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2015 Clarion Herald Pilgrimage

Oct 20 1:12pm

After an 18-hour flight from New Orleans to Lisbon, Portugal, 30 participants in the Clarion Herald’s pilgrimage to Fatima, Spain and Lourdes started their sacred journey Tuesday in the nearly 2,000-year-old town of Santarém, Portugal, north of Lisbon.

Father Billy O’Riordan, pastor of St. Ann Church in Metairie, led the pilgrims down the narrow, cobblestone streets to the Santissimo Milagre de Santarém, the site of the oldest recorded eucharistic miracle.

In 1269, the consecrated host began to emit a beam of light and then to bleed. It was returned to the church of St. Stephen and is on display in a monstrance that is kept in an elevated tabernacle. Pilgrims climbed six steps at the rear of the altar to get a closer look at the host. No pictures are allowed inside the church.

Oct 20 1:22pm

The Clarion Herald pilgrims made it to Fatima, Portugal, on a postcard Tuesday afternoon. The temperature was in the low 70s. We had time for the celebration of an English-language Mass at the outdoor chapel built over the spot where the visionary children of Fatima received apparitions of the Bless Mother in 1916 and 1917.

Father Chris Redmond of the Diocese of Durbin, South Africa, was the principal celebrant, urging pilgrims from South Africa, New Orleans and the Philippines to use their time in Fatima to grow stronger in faith so that they may build up the kingdom of God today. Father Billy O'Riordan, pastor of St. Ann Church in Metairie, helped distribute Communion.

An a cappella choir from Durbin led the congregational singing. Tomorrow we'll have a full day to explore the glories of Fatima. Here are a few early shots.

Oct 21 2:01pm

Today, Father Billy O’Riordan celebrated Mass for the 30 Clarion Herald pilgrims at Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel in Fatima.

Father O’Riordan was assisted by Deacon Joe Scimeca, who serves at St. Thomas More Church in the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

Father O’Riordan spoke about the three instructions Our Lady of Fatima gave to the three shepherd children during WWI: convert the entire world, convert Russia and protect the pope. Five million pilgrims journey to Fatima each year, and Pope Francis is scheduled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions in 2017.

He might use the occasion to canonize the two youngest seers, Jacinta and Francisco, when he is in Fatima, Father O’Riordan said. Reflecting on the first reading in which St. Paul cautions the Romans that sin must not reign over our bodies, Father O’Riordan said, “I often think that if we could only see ourselves as God sees us. “While, at times, the Christian life may be a burden, we must think of it as a privilege to be lived. … Clearly, God expects the world to be transformed by our presence in it.”

Oct 21 2:03pm

After Mass at the Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel, the pilgrims made the Way of the Cross in the hills of Fatima where the three children encountered an angel, who fed them with the Eucharist.

At one shrine to the Blessed Mother, Ester Agurcia-Smith of Slidell comforted

an elderly woman from Fatima.

The Way of the Cross culminated with a brief visit to the Chapel of Calvary, where John Hummel of Metairie prayed in the front pew.

Oct 21 206pm

The rest of the day was devoted to touring the Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, dedicated on Oct. 12, 2007.

The basilica seats 8,000 and was designed by Greek architect Alexandros Tombazis, who won an international competition.

There were several reasons the church was dedicated to the Holy Trinity:

During his apparitions, the angel of peace asked the three shepherd children to adore God and the Most Holy Trinity; St. John Paul II spoke about the Holy Trinity during his visit to Fatima in 1982; and the Jubilee Year of 2000 was dedicated to the Trinity.

The Clarion Herald pilgrims also saw a piece of the Berlin wall, built in 1961 and dismantled in 1989 without a shot being fired.

The pilgrims then visited the Fatima museum, which has the crown of Our Lady of Fatima with an added element – the bullet that a would-be assassin fired at Pope John Paul II in 1981.

Because of the pope’s love of the Blessed Mother, the bullet was inserted into the crown in a crevice just below the top.

On the way to the museum, Santo Russo stopped to use his wife Catherine’s shoulder to write a reminder note to himself. The Russos are parishioners of St. Rita in Harahan.

