Monday, 30 March 2009


In two weeks time I have the very great privilege of being able to visit Lourdes once again. My family have made this possible for me as my birthday is coming up and its quite a big one. So off I will go on my little budget flight and I was wondering if I could do something for all of you on this trip. I have to admit I haven't quite worked out the finer details of this plan but- as some will know -within the grotto there is a petitions box where pilgrims can place their prayers directly in front of the miraculous spring. I wanted to ask if anyone would like me to take specific prayers and place them at the grotto for them - this is where the difficult part comes in so if this is something that you would be interested in I have three options:

1. Leave your petition in the comment box and I will print it off,  place in an envelope and take it to the grotto.

2. Email your petitions to my blog email address and I will print them off and seal them tightly in an envelope - be assured that once printed they will be deleted and that I will not read through them. 

3. If it is something personal you can email me to ask for a postal address, send me your petitions and I give you my word that I will not open them but to place them straight in the box at the grotto 

There is two weeks until departure so should you think of anything up till that point then just let me know in whatever way suits you.

I am not sure there will be any takers on this one and of course prayers to Our Lady of Lourdes are just as powerful wherever you are in the world. I will take you all in my heart and pray for you all at the grotto regardless. However, if there is anything special or specific I wanted to offer this - it is the very least I could think to do for people who give so much to others by sharing a little of themselves. You can see the petition box in the video of the grotto below. Blessings to you all as we enter the final stage of Lent

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


It had been 20 days since the last apparition. Bernadette felt internally compelled to go back to the grotto and, as ever, could not resist the call. However, as of today the Lady would no longer be Aquiro; today, on the feast of the annunciation, she revealed her name. Bernadette would later write; "She lifted up her eyes to heaven, joined her hands as though in prayer, that were held out and open towards the ground and said to me: Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou (I am the Immaculate Conception) ."

It is difficult to comprehend how alien this phrase was to Bernadette - there was no thunderbolt moment for her after speaking with the Lady- where she suddenly realised who she had been talking to. Instead, terrified she would forget the name she repeated it to herself aloud all the way back up the hill into the main town of Lourdes. When she reached the house of Peyramale she simply blurted out 'I am the Immaculate Conception' which understandably caused the priest to stop in his tracks and stare at the little peasant girl in front of him. Peyramale had been requesting the name of the Lady for weeks- now here it was.

Of course Bernadette was ignorant of the fact that this theological expression was assigned to the Blessed Virgin. Four years earlier, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma). Of course the priest was not - he questioned Bernadette about how she knew this phrase and discovered fairly quickly that she obviously had no idea what it meant and nor did anyone with whom she had come in to close contact. Now the priest was troubled more than ever- he could see Bernadette was sincere and for the first time he was wondering....could it be?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Feeling under the weather - what would the saints say?

I woke up this morning with the feeling that today was going to be an effort. I am so exhausted and drained and I'm finding it hard to keep my patience as we roll steadily towards the end of term. It helps to be reminded that God is much closer than we might think and that is the great thing about having the saints so close to us; one is always faced with a good example- even when you feel like a good example is the last thing you want to be faced with. The Church in her wisdom gives us people - other human beings like us- who overcame their own trials and flaws in order to triumph over struggles of every kind - you name it there is bound to be a saint who has been there, done that, got over it, gone past it to that place we are all so desperate to reach (and sometimes feel so far from)

I guess most of us have saints that we feel a particular affection for even though we know that all are equally great and teach us lessons of equal value. There are a couple of people in particular who help me snap out of it when I get self indulgent. I thought that today, while I was sitting at my desk feeling like I've been trampled by a herd of large, clumsy elephants I would share the person who is getting me through the day (or one of them at least) I found the following video on YOUTUBE and I think it sums things up pretty nicely. May God bless you all today!:

Friday, 20 March 2009

Garvan's Birthday

Today is my brother Garvan's Birthday - he celebrates in Heaven these days but we like to keep celebrating down here too. If you want to read a little about him you can do so in this post WALKING THE WALK - CHOOSING LIFE

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Bernadette and Jospeh

Bernadette said "when you find it difficult to pray go to Saint Joseph because who else knows as well as he does how to speak to Jesus and Mary?"

