent. I felt like a beggar when I arrived in travel soiled T-shirt and jeans. The food that we ate in the elegant dining room (all mirrors and chandeliers) was of the highest standard.

The town of Lourdes is a monument to Free Enterprise gone horribly wrong. I've never seen so many tacky gift shops per unit area in the whole of my life. There must be very many more statues of the Madonna on sale than the sum total of residents and a year's supply of visitors! The shear awfulness of some of the stuff on sale stunned: a "hologram" picture that exchanged the images of Jesus and Mary as one walked past, as if to say that they were interchangeable! It's enough to make one a protestant!

The "Domain" (the very extensive grounds/environs of the Shrine) was much better. No commerce allowed, except for the selling of candles and the offering of "Mass Stipends". On the whole people were well behaved.

David and I went to the torch lit procession on the Friday evening. It was quite moving, though it would have been better to have had the Rosary said properly, all together in Latin, rather than in mangled bits in assorted languages. We got elbowed and prodded by various impolite and overly zealous people in charge of invalid carriages. I guess that they thought that as David was walking he wasn't ill and really didn't have any "right" to be there.

On Saturday we went to a drab English Mass, then saw a (very informative) video on St Bernadette and the history of the Apparitions and visited the Grotto where the Blessed Virgin is supposed to have met with Bernadette 18 times. This site I found deeply moving. People were, in general, quite devout and obeyed the "silence" signs. We drank some of the water and filled two small bottles to take home with us. It struck me that Bernadette had a very unfortunate life as a teenager, and that both she and Mary showed how God wasn't much interested in "important people", but much more the humble and marginalized.

We had a superficial look round some of the basilicas. We were most impressed by the oldest and (by far) the smallest chapel, "The Crypt", which was the first chapel built, in direct response to Mary's request that a church be built near to the Grotto. It was very elegant inside, calmly decorated, with a very peaceful atmosphere. We spent quite a time here, with quite a few other people, in prayer. This is, for me, the heart of Lourdes. It is a great shame that it is no longer the site where Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place. This has been transferred to a passable modern chapel next to the awful (elephant house like: all ducts, reminiscent of the film "Brazil") modern church of St Bernadette.

That afternoon David had a doze. It was then that I visited the "Elephant House", before spending about an hour in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel; mainly thinking about Quantum Mechanics, would you believe! On Sunday we went to another tawdry English Mass. David hated this as there was terrible singing (e.g. half speed) to guitar. It turned out to be the Feast of "Corpus Christi" transferred from the previous Thursday, by some idiotic decision or other! The priest said how we obtained most of our belief in and devotion toward the Blessed Sacrament from the wonderful example and witness of others, rather than through word-of-mouth teaching.

We later visited the Rosary Basilica and saw very many people walking (in a kind of queue) within four feet of an altar with the Blessed Sacrament on it paying it no attention whatsoever. Out of many more than twenty people, I saw only one person so much as "bob the knee". For a while I sat on a pew, fuming; thinking that Catholics simply no longer believe anything about the Blessed Sacrament, because all such has been drummed out of them by years of bad example and bad teaching from the Clergy.

Then it struck me that there was something that I could do. Instead of fuming any more, I decided to go and make some small amends for the utter disrespect being (un)shown, so I hurried to the front of the church, knelt on the altar step, that all these people were ambling past and said five decades of the rosary. I was unaware of what was going on around me, as I had my eyes tightly shut and was trying to "say sorry" to Jesus and "give him a hug", thinking how he must have felt in Gethsemene before He was arrested, with all his friends fallen asleep rather than keeping Him company in his time of emotional vulnerability.  When I finished my prayers, I was delighted to discover that two other people had joined me. I was so pleased that I gave one surprised lady a hug and a kiss and said "thank you".

Later that afternoon we wanted to go to the Blessed Sacrament procession that takes place at 16:30, everyday  However, it had been cancelled and transferred to a "Celebration" in the "Underground Basilica of St Pius X" (or the Dalek Aircraft Hanger, as David and I lovingly named it.) Almost as soon as this event started, David wanted to run away. It was more a pagan celebration of the elements (i.e. Earth, Water, Fire and Air) rather than Eucharistic devotions. I'll spare you the details, in any case we left before the goings on were fully underway. We were very disappointed.

On Monday, we got up very early indeed and went to an "English" Mass at the Grotto. This was quite moving, with singing in Mandarin Chinese and Urdo/Hindi (not sure which). It was a bit like a coming together of people from all over the Old Empire. Later we met up for Stations of the Cross, after spending some more time in the "Crypt" chapel, which was spoiled a bit when a party turned up for Mass and started chattering. I told them to "shush" and then David and I left.

Overall, I am very glad that we went.  I think that both David and I are in need of healing. David physically, of his cancer, and myself emotionally. I believe that our prayers will have been heard by God and His Blessed Mother, all that remains is for us to wait patiently for the answers that they obtain.

I am pleased to say [2002] that all subsequent news has been good. Dr Faulk, the consultant in charge of David's case tells us that Lymphoma very rarely reappears after eighteen months, and as he is well past that stage with no sign of any problems, it seems that he has been cured. Thanks be to God, the Blessed Virgin, Dr Faulk and all the team at the BOC!

As for my emotional healing, the creation of this WebSite was due to a misguided comment from Paul Hammond; who still seems unwilling to have much to do with me. Putting this material together has been a process of profound healing for me. I have made many new friends; got back in touch with some old ones, and feel much better about myself, God and other people.

David continues in good health [June 2005].

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