Oct 22 104am

One of the special spiritual features of Fatima is the nightly candlelight rosary and procession around the cathedral plaza.

The rosary on Wednesday night was offered in 10 languages, including Portuguese, French, Spanish, German, Thai, Korean, Hungarian, Italian, Polish and English.

Father Billy O’Riordan participated with clergy from around the world.

Oct 22 1248pm

Today, the Clarion Herald pilgrims traveled from Fatima, Portugal, north and east to Avila, Spain, the home of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), the first woman to be named a doctor of the church.

We toured the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, where St. Teresa spent many years as professed Carmelite, trying to get her community to live more closely to the Carmelite rule. There were some sisters from wealthy families who had more comfortable cells than the others, and discipline and prayer life were lax.

Teresa admitted that she herself was attached to the admiration and affection of others, and she took sick. In her illness, she read a copy of “The Third Spiritual Alphabet” by Francisco de Osuna, a Franciscan, had a major conversion and learned about contemplative prayer.

She wrote about the soul, using the analogy of a castle with seven interior dwellings through which she would move toward God. At the innermost mansion was complete unity with God.

Of St. Teresa’s prayer and her work, author Mirabai Starr wrote, “Teresa models the living balance between contemplation, serving others and developing an interior life, engaging in passionate human relationships and surrendering to the divine mystery.”

At Mass for the pilgrims in the chapel of the Monastery of the Incarnation, Father Billy O’Riordan said St. Teresa focused “not just on the present but always kept the end of life in mind.”

Father O’Riordan touched on one of her most famous reflections:
“Christ has no body now but yours/ No hands, no feet on earth but yours/ Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on the world/ Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good/ Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.”

Father O’Riordan told the pilgrims: “God expects the world to be transformed by our presence in it.”

A note on the attached images: One of the most striking is a small, carved wooden statue of “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), which St. Teresa traveled with when visiting one of the 17 monasteries she established; another is the sketch of the crucifixion from an overhead angle – one of her visions – which Salvador Dali turned into a famous painting; another is the block of wood that served as her pillow! She slept on the stone floor, of course.

Oct 23 139pm

David Haydel and his wife Dottie, who are taking the Clarion Herald pilgrimage to Fatima, Spain and Lourdes, own Haydel’s Bakery in Old Jefferson, so they know their cookies.

As the St. Rita (Harahan) parishioners walked in front of a café in Avila, Spain, on Thursday night, something in the window caught their practiced eye: a cookie baked in the image of St. Teresa of Avila. The Haydels bought two St. Teresa cookies – at a cost of 2 Euros ($2.50) each.

David wasn’t sure which part of the cookie he would eat first – the rosary or the veil.

Haydel’s offers a special cookie of its own: LSU fans scoop it up every November, right before the Tigers play Alabama. It’s a cookie bearing the image of Alabama coach Nick Saban, with a red circle and a line drawn through the middle.

Get it? “No Saban!”

David says Haydel’s can’t make enough to keep up with the anti-Nick demand. See both cookies below.

Oct 23 142 pm

On Friday, the 30 Clarion Herald pilgrims posed in front of a Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain, an amazing structure 35 meters tall that was built in the late first century to carry water from the hills 10 miles away to the castle in Segovia. The stones stand atop each other in such a way that the weight of the arch supports the structure. The Romans used no mortar or cement.

Here’s a breakdown of the Clarion Herald pilgrims by church parish:

St. Rita, Harahan (6); St. Catherine of Siena, Metairie (5); St. Ann, Metairie (4); Our Lady of the Lake, Mandeville (4); St. Joseph, New Orleans (3); St. John of the Cross, Lacombe (2); St. Thomas More, Baton Rouge (2); and one each from St. Francis Xavier, Metairie; St. Pius X, New Orleans; and Transfiguration of the Lord, New Orleans.

Eileen Posage of Washington, North Carolina, friends of Karen and Michael McShan of Mandeville, also joined the group. She gets the “longest-distance-from-New-Orleans” award – a prize which is yet to be determined. Maybe we’ll give her a cookie!

