HOLY  FRANCE

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 3, 2009
(STAR) PURPLE SHADES By Letty Jancinto-Lopez - The little flower: Lisieux is well-known for its famous citizen, St. Therese of the Child Jesus. In the church in Lisieux the main altar dome is red, gold and blue mosaic | Zoom If we made a tally of holy shrines and Marian apparition sites around the world, France would seem to have more than any other country.

There is the apparition in Lourdes. When you visit Lourdes go the whole nine yards. Begin with an early dawn Mass at the Grotto of the apparition. Our tour escort, Raki Madelo, (www.catholic-travel.com) arranged this and our pilgrim chaplain, Fr. Dave Concepcion, celebrated mass for our Mariang Ina Ko group.

Fr. Dave said, “When you pray, think of Mama Mary sitting next to you and praying with you. Remember that she prays with us.”

Follow this with a novena, rosary and procession in the evening (9 p.m.). We braved the pouring rain holding candles that flickered as we were soaked to the skin.

Bathe in the healing waters where an international host of smiling and helpful volunteers will assist you. Be sure to fall in line by 1:30 p.m. because the line gets long by the time the bath doors are opened at 2 p.m.

I experienced my little miracle here when I emerged from the sub-zero pool completely drip-dry and exhibiting normal body temperature. Go to confession in a gray stone building near the main square. There are multi-lingual priests who quickly put you at ease and help you make a good confession. Visit the Blessed Sacrament, which is located inside a white marquee with a view of the flowing river on one side. There’s a way of the cross for those who’d like to make an extra sacrifice. Offer candles at the grotto for your special petitions. Candles come in different sizes (from three euros up); the biggest has a burning time of up to six months.

Visit the little chapel in the crypt that was the first church built in the shrine and where St. Bernadette prayed. Visit also the main Rosary Church with a new facade done in mosaic that was added to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparition.

Finally, take a long walk outside the main tourist hub of hotels, restaurants and shops. Explore the village for other points of interest and cheaper souvenirs. Glass and plastic bottles are everywhere and they are handy to use as containers for holy water that flow from the grotto itself. There are water stations with faucets to help control the flow of water and save on its consumption.

I recommend the following: a) hear Mass at the huge underground church that was built to accommodate more visitors where Masses for the handicap are also celebrated. All the saints of the church have huge, billboard-size canvas frames displayed around the walls of the church. Scenes from the passion of Christ also adorn side altars made of pieces of glass illuminated at the back. This form of art is called Gemmail; b) If you are retired and want to participate in a more personal way, join the thousands of volunteers called “volunteer sisters of Lourdes” who give their time to be of service to the sick and the disabled visiting the shrine.

When the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, she gave messages of warning, hope and consolation for mankind. That was 151 years ago. Visiting the shrine has kept the fire of faith burning strong in every Christian and Marian devotee.

Next stop was La Sallette, located in the Grenoble region dotted by tiny hamlets in the French Alps. Our bus literally wound its way up to the clouds through towering mountains and majestic peaks. When I glanced out from my window I was on tenterhooks. “Don’t tell me we’re crossing mountains to get to the other side,” I cried. And we did. The monastery was breathtaking. For one, it was deserted therefore so serene that one could hear the wind blow. You could walk around the wide, uneven terrain praying silently and carry a conversation with God and Mama Mary in an intimate and lonely — but not sad — manner.

It is in this setting that Mama Mary appeared to two cattle herders, Melanie Mathieu, 14 and Maximin Giraud, 11, and bade them, “Come to me, my children. Do not be afraid.” A bronze statue was erected in the grounds capturing Mary’s image the way that she appeared to her children. She was covering her face as she wept in front of the children wearing, “a headdress topped by a crown, the dress strewn with bursts of light, the slippers edged with roses and a golden crucifix hanging from a chain about her neck that had a hammer on one side and a pair of pincers on the other.”

We spent the night in a hotel in one of the tiny hamlets that was located below the range of mountains. Hotel dela Poste has the charm of an old French inn, complete with bedrooms looking like dressy boudoirs, but boasts modern bathrooms. I enjoyed looking out the window that opened up to flower boxes filled with bright summer blooms. Food was prepared by a gourmet chef-owner of the hotel. The restaurant is Michelin-rated.

Nevers (pronounced Nu-ver) is where the convent of the Sisters of Charity is located and where the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette lies in repose. St. Bernadette never learned to read or write until she joined this religious order. A replica of the Lourdes Grotto was erected here but the one that I liked more was a marble image of the Blessed Mother that was said to be the favorite of St. Bernadette located in the grounds of the convent. It was said that St. Bernadette prayed in front of this statue and when she was asked why she preferred to pray here rather than inside the church, she replied, “There’s something in her smile that reminds me of the Lady.”

Lisieux is for St. Therese of the Child Jesus. I was full of delight to enter a baby pink chapel that immediately reminded me of the nursery and the unblemished gentle kindness of young children. St. Therese exhibited that child-like innocence and, like a child, she placed her complete trust in Jesus. One co-pilgrim asked for a sign from St. Therese and she got her answer when she saw peach-colored roses adorning the pink altar. And she, too, shrieked with joy, like a child.

The main Basilica in Lisieux is done in bold, majestic colors of gold, red and blue depicting God’s might and power in the three persons of the Blessed Trinity. One portion of the basilica has been left unadorned and bare. This is in preparation for a mosaic mural of the People Power event that swept our nation in 1986. This will be installed in October 2009 especially designed by Filipino artist Manuel Baldemor. Many believe that Mama Mary was in our midst during that tumultuous time in our history and having this permanently depicted in the Basilica in Liseux is both an honor and a loving tribute to Mama Mary from her Filipino devotees.

Paray Le Monial is the least known of the holy sites. It is called the cradle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart because Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in this place to spread the devotion to the Sacred Heart. The site of the apparition is a little chapel with a simple church a few steps away from it.

At Montmarte there is a huge Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilique du Sacré-Coeur) accessible either by cable car or on foot (Caution to the faint-hearted or weak-kneed: this is a huffing-puffing, steep uphill climb). I copied a prayer for candle offerings from visitors and pilgrims that I found inside the church. Contact me at lettyjlopez@hotmail.com and I’ll e-mail you a copy.

In Paris, there is the shrine of the Lady of the Miraculous Medal with a beautiful church done in the colors of Mama Mary: soft blue and white. The altar depicts her as the Queen of Angels. Good to remember that our guardian angels have Mama Mary as their first-line mother superior.

In Avignon there is the Pope’s Palace where at one time several popes resided in France rather than in Italy. We also took time to literally smell the roses because there was a Rose Festival going on.

An overnight stop in Dijon allowed me to meet up with some France-based friends who hosted a delicious meal that included the area’s best-known escargot and frog legs in a three-star Michelin restaurant called Restaurant Stephane et Isabelle Derbord. But guess what? I failed to take home some of their world-famous spicy moutarde de Dijon.

We visited all these holy sites in one grand and glorious sweep made convenient by hiring a tourist bus for the entire journey with an excellent driver, Michel, from the Czech Republic. Driving in France can be a real pleasure. The system of roads is magnificent with four-lane superhighways known as autoroutes. Once we got to our destination, there was time to enjoy France’s epicurean delights by buying food at markets or specialty shops and washing them down with French wine. If in a rush, there was always the ubiquitous cream of tomato soup dispensed by high-tech vending machines and the good, reliable, fast-food, French pomme frites.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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