To say that I went to LOURDES with preconceived notions would not be entirely correct.  However, after years of talking about it with Jean-Marc, I did expect to find a “religious Disneyland” filled with grasping merchants trying to make as much money off of the sick and believing as possible.

Certainly it would be a lie to say that the mercantile side of Lourdes isn't there.  It is, and abundantly. One can purchase everything from rosaries to barometers of Our Lady of Lourdes which transform from blue to pink as the weather changes.

But that is only one side of what I discovered at Lourdes.  There were so many things that astonished me there.  The first was the true kindness and warmth of the people of Lourdes.  Having visited other religious tourist sites, I did not expect this.  Indeed, at Mont St. Michel, I felt like a walking wallet more than anything else.  In Lourdes it was different.  The overwhelming majority of those whom I encountered were smiling and desirous of helping.  Many of them seemed to almost glow with contentment and charm.

My biggest surprise, however, was in the sanctuary itself.  The first day we were there was a Sunday, and there were thousands of pilgrims visiting the site.  Yet, they were not pushy or irritated.  If one visitor bumped into another, there seemed to be genuine contrition.  There was no grumbling as people queued to buy candles or fill their bottles with water.  Then, as we waited to enter the grotto itself, came the most amazing thing.  An awe-inspiring silence seemed to descend on the throng.  There were no murmuring of voices, no whispering, not even any babies crying, just reverent silence as we waited to touch the very rocks where Bernadette had her vision.  In the distance, voices of a choir singing in the basilica rose above the crowd.

As we approached the rocks, I expected to feel nothing but curiosity.  Suddenly, as I reached my hand up to touch the cool dark surface, where trickles of water from the spring made paths along the cliff’s face, I felt myself moved to tears.  The force of emotion from the millions of pilgrims, and whatever mysterious energy seems to concentrate in this place was too much to fight.  Certainly there is something at work at Lourdes, and I was under its spell.