Oct 23 149pm

The Sisters Servants of Mary, founded in Spain in 1851 by St. Maria Soledad Torres Acosta, have been serving in the Archdiocese of New Orleans for slightly more than 100 years, caring for seriously ill persons at night so that family members can get a break from having to provide 24-hour care. Imagine our surprise when we walked down a narrow street in Segovia, Spain, today and saw the sign: “Servants of Mary.” The nuns in the white habits are everywhere (U.S., Spain, Italy, France, England, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Panama and the Philippines).

Oct 23 155pm
The Patronato del Alcazar de Segovia

the castle on the hill in Segovia – offered some breathtaking views as well as some interesting history. The castle has a stunning main hall and chapel.

You can see a picture of pilgrim John Hummel of St. Catherine of Siena Parish looking at the chapel’s ornate back wall. Walt Disney reportedly got his inspiration for the “Cinderella” castle from the Segovia masterpiece. Disney’s Spanish wife was a native of Segovia.

Oct 23 157pm

On the three-hour drive north from Segovia to Burgos, Father Billy O’Riordan of St. Ann Parish led the pilgrims in Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.

Pictured are Joan Hoffpauir of St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie, Bill von Almen of St. Joseph, New Orleans; and Carol Sabrio Pritchard of St. Francis Xavier, Metairie.

Oct 23 158pm

St. John of the Cross experienced what he called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” In 1577 – at age 35 – was imprisoned by his own Carmelite friars who recoiled against his ideas of reforming the order. St. John of the Cross was imprisoned for nine months in a monastery in Toledo, Spain.

During those nine months, he was brought out of his tiny, stone cell several times a week at midday to be flogged while his brothers enjoyed their lunch. He was being swallowed up in despair, a lot like Jonah in the belly of the whale.

St. John of the Cross’ spiritual writings on the dark night of the soul have inspired generations, including St. John Paul II, over the course of the last 500 years.

St. John of the Cross was buried in the convent of the Discalced Carmelite Friars in Segovia (below).

Oct 23 159pm

Alice Godbold of St. Ann Parish gets her chance in the driver’s seat of the Clarion Herald’s pilgrimage bus. Other motorists on the east side of the Atlantic please note: Our seasoned driver Carlos had turned off the engine and applied the emergency brake before Alice got behind the wheel.

Oct 23 419pm

Our tour guide Monica Cruz is a native of Portugal, and when she promised that the Cathedral of St. Mary in Burgos, Spain, was her favorite cathedral in all of Spain, we took note.

Today, we discovered that Monica is on to something. A church building ideally is a sacred space that brings God to the people and the people to God, and the sense we had in attending Mass at one of the nearly two dozen chapels in the cathedral was dumbfounded amazement.

As we walked from one chapel to the next, it was difficult not to be overcome by the artistic genius manifested within the cathedral’s walls. Check out the pictures to see for yourself.

In the days – nearly eight centuries ago – when literacy levels were low, people learned the faith through the visuals of artwork, statues and stained-glass windows. The Burgos cathedral was built on orders of King Ferdinand III of Castille. Construction started in 1221, and the high altar was consecrated in 1260. There was a 200-year lull in construction – imagine that – before the cathedral was completed in 1567.

Father Billy O’Riordan preached Friday on the Feast of St. John of Capistrano, the patron saint of jurists.

He was a Franciscan who traveled throughout Europe preaching penance, and he established several Franciscan communities of renewal.

Father O’Riordan quoted St. John as saying: “Those called to the table of the Lord must glow with the brightness that comes from the good example of a praiseworthy and blameless life. They must completely remove from their lives the filth and uncleanness of vice.”

The first reading (Romans 7:18-25) was the famous passage from St. Paul that characterizes the human condition: We often know what is right and want to do it but fall to temptation and do what is wrong.

“(Paul) felt himself to be a split personality, as if there were two persons inside the one skin pulling in different directions, haunted by his ability to do it – the curse of Original Sin,” Father O’Riordan said. “The human will unstrengthened by Jesus Christ is bound to crack. We might think about what we might want to leave behind and at rest

Oct 24 1229pm

By Peter Finney Jr.
The Clarion Herald pilgrims traveled north this morning through the Pyrenees Mountains to Loyola, Spain, the birthplace and place of conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus.

