A pilgrim group gathers at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. A virtual experience of Lourdes will make its way to Toronto early in the new year. CNS file photo/Nancy Wiechec

Toronto to get the Lourdes experience

By 
  • December 3, 2014

TORONTO - For most, a trip to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France is a luxury many may never be able to afford.

This January, however, Lourdes is coming to Toronto. For the first time ever, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based North American Lourdes Volunteers will bring their virtual experience of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes north of the border to several Toronto locations between Jan. 3 and 7.

More than a slide show or a parish retreat, the 90-minute Lourdes experience of the North American Lourdes Volunteers comes complete with a plenary indulgence granting remission before God of temporal punishment of already forgiven sins. This is a pilgrimage that comes to you.

Persuading the North American Volunteers to venture into the upper half of North America was the work of Congregation of Notre Dame Sister Joan Lewis.

Lewis first visited Lourdes in France in 2008 on something of a whim because she happened to be visiting nearby. After 20 years of missionary work in Guatemala, Lewis had her health challenges, but she didn’t arrive in Lourdes expecting a miracle.

Her health however, improved after her visit to Lourdes. It was not a miracle cure inexplicable by science, but an unexpected improvement for which Lewis is grateful.

She returned to Lourdes a second time, again not so much looking for a miracle as confident that miracles were all around her.
“I just wanted to be among people of deep faith,” said Lewis.

Among those people of deep faith she found the North American Volunteers doing careful and necessary work helping the sick, including those wheelchair bound, unable to communicate, suffering physical, psychological and spiritual pain. She found their work inspiring.

“It’s the way, as you watch people, how they care for the sick — how they pray,” said Lewis.

The experience was profound enough that Lewis was moved to get in touch with the North American Volunteers and persuade them to come to Toronto. They didn’t need much persuading. The association had been looking for an opportunity to come to Canada.

“We don’t receive anything just for ourselves. We receive so that we can help others,” said Lewis. “I receive so that I can understand and help others.”

The 90-minute experience the North American Volunteers bring to Toronto includes an explanation of the apparitions to St. Bernadette Soubirous, the illiterate peasant girl who met a mysterious beautiful lady in a garbage pit in 1858, and the message of Lourdes, a photographic tour of the shrine, the opportunity to touch a piece of rock from the grotto and holy water from Lourdes.

The virtual pilgrimages will take place at:

  • St. Ann’s parish, 120 First Ave., after the 5 p.m. Mass Jan. 3.
  • St. Joseph’s parish, 162 Leslie St., after the 10 a.m. Mass Jan. 4.
  • St. Paul’s Basilica, Queen and Power Streets, 3-5 p.m. Jan. 4.
  • Scarboro Missions, 2685 Kingston Rd., 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Jan. 5.
  • St. John’s Church for Neil McNeil High School students and parents, 786 Kingston Rd., 9:30-11:30 a.m. Jan. 6 and that evening from 7-9 p.m.
  • Our Lady of Lourdes parish, 520 Sherbourne St., 7:30-9:30 p.m., Jan. 7.

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