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Sermon for 4 August 2013



My Dear People,

As I write this I have just returned from that holy place where Mary, the Immaculate One appeared, conceived, without sin to St Bernadette on February 11th 1858.

The Bishop, in the closing Mass, described Lourdes and our Lady's Presence there as a "Pillar of Fire", drawing all to her Divine Son. When you reflect on it is the only international shrine to the Mother of God where she invited - indeed commanded that the people come there in Procession and to do Penance and to pray for the Conversion of the sinners.

The first thing I want to say to you is just how young Lourdes is. Out of 650 on the Salford Diocese Pilgrimage I reckon half were under twenty five. These are the youth living our their faith in a world which is so secular and hostile and here they are 150 years later coming in huge number and it is true for all the nationalities we met there. Hundreds of wonderful young lads and lasses were serving the handicapped and the sick and the maimed. Some of them were on duty from my hotel at 7.00 to get the sick in the Lourdes hospital up out of bed, washed and clothed and fed and ready for let us say an 8.30 Mass at the Grotto!! They pushed and pulled the wheelchairs and some were only 16! The frail and the sick in the hotels too had to be cared for and pushed in chairs to cover the routes to the venues of our devotions and the wonderful celebrations of the holy Sacraments like the Anointing of the sick and the Confessions service.

The Immaculate Virgin seems to call so many from every nation on earth. One morning, when I was up early and down at the Grotto praying for you I witnessed a huge pilgrimage from Vietnam offering their Mass.

The miraculous Spring which our Lady told Bernadette to wash in still gushes forth pure water every day and the pilgrims come to take the Baths where you are wrapped in a canvas and lowered entirely into the holy Water with a prayer to our Lady. You are not allowed to dry. You just put your clothes back on and in no time you are dry. It calls you always to a closer following of our Blessed Lord. It reminds you of the waters of Baptism and the call to Conversion of life. Folk fill up gallons of the water and carry it back to give to their sick ones.

Confessions are heard in every language for about 7 hours a day so there is no excuse not to go eh? My dear people I cannot tell you just how much I prayed for you all. I went to the grotto early every day and said my Office and prayed for your intentions and lit the candles you asked me to and placed you petitions in the box in the grotto just feet from where our Lady appeared. The sea of humanity was so impressive with old couples quietly saying their Rosary together to young families huddled in prayer and gazing at the statue in the rock pouring their hearts out in silent, loving prayer. There were young people too and boy friends and girlfriends hand in hand just praying there and man be with a group or alone.

The sick are always near in all their forms - some badly disfigured, others maimed, others born that way or made that way or simply very weak - young , old , babes, teens-all kinds of handicap and human weakness-stroke victims, accident victims-no longer hidden but fully in your sight. One begins to get a new outlook on your life, believe me. All this 150 years later and the whole world comes to pray and to do what the Mother of God told us to do - "to build a Church here". St Bernadette lived to see the first church built over the rock of the Apparition which is now the crypt but the People of God, being very loving and generous people built three churches on top of the rock and we offered the last Mass of our pilgrimage in the largest – the Rosary Basilica on Monday morning. The building of the Church is also the building up of Christ’s Body isn't ?

I prayed for you all and especially those of you who are sick. I prayed for my brother priest looking after the hospitals and the parish. If you can - plan to come next year.

God Bless you all,

Father Tom Connolly

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