As a graduate of Jesuit High School and Loyola University New Orleans – established by the Jesuits – I was touched in a special way by the pilgrimage to St. Ignatius’ family home and to the basilica built in his honor.

St. Ignatius' story is one to which we can all relate. As the last of 13 children in a relatively wealthy family, young Ignatius was regaled by his older brothers with stories about their noble battlefield exploits.

In 1521 – at age 30 – Ignatius was fighting to defend the village of Pamplona, the place that has become famous in recent times for the annual running of the bulls, when he was seriously injured by a cannonball. Ignatius was thought to be close to death.

His right leg was nearly shattered, but he survived the trip back home to Loyola, where he was taken to a quiet, fourth-floor room in the family home to convalesce.

While there, Ignatius reflected on his misdirected passions – including his love of warfare and exploitation of women. With nothing else to read, he was given two books, one chronicling the lives of the saints and the other detailing the life of Christ.

It was during his months-long recuperation that Ignatius made the decision to become a soldier for Christ and the Catholic faith.

After recovering his health, Ignatius experienced a vision of the Blessed Mother and the infant Jesus while visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat in 1522. He later went to Manresa, Spain, where he began to formulate the Spiritual Exercises.

St. Ignatius studied theology and Latin in Spain and in Paris from 1524-37. Battling the Protestant revolt, he and a small band of followers took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and they formed the Society of Jesus in 1539. In 1540, Pope Paul III approved the fledgling Jesuits’ constitution.

St. Ignatius died in 1556, but not before his followers, such as St. Francis Xavier, set out to evangelize the world.

St. Francis Xavier died just before reaching China. On personal note, it was St. Francis Xavier who evangelized the Goa region of India. To this day, Goa Catholics make up 90 percent of the population. Our eldest daughter is engaged to a young Catholic man from India, an indirect descendant, in many ways, of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier.

The Basilica of St. Ignatius and the nearby museum contain stained glass and metal work detailing the ministry of the early Jesuits.

Jesuit High School's motto is "Men for Others."
St. Ignatius, pray for us.

Oct 24 431pm

After a full morning in Loyola, Spain, the Clarion Herald pilgrims journeyed three hours north to Lourdes, France, where in 1858 the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), a 14-year-old peasant girl who was declared a saint in 1933.

We had enough time for a 5 p.m. Mass celebrated by Father Bill O’Riordan in the St. Joan of Arc Chapel in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

More than 5 million pilgrims of all faiths, including thousands of those who are sick and disabled, visit Lourdes each year to pray and bathe in the holy waters of its sanctuary.

At Mass, Father O’Riordan suggested that by coming to a town famous for its miracles, large and small, the pilgrims had a cherished opportunity to celebrate Mass in the chapel dedicated to

St. Joan of Arc,
whose statue and flag greet thousands of visitors every day in the French Quarter.

Father O’Riordan said author Mark Twain – “hardly a man with a respect for organized religion” – described St. Joan of Arc as “the wonder of the ages,” a woman “by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.”

Just as St. Joan “withstood weeks of unrelenting punishment at the hands of her captors,” Father O’Riordan said, she never despaired “because she was able to see beyond her pain and looming death.”

The Gospel reading (Mark 10:46-52) told the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus, who cries out to Jesus for a cure.

“(He) could actually see Jesus more clearly than the disciples and the crowd who had been with him all along,” Father O’Riordan said. “In many ways, even though most of us have reasonable eyesight, we are blind in ways unlike the physical blindness of Bartimaeus. …

Some people are blinded by anger, prejudice and a lack of forgiveness. Dare we admit it, but we are all a bit blind in our own kind of way.”

Father O’Riordan suggested to the pilgrims – and to all Catholics – that confessing their sins would be “a great beginning to healing those blind spots and removing those walls we put up all the time. …

God expects the world to be transformed by our presence in it.”

We will spend two more days in Lourdes and even have a chance to bathe in its holy waters.

Here are some photos of today’s Mass and also of the nightly candlelight rosary procession, in which pilgrims and circled the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Pictured in three procession pictures are Donna and John Hummel of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie; Brenda Smith and Bill Craig of St. Catherine of Siena; and Karen and Michael McShan of Our Lady of the Lake in Mandeville, Rose Holmes of St. Ann in Metairie, Eileen Posage of North Carolina and Joan Hoffpauir of St. Catherine of Siena.