When St. Bernadette was originally buried it was in the chapel of St Joseph (seen left, her original grave and the statue of St. Joseph which overlooks it can be seen below). A very small and humble but equally beautiful building surrounded by the gardens in the convent at Nevers. She rested there till 1925 when her own small and humble but equally beautiful intact body was moved to its glass casket in the main convent chapel within the convent buildings which could accommodate pilgrims a little better. (the statue of St. Joseph, below, overlooks the spot where she used to be buried)

My eldest brother was almost born on the feast of St. Joseph and thus it was almost his first name but when he turned out to be taking his time about things (he was born on the 20th) he was given Joseph as his middle name instead.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

On a lighter note...

I have been missing my regular blog posts recently -I really do love blogging and the sense of community and hope it offers but all has been rather hectic of late. Exam season is fast approaching and the kids need all the help, time and guidance I can give. When I have put posts up they have been about Auschwitz so perhaps not the most light hearted topic! I really just wanted to let everyone know I am still reading your inspirational thoughts and words- I thank you for them!

Also I wanted to say Happy St. Patrick's Day!! As you may have gathered I am more than a little Irish myself. I have read some fantastic and hilarious posts today. When my Grandmother was alive she would send us a tray of Shamrock to wear. I still don't know how it made it across the Irish channel unscathed. We thought it was great fun and used to wander round with huge clumps of it fastened to our school uniform - we must have looked crazy to the uninitiated. But hey, that is all part of the fun.

I hope you all have a wonderful day!
If you are interested my last post on Auschwitz can be seen below - hot off the press!

Birkenau (Auschwitz II)

Birkenau was the main extermination camp where over a million people were murdered. It was a place that affected me incredibly deeply. In Birkenau it is what you feel and not what you see that has an impact on you. It is a huge space and again, it speaks of those that we may consider forgotten but it is clear the earth remembers. Birds sing on the perimeters of the camp but they will not enter it. They do not even fly across it. It felt to me the closest thing to a garden of olives.

(left watchtowers surrounding the camp)
I jotted down the following when I returned from

the camp and I think it is enough. I hope it gives you some sense of my experiences:

Desolation. In Auschwitz Birkenau the vocabulary of death has silenced any sound or trace of life. It has become nothingness. A vast expanse; a gaping wound that bleeds anguish into the world. The empty watchtowers, the silent barracks, the stacks of bricks that stand as isolated monuments stretching back across this space of barren loneliness and finally the imploded gas chambers. There is no noise. Only emptiness; an emptiness where life once was. This is the emptiness of loss. (above, the train tracks which brought transports into the camp from across Europe)

Now only the silence speaks here but it is louder than any sound. It is the unanswered cries of those eradicated. It is the answer that never came. Yet somehow those calls have been translated, they cry still- not in sound but in the sheer burden here. It is a hole; it is too wide and too great to ever be filled; not even nature which flitters around the edges will enter. It watches from on the peripheral.

Echoes. Only fleeting echoes live in this place. The echoes of the past and the echoed footsteps of the present. The footsteps which try to retrace become echoes of those that faded into silence on the steps of the gas chambers.The voices which try to remember become echoes of testimonies; echoes of the voices that spoke here and were absorbed into silence when their mouths were stopped.

(To the left - the unloading platform where families were separated on arrival and selections were made for the gas chambers.)

The prayers we say for the dead as it grows dark create the loudest echo and one hopes that in this deafening silence this is the part that never went unheard. The echoes of those prayers said under this blanket of darkness in this desolate place. The echoes of words spoken between man and God. A deep mystery.

I wanted my students to come here to connect with what was done but we found much more than this. We found ourselves connecting with what it is possible to do. Destruction in its purest form. An attempt not only to destroy the physical but to decimate even the smallest tenderness that exists in man.

