Thursday, June 23, 2016
Ave Maria VIII: Perpignan & Lourdes
Just a couple of nights in Barcelona and we left for France in the morning. Switched buses and bus drivers which was for the worse. The previous Frota Azul bus had WiFi, while the replacement didn't. The previous driver was friendlier and more fluent in English while the new guy just gave a few grunts. Worse of all was that he had a jerky style of driving. Oh my.
During our comfort stop, bought some cold cuts and sausages from the supermarket connected to the petrol station. Seemed like 60% of their products were alcohol! Perpignan is a quaint, little city at the South of France some 190 KM away. A beautiful river lined with flowers flows through the city and there's a section behind old city walls. We were a little too early so there was time to explore.
Admired the beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Baptist before heading to lunch at Grand Cafe de La Bourse. Europeans were enjoying al fresco dining but our group asked for the shade. The waiters were at a lost about what to do. Sea bream was the catch of the day, and it came with cream sauce and a slice of Chioggia Beet. Never seen a beet with such beautiful rings before and I must say it beats the regular beets (pardon the pun). Accompanying the main was a duck gizzard salad sprinkled with crutons. Excellent. And of course we had the traditional dessert of creme brulee.
Came to Lourdes in the evening. Ate dinner at our hotel, Chapelle et Parc. The group was so uncharacteristically quiet since it was a French dinner. LOL. The restaurant served up quiche with salad, pork chop, and mixed fruits. With our bellies filled, we rushed to mass at St. Anne Chapel, a humble chapel located at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The priest gave a scathing sermon that day, invoking his ace-- the guilt trip. Since we had time before the candlelight procession, we did the sacrament of reconciliation. Been a long time since my last confession. If not mistaken, it and during a pilgrimage to Tangkak in December 2009.
The candlelight procession started at 9:00 PM. The night was cold and it was drizzling a little. The procession happens every night and starts by the banks of the river that runs beside the Sanctuary of Lourdes. At the head of the procession is a lighted cross and of course a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Right behind would be the sick in special rickshaws pulled by volunteers. Those who can walk follow at the back. During the procession, people walk while reciting the rosary and singing hymns of praise to Mother Mary. When "Ave Maria" was sung after each decade of the rosary, everyone held up their candles in praise. Just one large round and they gather in front of the Rosary Basilica to finish the rosary in numerous languages depending on the representatives there that night.
Once the procession ended, the faithful proceeded to the side of the grotto to drink and wash with the holy water (Lourdes water) that flowed from numerous taps. The water was cool and refreshing. Many then proceed to the grotto where Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. The rocks were wet with holy water and the faithful touch the stones and view the original spring through a layer of plexi-glass. Above the grotto is the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and petitioners pray around the pews to ask for her intercession. At the base of the grotto is a conical candle stand that is always burning with tall votive candles. Believers can also light their own votive candles at large metal stands called brulières. Can't imagine how many candles are expended at the sanctuary daily.
Right after that we went back to the hotel and finally got a good look at room. From the looks of things, it was newly-refurbished and I was glad that they provided a hot water kettle. A peculiar thing was that the toilet and the bathroom was separated into two rooms.