Reading at Mass was Regina Fulton of St. Joseph Church, New Orleans.

Oct 25 917am

On Sunday, we walked for Mass to the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the spot where St. Bernadette Soubirous, at the age of 14, experienced 18 separate apparitions of the Blessed Mother in 1858.

Deacon Joe Scimeca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, who is making the Clarion Herald pilgrimage with his wife Judith, proclaimed the Gospel (Mark 10:46-52) in which the blind man, Bartimaeus, tells Jesus exactly what he wants the Master to do for him: “I want to see.”

Father Billy O’Riordan of St. Ann Parish joined more than a dozen English-speaking priests in concelebrating the Mass. The principal celebrant was Father Christopher Stanish, the vocation director of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, ordained just 18 months ago.

The Clarion Herald pilgrims had met Father Stanish on the first day of our pilgrimage when our tour groups – one from New Orleans and the other from Gary – bumped into each other at a church in Santarem, Portugal, the site of a eucharistic miracle.

Father Stanish also is a friend of Father Kurt Young, the vocation director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Father Stanish said the Gospel hit home for him because the question Jesus put to Bartimaeus – “What do you want me to do for you?” – is the same question he was asked to ponder by his seminary spiritual directors when he was studying for the priesthood.

“Jesus is saying, ‘What do you want?’” Father Stanish said. “It is in that moment that we have to say, ‘Lord, that I might see.’ For some of us that may be physical sight. For some of us that might be physical healing. For many of us, it may just be spiritual healing. Here in this place, Mary shows us what it means to open our eyes, our hearts and our minds. She is the one who brings us to her Son, Jesus Christ.

“In the school of Mary, we learn what it means to really be receptive to the graces and the blessings that Christ has in store for us. We are going to encounter Christ in a very personal way, and when we go back home, when we’re at work, when we’re with our families, when we meet strangers in the grocery store, this is the perfect opportunity to be messengers of the Good News.”

After Mass, we toured the home where St. Bernadette was born and also the home – a former prison – where the family was forced to move when it fell on hard times. Bernadette contracted cholera as a child, and her living conditions were so poor that her health was in constant peril. She died at the age of 35.

We also visited the Church of the Sacred Heart, where St. Bernadette was baptized.

Oct 25 1235pm

One of the truly sacred moments at Lourdes is a Holy Hour and benediction for the sick and disabled, held every Sunday afternoon. About 300 people in wheelchairs entered St. Bernadette Church, built just across a small river from Lourdes' world-famous grotto.

The healing service culminated with a eucharistic procession through the areas reserved for the sick and disabled.

Oct 26 553am

This morning in Lourdes the Clarion Herald pilgrims made a spiritual journey to the sacred baths next to the grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858.

The tradition of bathing in the water of Lourdes stems from what occurred at the grotto on Feb. 25, 1858. It was the ninth apparition of Mary to Bernadette, and on that day 300 people, aware of the stir that had been caused by the rumored apparitions, accompanied the 14-year-old Bernadette to the grotto to observe what might happen.

According to the eyewitnesses, Bernadette seemed to go into a state of ecstasy and walked back and forth numerous times to the interior and exterior of the grotto. A man named Joseph Barinque heard Bernadette say: “Penance, penance, penance.”

She retreated to the nearby river but then doubled back to the grotto. She eventually began rubbing the ground – reddish clay and muck – near the grotto opening. She scooped out some of the dirt with her right hand and put some of the muddy water on her lips but spit it out.

She continued digging, twice and then a third time. Suddenly, the water was less muddy but still dirty. She washed her face and gathered some leaves from a wild golden saxifrage and ate them. That was it.

Bernadette’s antics were puzzling to the crowd of observers. Was she simply crazy? The questions multiplied and begged answers.

Church authorities asked Bernadette what had happened. She said simply, “’Aquero’ (her name for the lady at the grotto) told me to drink at the spring and wash in it. Not seeing the spring, I went to Gave (the river). She beckoned with a finger under the rock. I went and found a little muddy water. Three times I threw it away and on the fourth time I succeeded.”