This will always be without success for God has touched the heart of man and evil has devoured itself here.

(The imploded gas chambers)

As it grows colder and darker the echoing Hebrew calls back to the silence.

We heard you. We hear you. We witness.

(Left, a photograph brought to Auschwitz by a prisoner - it would have been taken from them upon arrival along with everything else they owned)

This is our answer. Where the Nazis tried to destroy we return to remember and as we walk in the pitch black along the railway tracks that brought people to their death we leave with life. We leave imbued with the talking silence and the suffering- in the hope that our echoes might go out into the world and remind that life, in all its forms is precious. That what life you take will be a heavy blow to the earth - even if that blow is not heard. It will be felt. It will make our souls tremble in years to come. Let us always recognise humanity in others no matter their size or dependency. Let us never be given over to this destruction. Let us stand firm in love.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Auschwitz - a brief encounter (Auschwitz I)

This has been a long time in coming -I've finally got the time I need to sit down and tell you a little about my trip to Auschwitz. In many ways Auschwitz is not a place that needs explanation or introduction. I think I have spent so long getting round to writing this post because I did not want to write something that was just emotive or generic - that simplified the meaning of that place. I think it is worth starting by saying what a complex place it is- on a physical and emotional level. On the one hand it encapsulates every horror and evil it is possible for human beings to commit; degradation, mass murder (including the gassing of small children), experimentation, forced labour, starvation, forced prostitution - and honestly that is naming just a few. On the other it is a place that celebrates human life and makes known, with more clarity then any place I have ever been, what a terrible sin it is to waste a single drop of human blood. It makes clear that loss will always be felt - that you can't erase human beings without trace -no matter how hard you try, even by incinerating the bodies of those you wish to destroy. In both camps one feels that the earth itself is resounding with a kind of silent shock and horror. This place is testament to the value of human life and what we can survive.

(Left, the courtyard where prisoners assembled for role call)

Of course atAuschwitz I (seen in top photo)- the smaller of the two camps- Maximilian Kolbe acts as a part of the testament to the value of life. I have loved his story and had always imagined it a certain way; the courtyard where he offered his life, the cell, the people- obviously, reality is somewhat different. In many ways the camp looked more pleasant than I imagined, as did his cell- in reality what happened there was much worse than anything most of us could comprehend. As it happens Block 11 (seen below) where Fr Kolbe was starved to death is a place of notoriety for a multitude of reasons. When the allies arrived there to liberate it they found a stack of bodies where vile experiments had been carried out on the upper floors and that was after Nazis had tried to destroy the evidence. In the basement of the same building is the cell, bigger than I thought it would be but no less dingy and miserable. Perhaps one of the most confusing things is that from the outside it looks like a respectable red brick building no different from one you might pass in any part of Europe. There is a peace close to that cell that doesn't lie anywhere else in Auschwitz I. It is simple and stark yet somehow triumphant in the midst of misery. Above ground, just to the left of where the cell lies is the place where prisoners, often women were shot. The Building to the far left with blacked out windows is where women were sterilized and experimented on by Josef Mengler (this area can be seen in the photograph below- if you look to the bottom right hand corner you can see the ventilation shafts which belong to the starvation cells - Kolbe's is second from the end)

I tell you this not to sensationalise or just for horrors sake but because in my opinion anyone who could find LOVE and God in this most awful of human deserts is more deserving of sainthood than any other I could think of. I now realise that Kolbe did not just sacrifice his life - he sacrificed it HERE. In this place where human nobility and hope was a distant, untouchable memory for most and to me that makes his triumph over evil all the greater. He was staring evil in the face, he was surrounded by it, by inhumanity, yet his love and humanity were so active here that they allowed him to lay down his life. No matter what people say this is true faith - only real faith could make that possible. There were many acts of love and bravery in those camps - whether Jew, Jehovah's Witness or political prisoner - these people are some of the most impressive to have existed. To find courage and hope anywhere can be difficult - to find it in this place- that is nothing short of a miracle.

