Pilgrims at Mass in Lourdes, France (KN / Shutterstock.com)

Pilgrims at Mass in Lourdes, France
(KN / Shutterstock.com)

The morning after I returned from a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, the first guest on my daily radio program was Dr. Mark Latkovik.  Dr. Latkovik is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.  We were discussing an upcoming presentation he was about to give, entitled “Human Rights or God Given Rights; Why the “Right to Life” Matters”.  In the course of our on-air conversation, Dr. Latkovik reminded listeners that the Church is “in this for the long haul.”  The “this” to which he was referring is the Church’s commitment to spreading the Gospel and defending the truth; most importantly the truth regarding the dignity of each human being from the moment of conception to natural death. No matter what we see in the craziness of the culture swirling all around us, the Church continues its efforts to evangelize which includes promoting the culture of life.

His comment resonated so well with me thanks to the powerful witness to the faith and to human dignity displayed in Lourdes.  I was there as part of the annual pilgrimage of the Order of Malta. The Order of Malta (or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem), according to the organization’s mission statement, is a lay religious order and one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization.  It has more than 13 thousand members in 120 countries around the world.  It is committed to defending the faith and assisting the poor and the suffering.  Their mission is carried out by the volunteer work of the Dames and the Knights.  One of the best examples of this is their annual Lourdes gathering which takes place during the first week in May.  This year there were close to 7 thousand Knights and Dames converging on this small but holy place made known to the world through the testimony of St. Bernadette to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in 1858.

My husband was invested as a Knight five years ago and it has always been a dream of his to go along on this special trip.  The Order of Malta American Association then invited me to experience the pilgrimage for myself and also cover the event.   The day we left there were what seemed to be a countless number of stories in the news showing how the Church along with her teachings is more and more under attack.   The trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell, attempts and successes in various states to redefine marriage, the public announcement by NBA player Jason Collins about his homosexual lifestyle, and the celebratory response to that announcement by the media were just a few of the items that would cause even the most faithful Catholic to wonder if the Church is making a difference.   But when one visits a holy place such as Lourdes, we realize that the Church is making a difference and does indeed matter.

The Church matters greatly to the people to whom the Knights and Dames are assigned.  They are the Malades (a French word for sick) who along with one of their care-givers are brought to Lourdes as special guests.  Each Malade is assigned his or her own special team of helpers who take them sometimes several times a day to the Lourdes site. Physicians, nurses, and clergy are also part of the service team.   It is quite something to see the Knights and Dames dressed in the black, red, and white Order of Malta uniforms converging on the small French town and each day bringing the Malades usually via wheelchair to the outdoor Lourdes Grotto for a healing service or the stunning Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for Mass.  It matters to the Malades who even if they don’t receive some sort of a physical healing will tell you that they receive spiritual healing and most of all an inner peace as well as the grace needed to endure and grow from their suffering.   The Church matters to the Knights and Dames, who despite the sometimes grueling schedule and physical effort involved, told me they come back year after year.  And the Church matters to thousands of pilgrims who converge on sites such as Lourdes, the Holy Land, Rome, and Assisi.   They come despite the continued attacks and they come to gain strength, like the Knights and the Dames of the Order of Malta, to gain strength to stand up against those attacks because like the Church, they too are in this for the long haul.

Teresa’s latest book, Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture has been on the Catholic best-seller list since its release in October, 2011.

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