She said she did not know why she was asked to wash in the water. She said she ate the leaves and grass because the lady asked her to do so. She later said “Aquero” had told her to kiss the ground “as a penance for sinners.”

That afternoon, a small crowd remaining at the grotto noticed water seeping from the hole that Bernadette had dug with her hand. They dug more deeply and the water became clear. Some began collecting the clear water in bottles.

For more than 150 years, millions of pilgrims from around the world have come to Lourdes to drink and bathe in the spring’s waters and pray for physical, emotional and spiritual healings.

“It was an absolutely beautiful experience,” said Brenda Smith, a member of St. Catherine of Siena Parish.

“It was amazing,” added Carol Pritchard of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie.

For those who have never been to Lourdes, here is what happens as you prepare to wash in the baths. The baths open daily at 9 a.m., and it is best to arrive an hour early to be near the front of the line.

Men and women gather in separate lines, sitting on benches that have been set up under a breezeway. In our group, a man began reciting the rosary in French for his fellow pilgrims, and everyone joined in as the refrain became more familiar.

About 10 to 15 people at a time enter a small sitting room – a lot warmer than the outside air! – and sit on benches arranged against the wall. Then an attendant brings several pilgrims into another area behind large white-and-blue-striped drapes. After you undress, you are called – one at a time – to walk behind another set of drapes, directly in front of the bath (think of a very, very large bathtub, about 6 feet wide and 12 feet long).

An attendant hands you a wrap to put around your waist, and then two men walk on either side of you, holding your arms as you descend three steps into the water. Yes, the water is chilly – think of a small swimming pool in New Orleans in November – but not unbearably so.

Before you walk into the water, the two attendants offer a prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes and to St. Bernadette for healing. The water is about 3 feet deep. You walk to the back end of the small pool and sit down while the attendants hold your arms as you lie on your back. They offer another brief prayer, and then you are up and out.

St. Bernadette said it was not the amount of water we use that is important. “Just one drop suffices,” she said. But for those thinking of going on pilgrimage to Lourdes, consider bathing in the water. It is a powerful spiritual experience.

Our Lady of Lourdes: Pray for us.

St. Bernadette: Pray for us.

Oct 26 1227pm

Just to the left of the basilica in Lourdes are the Stations of the Cross, built into a steeply sloped hill. The Way of the Cross at Lourdes is not for the faint of heart or those with physical limitations. Even though hundreds of wheelchairs roll easily in and out of the main square of Lourdes, there were none on this hilly path.

Father Billy O’Riordan led the Clarion Herald pilgrims in the Stations. Pilgrim Carol Pritchard of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Metairie noted that at 3 p.m. – the Hour of Mercy – the bells of Lourdes happened to toll as we reached the crucifixion of Jesus.

Enjoy the pictures. Pay particular attention to two: one is a shadow effect from the sunlight that shows the outline of a small child praying. The other is the 15th station – the Resurrection – where pilgrims over the years have draped rosaries on the branches of trees on the site. It’s like looking at the oak trees along the St. Charles Avenue parade route on Ash Wednesday, but with a slightly more elevated purpose.

We followed the stations with Mass in the Chapel of St. Ann just inside the main church.

Father O’Riordan happens to be the pastor of St. Ann Church and National Shrine in Metairie. St. Ann was the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus.

The Gospel (Luke 13:10-17) told the story of the anonymous woman who came to Jesus on the Sabbath and asked to be healed of her disabled state that had left her bent over and in pain for 18 years. Jesus, of course, was chastised by the Pharisees for curing the woman on the Sabbath.

Father O’Riordan said the Gospel passage reminds us all of the “healing power of touch.”

“Too often we underestimate the healing power of touch – a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or smallest act of caring, each of which has the potential to turn a life around,” Father O’Riordan said.

Repeating a theme he has used during the entire pilgrimage, Father O’Riordan said, “God expects the world to be transformed by our presence in it.”

