Dear parishioners, I would like to share with you some details from my eight days trip to France that included the Priest Forum Conference and a Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I find it difficult to put into words what it was like to walk where St. Bernadette walked and pray at the Grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared.
In this article, I will try to give you an understanding of what it was like. On the day we arrived, Bishop Andriy Rabiy, Fr. Stepan Bilyk, Pastor of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Whippany, NJ and I, went straight from the airport to St. Vladymir Cathedral in Paris, where we celebrated a beautiful Liturgy for the Feast of Protection ( Pokrov ) of the Theotokos. The French croissant and coffee after the Liturgy helped to overcome the jet legs and gave us enough energy for the afternoon tour to the famous Louvre Museum where I caught a glimpse of the famous Mona Lisa. Art journey was fabulous and now I have a completely new appreciation for fine arts and the history associated with it.
Next day we traveled to the charming town of Senlis, forty kilometers from Paris to celebrate Divine Liturgy and to pay tribute to Anne de Kyiv, the youngest daughter of the Kyiv Prince Yaroslav the Wise and his wife Ingegerd. The queen Anne married French King Henry I and was the mother of King Philippe I. She also founded the abbey of St.Vincent and her statue stands in front of the Abbey. On 27 September 2013, the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Vladimir in Paris headed at that time by our by our current Archbishop Boris Gudziak purchased a church in Senlis with the aim of transforming it into the current Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church where the Cultural Center of Anna Yaroslavna operates.
The following day we took a five hour ride on train to the city of Lourdes, the most famous healing shrine in the world. Upon our arrival to Lourdes, we met other priests from Europe who stayed with us for the Clergy Forum Conference for the next two days.After a long day of traveling and checking into a hotel, together with Bishop Andriy Rabiy and Fr. Stepan Bilyk we took a walking tour to see the sites of Lourdes where, in 1858, Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous.
Though I had traveled to holy sites around the world, I had never visited one so packed with pilgrims. Many in the crowd obviously suffered from some sort of illness or disability, but the atmosphere felt celebratory, not desperate or sad. We visited the Grotto, the Spring and the healing Baths, as well as the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, a soaring Gothic cathedral built over the grotto where Bernadette had her visions. I went to the outdoor baths, an experience like nothing you can imagine. You lowered into a marble tub filled with freezing cold water from the spring. You silently bring all of your intentions to the bath and then pray to the Blessed Mother and to St. Bernadette. When you leave the bath, you feel like you were just baptized again, cleaned of all your sins and healed. After the baths experience, I spent some time in silence praying at the Sanctuary for family, friends and parishioners as well as my own direction, purpose and strength.
We returned into a hotel and after a dinner, we all prayed at the Ukrainian Catholic Parish of the Dormition of the Mother of God in Lourdes. On the third day of our trip to Lourdes, Bishop Andriy Rabiy presided and preached at the morning Liturgy, inviting bishops and priests from different countries to join him in prayer for a unity of all Christians. Then the morning priest’s conference was devoted to the heroic qualities and virtues of Blessed Hieromartyr Clement Sheptytsky and Blessed Priest-Martyr Omelian Kovch.The afternoon conference continued with a presentation by Bishop Josyf Milyan, Head of the Pastoral and Missionary Department of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. He talked about problems and needs of Ukrainians living abroad.
After dinner, Bishop Andriy, Fr. Stephen and i shared our thoughts about our ministry and work at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The group discussion sessions after each conference were a time for us to sit and reflect and think about what unites us, moves us spiritually and makes us good shepherds to our people. All participants of the conference were also happy to receive a Scype call and a blessing from the Archbishop Borys Gudziak, who couldn’t come to Lourdes this year because of his illness.
That night, together with many pilgrims from Ukraine and Europe, we walked in the candlelight procession, praying the rosary in many languages, singing and lifting high the candles when the refrain of Ave Maria was sung. The faith of thousands of pilgrims lifting up lighted candles and singing hymns to Mary was inspiring. I sang along in English and Ukrainian, fully swept up by the spectacle. After the procession and recitation of the rosary, i paused to light a candle at the Grotto, praying for the intention of all the parishioners and students of ACS.
In the second part of the priests’ forum conference next day, the unity – communion topic was considered on a global scale. Bishop Andriy Rabiy, read a presentation prepared by Archbishop Bishop Borys Gudziak who couldn’t be present, in which the Metropolitan explained the global communion on the example of Blessed Martyr Omelian Kovch, who is known throughout the world as the pastor of Majdanek. Fr. Omelian was a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest murdered in Majdanek concentration camp.
Another important topic of the priest’s forum conference in Lourdes was unity and community involvement. Sister Lubomyra Nadich, gave a presentation on Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska, co-foundress of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate and her example of communion service to her religious sisters and the people of God.
Next morning, Bishop Hlib Lonchyna held the Youth Gathering meeting at the parish church and then a Pontifical Divine Liturgy led by Bishop Hlib was celebrated in the Church of Saint Bernadette, an awe inspiring setting, where we were joined by many Ukrainian pilgrims of the European diaspora from Italy, Spain, France and Ukraine. In the late afternoon, many pilgrims joined Bishop Andriy Rabiy and clergy for the Moleben to the Holy Theotokos.
After a good dinner, I returned to the large cathedral complex at Lourdes to attend my second 9:00 pm candlelight procession. Seeing the huge number of people professing their faith in Jesus Christ together in the procession was hugely inspiring. It is an indescribable feeling, watching the young, old, sick, and well just stopping to pray, in front of, the Crown Virgin statue, because, “they and I believe”.I have never been prouder to be a Catholic.
That night I made my way back to the hotel for some welcomed rest, being completely full up in spirit from a busy day with Our Lady.
On Sunday morning at 5:45 am the head of UGCC Pastoral-Mission Department, Bishop Joseph Milan, Bishop Andriy Rabiy and all priests celebrated Liturgy at the Grotto in Lourdes for all Ukrainian pilgrims. Over two thousand pilgrims gathered together in prayer in the place where Bernadette met Mary, Our Lady.
Later on the afternoon, we took plane and returned to Paris. We changed our cloths and headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel tower and took a Versailles castle trip. We had such a marvelous time in Paris and discover that city is lovely but even lovelier at night when it is all lit up. I truly loved each and every day of this trip and am still overwhelmed from the sights, smells and tastes.
My experiences in Paris but especially at Lourdes were surreal and one that words can barely describe. I was touched by God. I was touched by Mary. With each candle lit, with each prayer said in Grotto where beloved Bernadette communed with Mary, I felt their presences.
I also have made some friends during my trip and we’ll be staying in touch. Thanks to Archbishop Borys Hudziak for organizing the trip and to Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, priests and workers of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saint Vladimir the Great of Paris for creating the trip of a lifetime for me and our group.
Au revoir! Merci beaucoup Lourdes and Paris!
By Rev. Ivan Turyk – Pastor