(Left, the cell in which Fr Kolbe died-video below)
In Auschwitz I the birds sing now and the watchtowers look out over a small camp compared to Birkenau. Auschwitz I has become something of a museum and here you see the clothes and shoes that the prisoners in Birkenau were forced to part with. This was, in its own way, a deeply spiritual experience - connecting with the forsaken and forgotten of this world. Looking at summer shoes, red party shoes and children's shoes that remain as a testament to those who wore them - deeply personal and yet abandoned without reference . The hair, the cases, the hairbrushes - in many ways it was overwhelming to be confronted with so much. Yet I felt it important to take the time to recognise it. With the babies clothing I could not even bare to take a photograph - it seemed too invasive. It is certain that no children survived Auschwitz. Even so one does not leave this place feeling all humanity is full of worthless evil- instead one leaves feeling united to the individuality of every human life. You can pile up shoes in a room yet each will be different in size, colour and pattern and while it shows you the scale of mass murder it also tells you that each of those murdered had their own unique being, they can never be repeated and this makes their loss awful but it also speaks of their unknown value- a value that transcends this world.

In the next post I will write about te main camp - Auschwitz II or Auschwitz Birkenau where the main gas chambers were - in this place many more were murdered than in Auschwitz I. It is very different and very powerful

This is a pretty awaful video in terms of clarity( I had to make what I could of space and time but hopefully it will give you a sense of Fr Kolbe's cell.)

Thursday, 5 March 2009

I'm Back!


I'm back! Thanks to you all for your prayers I felt them very close to me on the flight- I was unusually relaxed. I wanted you to know I returned all your prayers by offering some for all of you at the cell of Fr Kolbe. It was an experience of some enormity. I will write up all my scribblings soon. The last two apparitions of the 14 days have now been written up and its a fair few days until the next one (just three more to go) Thank you all again!

Blessings to all of you!


15th Apparition- the end of the fourteen days

Thursday 4th of March

And so the main 14 days of apparitions come to an end. Again, Bernadette returned to the grotto with her Rosary and asked the Lady's name as she had been told to by the priest. In her own words:

"The third time I went to see M. le Curé, to tell him that a Lady had ordered me to go and say to the priests that they were to have a chapel built there, he looked at me for a moment, and then he said to me in a rather gruff tone, 'Who is this lady?' I answered that I did not know. Then he commissioned me to ask her name and to come and tell him. The next day when I arrived at the grotto I recited my rosary and then asked her, from M. le Curé what her name was, but all she did was to smile. When I got back I went to M. le Curé to tell him that I discharged his commission, and her only response was her smile; then he said she was laughing at me and that I would do well not to go to her again. But, I could not help going."

The Lady smiled once more but the vision was silent. The crowd was now far too large to put an exact number on but a conservative estimate is 8000 people. Bernadette's focus remained compete. The crowd was waiting for the miracle that would prove the Lady's divinity. It did not come and Peyramale, along with many others were unimpressed and took this as proof of their suspicions.

The grotto stood for the next twenty days with no visits from Bernadette or her Aquiro. The Lady would only appear another three times. However, the next apparition would cause the greatest commotion of all. On Thursday the 25th of March the Lady would reveal her name.

14th Apparition- the smile

Wednesday 3rd of March

Bernadette arrived early in the morning on this day as this was when the Lady most often appeared. As always Bernadette seemed focused only on seeing the Lady and was undisturbed by Peyramale's comments of the day before. Like Mary's, Bernadette's faith was unwavering and she did not falter in her belief that she must go to the grotto as she had been asked. She would later say in her usual direct and simple manner 'I have nothing to say because I have always told the truth'.

However, early as Bernadette was and surrounded by a crowd of THREE THOUSAND people the Lady did not appear and Bernadette left for school disheartened. However, in the evening she was compelled to go back to the grotto and there she met once more with the Lady she so loved to look on.