He read the famous poem by Myra Brooks Welch, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”

As the story is told, an old, battered violin is being put up for auction and nearly sells for $3 until an old man in the back of room stops the sale and goes on to tune the instrument’s strings and then play a classical piece that stirs the crowd nearly to tears.

Then, the instrument is put back up for auction and fetches not $3 but $3,000. What is the difference in the instrument? What has changed its worth?

“And many a man with soul out of tune/ and battered and scarred by sin/ Is auctioned cheap by the thoughtless crowd/ Just like the old violin.

“But the master comes, and the foolish crowd/ Never can quite understand/ The worth of a soul, and the challenge that is wrought/ By the touch of the Master’s hand.

“O Master! I am the tuneless one/ Lay, lay thy hand on me/ Transform me now, put a song in my heart/ Of melody, Lord, to thee.”

Our Lady of Lourdes: Pray for us.

Oct 26 343pm

On our last night in Lourdes (Monday, Oct. 26), we decided to pool a few Euros to buy a large votive candle.

When I say “large,” that’s not an exaggeration. It took two people to transport the 20-kilogram (44-pound) mega-light from the Lourdes candle shop to our hotel in the afternoon and then back to the grotto area at night for placement with other candles and petitions.

Our pilgrims wrote their intentions on a sheet of paper, which we then taped to the candle. At its size, the candle is expected to keep its flame going for several days. (Our candle is the tallest one in the middle of the group picture.)

Father Billy O’Riordan asked God to receive our petitions and to bless the people for whom we prayed.

The Lourdes grotto is an amazing sacred space. Millions of pilgrims over the decades have touched the walls of the grotto, making the rough rock marble-smooth.

Oct 27 949am

We bade farewell to Lourdes this morning – on our way to Barcelona.

We had just enough time this morning to check on the large votive candle that we had placed near the grotto on Monday night. Some of our pilgrims were concerned that the candle might have been blown out overnight by gusty winds.

But, sure enough, at 7:30 a.m., our candle was still going strong. It will take more than a week for the candle to exhaust its wax.

Among the petitions taped to the candle was one written by Father Billy O’Riordan. It said simply: “My Mother.” Father Billy’s mom, who is 89, has been hospitalized in Ireland for several weeks, and he will visit her on his way back to the United States this weekend.

We got a final look at the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, backed by a stunning sunrise.

At Mass before leaving Lourdes, Father Billy reflected on the Gospel (Luke 13:18-21) in which Jesus talks about the mustard seed growing into a large tree where the birds of the air can make their home. He used a poem called “Builders of Eternity” to explain the role of Christians in transforming the world:

“Isn’t it strange that princes and kings/ and clowns that caper in sawdust rings/ and ordinary folks like you and me/ are builders of eternity.

“To each is given a bag of tools,/ an hour glass and a book of rules;/ and each must build, ere time is flown,/ a stumbling block or a stepping stone.”

“Reflecting on our lives, I hope that we have been more times stepping stones than stumbling blocks,” Father Billy said.

He mentioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s famous quote: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

On the six-hour bus ride to Barcelona, we broke up the journey by stopping for at Carcassonne, an ancient mountaintop town in southern France that is surrounded by double walls. Inside Carcassonne is the Basilica of St. Nazaire, where St. Dominic preached in 1213.

We’ve attached a few more photos.

Oct 28 1215pm

It is difficult to adequately describe what we saw and experienced today in Barcelona.

The 30 Clarion Herald pilgrims visited first the old cathedral of Barcelona (the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia), a gothic church built from the 13th to 15th centuries. The cathedral is named for St. Eulalia, who was martyred for her faith at the age of 13. Thirteen was difficult number because she was given 13 separate tortures, which culminated in her crucifixion death on an X-shaped cross.

We then made our way to one of the true wonders of the Catholic world – the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, a masterpiece begun in 1882 and then taken over 18 months later by renowned architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi was just 31 when he assumed command of the ambitious project, and he labored for 43 years to create a church unlike any other in the world.

After 133 years, Gaudi’s basilica still remains unfinished, but work is continuing in hopes of a 2026 completion date – which would give honor to the centenary of Gaudi’s death in 1926. The basilica is estimated to be 70 percent complete.

