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At the Grotto, contributing to the beauty of your prayer

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During your visit to Lourdes, you will no doubt go to the Grotto of the Apparitions in the Sanctuary. During the Pilgrimage season, priests, religious Brothers and Sisters, volunteers, and employees of the Sanctuary work there in shifts from 5.00 am to midnight. A report on these humble and discreet men and women who are there at your service

 

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5.00 am It is still dark at the Grotto this morning. There are already pilgrims kneeling or sitting on the benches praying or meditating in silence. The silhouette of a man suddenly emerges from the shadows, enters into the light of the Grotto and bows to the statue of the Blessed Virgin. It is Henri, the feutier de l'Apparition starting his shift. He is an employee of the Sanctuary and his mission is to ensure the cleanliness of the Grotto, to look after the candelabra - the burning bush of candles - and also to answer pilgrims’ questions. 5.15 am A new silhouette in the Grotto eventually enters the little building on the side. It is Sister Daad, a Franciscan of the Cross of Lebanon, the Sacristan. She is early this morning to prepare the 6.00 am Mass, the first Mass of this spring morning. She comes and goes between the Grotto and the Sacristy, carrying the ciborium and the chalices, the microphones and book stands. She consulted the Mass programme by internet the previous evening to work out what time to arrive. Brother Benoît, a member of the Franciscan community in Lourdes, did the same. With a broad smile he also walks into the sacristy to welcome the Polish Priest who is going to celebrate the 6.00 am Mass. Henri, Sister Daad and Brother Benoît the master of ceremo-nies: a friendly group at your service. 5.30 am Two men, members of the Hospitality of Our Lady of Lourdes, appear on the scene: François, a French man and Vincenzo, an Italian. They have been assigned this week to facilitate prayer at the Grotto throughout the morning. Their priority of course is to assist pilgrims. François and Vincenzo will direct them, accompany them during the celebrations, look after them, assist them in passing through the Grotto and answer their questions – a real and personal service.

 

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6.00 am The Polish Mass begins. Sister Daad, Brother Benoît, François and Vincenzo exchange looks of friendliness and encouragement. The Mass is being celebrated for a group of some fifty Polish people soon joined by pilgrims of all nationalities. 6.30 am Mass is over. Again they busy themselves in the sacristy bidding goodbye to the Polish Priest and welcoming a new Priest, this time English-speaking. 6.45 am A Mass in English starts with the first light of dawn. 7.30 am Start of a Mass in Korean. 8.30 am Start of a Mass in German. 9.45 am Start of a Mass in French. 10.30 am François and Vincenzo open the access to the Grotto which had been blocked during the Masses. Pilgrims of all nationalities are happy to be able to see the spring and touch the rock again. Brother Benoît, the Franciscan, has finished his duty as master of ceremonies. 11.00 am A group of 1,400 pilgrims from the Diocese of Nantes in France is expected: François and Vincenzo are joined by other hospitaliers. They give the group priority and invite them to proceed in accordance with the pre-established schedule. They prayerfully accompany the group through the Grotto with a certain joy, always giving priority to the most frail, as in this case to 103 sick pilgrims in their ‘blue carriages’. 11.30 am The prayer of the Angelus in Italian will start in a quarter of an hour and will be broadcast live on internet (TV Lourdes) and on TV 2000 (the Italian Catholic television chan-nel). The benches slowly fill as we wait for the priest who will preside, whilst at the same time the continuous flow of the blue carriages passes through the Grotto. 11.40 am On the arrival of the Italian priest, today Father Nicola, François and Vincenzo stop the flow of pilgrims through the Grotto during the prayer of the Angelus.

 

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11.45 am The Angelus begins in Italian. Every time, Father Nicola chooses an extract from one of Pope Francis’ homilies or catecheses to introduce the Angelus. Today, the Holy Father recommends families “never to end the day without making peace”. 12.00 noon A French priest, Father Mihai, follows Father Nicola at the lectern and the microphone for another Angelus, this time in French. 12.05pm The Angelus over, Sister Daad, Henri the feutier, François and Vincenzo the hospitaliers finish their turn of duty. They all leave the Grotto after a last bow and smile to Our Lady of Lourdes! Patrick, another feutier, appears in the Grotto for his shift which will last until 7.30 pm. He starts to replace all the can-dles on the candelabra. His gestures are like a liturgy. This takes place once a day, always at the same time. 12.15 pm The hospitaliers in their uniform now assist a scheduled group of some forty Indonesian pilgrims to pass through the Grotto. Nicole, the Sanctuary florist, goes to the spring to collect the flowers left by the pilgrims. She collects enough to make up some beautiful bouquets to decorate the basilicas and the chapels. 2.00 pm Another scheduled group larger this time: 1,200 pilgrims from the Diocese of Rennes in France, including 300 sick pil-grims, 800 hospitaliers, 50 religious Brothers and Sisters, and 30 young people.

 

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3.05 pm Marc and Claude, two official collectors, members of the security service of the Sanctuary, collect the pilgrims’donations placed in the box at the entrance to the Grotto. They also collect the prayer intentions which will be passed to a small team of volunteers lead by Sister Mar-gareta, a religious Sister of the Congregation of Saint Joseph of Tarbes. 3.15 pm Father Michel arrives at the sacristy of the Grotto. In a few minutes he will lead the prayer of the Rosary relayed live for several years now by many French-speaking radios throughout the world, also by TV Lourdes, the WebTV of the Sanctuary and by KTO TV, the French Catholic television channel. Patrick, the feutier, acts as sacristan by preparing the microphone and the lectern for the priest

 

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3.30 pm The Lourdes rosary begins. Hun-dreds of pilgrims participate with great fervour and devotion. Among them are 300 young people from Metz in France with their leaders. 5.55 pm Father Nicola is back at the Grotto for the prayer of the rosary in Italian. He asks people to switch off their mobile phones and explains the procedure for the rosary and the participation of the assembly. 6.00 pm Everything is ready. The rosary starts. The signature tune of the Italian Catholic television TV 2000 which is broadcasting the ceremony live is relayed by the loud speakers of the Grotto. Three priests lead the rosary beside Father Nicola. 6.35 pm The flow of pilgrims through the Grotto has already resumed as the feutier puts away microphones and lecterns. It will not stop until the last mass of the day celebrated every evening up to the end of October. 7.30 pm Alain, the new feutier, starts his duty. Patrick wishes him a good night. 10.00 pm Two members of an Italian family Association, the Casa di Maria, arrive at the Sacristy one hour before the last mass of the day. Roberta and Giacomo will be the sacristans this evening. 10.45 pm Roberta and Giacomo warmly welcome a French priest, Father André, who will offer the mass at 11.00 pm. He is the Rector of the Sanctuary. 11.00 pm Beginning of the last mass of the day celebrated in French. 11.30 pm Father André invites pilgrims to continue in a time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. A scheduled group of 53 pilgrims from Hungary participates in this intense moment of prayer. Midnight The Blessed Sacrament is no longer exposed on the altar of the Grotto. Father André leaves. In the sacristy, Rober-ta and Giacomo finish tidying up before leaving.

1.15 am Alain the feutier has finished his shift. Before leaving the Grotto, where there are still about ten people, he reverently bows before the Virgin of Lourdes. A final mark of respect of one of the many servants.