Bernadette had been told by Peyremale to ask the Lady for her name. He had also asked that the Lady make the rosebush flower as proof of her existence. Ever faithful Bernadette repeated this message from the priest but the Lady simply smiled back at the girl gazing upon her, bowed a little and smiled

Monday, 2 March 2009

Up to date but about to take a break

Dear All,

Apologies for my neglect- I have been bouncing from pillar to post all weekend with little opportunity to blog and no Internet access. For those who have been reading along with the apparition anniversaries I am all caught up now. I like today's one where Bernadette first encounters Fr. Peyramale.

I am going to Auschwitz tomorrow so will obviously not be blogging. I hope to have much to share with you on my return. I have to say I hate flying- hate it! but I do it because I have to. I would ask that, if you can, you will remember me in your prayers tomorrow - that I am worthy of the privilege of visiting this place and that I have safe journey. I look forward to catching up with you all later in the week.

God Bless!

13th Apparition- the chapel

Tuesday 2nd of March

At this apparition the Lady would make two requests that are staples of the modern Lourdes - one a chapel and the other procession. Bernadette would later tell how the Lady asked quite simply:

"Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here”

That is exactly what Bernadette did- taking the short walk up to the house of Peyramale who was a generous but firm priest - known for his clarity and his temper. Little Bernadette, a peasant girl who would be indistinguishable from any other village peasant was accompanied by her two Aunts. The Soubirous family were still rather sceptical about the visions themselves. They were practical people but they also knew Bernadette and that all her life she had been unequivocally honest. They knew that she would not deceive them and therefore they walked with her. Peyramale's reputation was not without foundation - Bernadette repeated the Lady's request and aggravated his famous temper. He asked her if she or the Lady had any money. Bernadette shook her head- she had to admit she had nothing - not even a penny.
'Neither do I!' shouted Peyramale.
Peyramale told Bernadette that if the Lady wanted a chapel the least she could do was mention her name. He said that before she got anything she should make the wild rose bushes flower - a miracle to prove that she was deserving of her chapel or any time at all. Bernadette simply said she would ask the Lady all that Peyramale had told her to ask. He told her to go home and to stop her deception. He also told off her aunts for letting this silly little girl bother him in the first place. He shooed them away but Bernadette returned a few minuets later to ask that people should come in procession - she had forgotten this part because Peyramale had been so outraged by the chapel she hadn't even got to the second part of the request. Angered even more by this the priest told her once more to go home and stop her deception - he slammed his window shut. Bernadette went home but there was no deception to put an end to and her messages from the Lady would certainly not end there. Little did she know that the man who had turned her away on this day would soon become her ardent defender. The power of Aquiro.

The photo above is the chapel as seen from the grotto at night.

12th Apparition - a little miracle at the spring

The crowds were now at about 1500 and on this day, for the first time, a priest was among them. During the night something strange had happened and there was an atmosphere of excitement - though Bernadette seemed only aware, as usual, of the Lady she ran to the grotto to meet. She conversed with the Lady and continued her acts of penance.

A pregnant housewife Catherine Latapie had gone to the spring Bernadette had dug days before with the idea that bathing her arm, which had a paralysis of the ulnar nerve and caused her a great deal of pain, might soothe the agony. Her arm was healed and from that time forward caused her no pain. She also went into labour immediately and had to leave the grotto after which her baby was safely delivered. Dr Dozous, the local and esteemed M.D. was interested in this event and began recording the events at the spring which had medical implications. This is often recorded as the first miracle.

11th Apparition (catch up)

11th Apparition
Sunday 28th. February

Bernadette continued to carry out her acts of penance with the graciousness and humility that so struck the crowd of now over one thousand people. This would involve Bernadette being absorbed in prayer, kissing the ground, drinking from the overflowing spring and moving on her knees as a sign of penance. Some still did not know what to make of her but the increasing popularity and notoriety of the grotto was giving the authorities a headache. Lourdes was anxious not be seen as a backwards mountain outpost and for this reason Bernadette was taken to the house of Judge Ribes following this vision. Bernadette was threatened with prison and interrogated (again). She remained firm saying she had made a promise to Aquiro and she could not break it. She would return to the grotto.


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