The church is large enough to accommodate 8,000 worshippers. Scheduled to be completed next are the four towers dedicated to the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – a tower for the Blessed Mother, and the highest tower in honor of Jesus.

The main front façade of the church – called the Glory façade – is being constructed off-site and will be attached to the front over the next decade.

Gaudi’s vision was to have construction paid for by people’s donations, and that is proving true. The 3 million people who tour the cathedral each year pay a small donation to soak in the cathedral’s incredible architecture and symbolism, and those funds are used for the work.

At Mass today on the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude in the crypt church below – where Gaudi is buried beneath a statue of the Blessed Mother – Father Billy O’Riordan reflected on the Gospel (Luke 6:12-16) in which Jesus chose his disciples.

“It is interesting to note that first he spent the night in prayer,” Father O’Riordan said. “Imagine Jesus praying – somehow we might wonder why Jesus had to pray.

Obviously, he prayed before making decisions as well as being in ‘communion’ with God.”

Father O’Riordan said Jesus chose the men as disciples, which means they were constantly learning and studying.

“In other words,” he said, “we can never graduate from religion. Maybe the graduation ceremony is in heaven.

Maybe I should ask: ‘How would you like to do?’

"Like the result of any test, the answer depends on how we have studied and what we have done now.”

Jesus chose men of disparate backgrounds. Among the group was a tax collector – Matthew, who had allegiances to Rome – and a Jewish zealot – Simon, who favored “extreme Jewish nationalism.”

“How did Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector even live in the same room without killing each other?” Father O’Riordan asked. “Could it be the close company of Jesus? It is only in Christ that we can solve the problems of the world.”

After Communion, Father O’Riordan offered a special blessing to married couples, to men and women who had lost their spouses, and to single persons who are making the pilgrimage.

Everyone came away amazed at what they had seen. Take a look below at some of the images.

Oct 29 136pm

On our final official day of touring, we made our way to Santa Maria de Montserrat (named for the serrated nature of its mountain) in the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain.

The Montserrat Monastery, home of the Benedictines since 1025, is the place where in 1522, St. Ignatius of Loyola laid down his sword and handed his nobleman’s clothes to a beggar, continuing his conversion as a soldier for Christ.

Most of the “new” church dates only to the late 1800s because the old structure had to be rebuilt after being heavily damaged by Napoleon’s troops during France’s invasion of Spain in the early 1800s.

However, present today above the main altar is the statue of the Black Madonna, which dates to at least 1100. St. Ignatius prayed before the Black Madonna during his conversion.

Several pilgrims traveled to the cave where apparitions of Mary were reported in Montserrat. The first monastery was begun in 888.

Before leaving Montserrat, we were treated to a brief concert by Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir, one of the oldest in Europe.

We celebrated our final Mass in a chapel above of the nave of the main church. In his homily, Father Billy O’Riordan, our spiritual director, talked about ways to avoid spiritual destruction. It would help, he said, if we could identify our enemy (Satan), become active in Christian service and offer forgiveness to others.

“The measure which we measure with is that which will be given back,” Father O’Riordan said. “Do we pray for our enemies? Some of the last words of Jesus on the cross about forgiving – ‘for they know not what they do’ – make clear the demands of us disciples."

Oct 29 137pm

Here’s a view of Barcelona’s Plaça de Espanya (Spanish Plaza) from atop an old bullfighting stadium, which has been converted into a multi-level shopping center.

Oct 29 139pm

Our final group stop was to the town of Manresa, about a 45-minute drive from Montserrat. St. Ignatius of Loyola lived for 11 months in a cave in Manresa, where he had visions, meditated and began writing his Spiritual Exercises, a revolutionary aid to Christians in how to view God and the world.

The cave where he lived is now the Sanctuary Cave of St. Ignatius inside St. Ignatius Church, built in the 17th century.

We also got to see a small cloth shoe that St. Ignatius wore on one of his many travels. He overcame severe battle wounds, bouts of serious illness, and pushback and skepticism from church authorities about his new spiritual methods, but the Society of Jesus he founded in 1539 to serve Jesus and the papacy has flourished.

And now, there’s a Jesuit pope. St. Ignatius would be overwhelmed.

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