A month ago, we were in Lourdes under a blazing sun, cooling ourselves with glimpses of the River Gave de Pau as it ran alongside the Sanctuaries. This past weekend, we watched the news and the Shrine’s own YouTube channel dumbfounded as the rain-swollen river overflowed its banks, driven by storms in the Pyrenees. About 500 pilgrims, including malades seeking healing, had to be evacuated from riverside hotels like the one where we stayed. Water rose more than four feet in the Grotto of Massabielle, topping the altar. After the water receded, the lower town and the grounds of the Sanctuaries were a sea of mud.
Flooding like this is not unknown—the river’s name means “mountain torrent”—but locals said it was the worst they’d seen in 40 years. Thanks be to God, to the intercession of the Lady, and to the village’s crack network of first responders and brancardiers (the volunteers who transport and care for the sick and the disabled), there were no injuries. But the cleanup costs for the Shrine and for the villagers who depend on it will be massive, and Lourdes is already suffering from the European economic crisis. So prayers continue.
When news of the flooding first broke, Elizabeth Scalia wondered whether the miraculous waters of the spring would be commingled with the river, thus carrying a little bit of healing to the wider world. (My Facebook friend Jean-Francois Garneau also accused me of starting the flood by accidentally leaving a holy water tap open, but of course that couldn’t have been it. Could it?) I’m not sure the spring and the river can meet, now that the spring water is channeled through pipes, but I like Elizabeth’s idea. Certainly I know that Lourdes touched me more deeply this weekend in its vulnerability—the Shrine as wounded healer—than it did when we were there, overwhelmed by its Magic Kingdom efficiency. For all these years, Lourdes has received the world’s prayers for healing. Now it asks them.
I’ve been deluged myself this last week, not only with memories of Lourdes but with a flood of necessary work (for my daily bread and, more important, for my spiritual health), so I ask forgiveness for being bloglogged. And prayers, for the power-washing of Lourdes and of my soul. More soon.