By Erin McCole Cupp
“You’re going to Lourdes? Oh, the Candlelight Rosary Procession—it’s so beautiful! You’ll love it.” I heard this from many corners as we prepared for our family’s pilgrimage. As the summer approached, our family read books about Lourdes, poured over the Lourdes website, and watched videos and documentaries. I remember the five of us, gathered at our dining room table one Saturday after dinner, watching a video of the candlelight procession at Lourdes. On the screen, the moon shone full over the upper and lower domes of the Lourdes basilicas, and in the darkness, hundreds of candles glowed serenely in their paper cones. Their flames were numerous and steady. Their bearers spoke more languages than we could count, but their faces all shone with peace and joy.
I could not wait for the candlelight procession at Lourdes.
So, we arrived at the grotto complex, anticipating a night of steady candles illuminating the still air, all the pilgrims’ faces glazed with an ethereal mix of ivory moonlight and golden flame. What we got was a windy, rainy, cold, harsh reality. Before the procession had even begun, we already had to replace our candles’ paper shields.
As the sun went down, we put up our umbrellas and waited. We found ourselves sandwiched between a group of Irish pilgrims and a French group, the latter of whom were the first to have their candles lit. I pointed my unlit candle at the lighted candle of my nearest French neighbor.
“Puis-je l’allumer?” I asked in my broken French. May I light it? Under our umbrellas, our neighbor passed along her light. “Merci beaucoup.”
As I then shared this light with my family, I silently thanked God that, if this wind was going to blow out our candles, as least we’d be processing alongside pilgrims who speak either English or French, so asking for a re-light wouldn’t be so hard, would it?
The procession began, and we and hundreds of other cold, wet pilgrims followed the lighted palanquin on which stood the lovely, crowned statue of Our Lady. Through loudspeakers, we heard the Rosary led by turns in Latin, French, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Italian, English, even Occitan, St. Bernadette’s native dialect. The procession became a Babel in reverse: layers of languages all pointing to God’s glory as it shone through His Mother.
As we walked, the rain and wind grew stronger—never driving, but just enough to keep blowing out our candles and getting their paper shades too soggy to offer their intended protection. We had to stop often to relight each other’s candles. This slowed us down so much that we lost our original place in the procession among the languages we knew. We found ourselves among pilgrims from Korea, Germany, Poland, Italy… all places whose languages we could not speak! Eventually our family turned to each other to re-relight our candles, only to see that all five of our candles were out at the same time.
When we could no longer turn to each other, we turned to our fellow pilgrims from all those other countries. It turns out that everyone with a lit candle understands the language of a neighbor whose light has gone out.
Eventually the rain let up and the winds settled down just as the procession came to its close in front of the basilicas, their domes and spires glistening with raindrops through the darkness. Our family marveled at the lesson God offered us, of how sometimes, despite all our hopes and preparations, our circumstances might extinguish the light we carry with us. Usually we can go to our family to get that flame going again, but sometimes even those we rely on most have lost the fire. That’s when God provides our extended family, His Church, to reignite what has gone out, no matter how many times that candle has been quenched.
Our candlelight Rosary procession experience at Lourdes was beautiful. In fact, it still is.
Erin McCole Cupp is a homeschooling Catholic mom and lay Dominican. While she lives in the Philadelphia countryside with her husband and three children, she is a pilgrim at heart, always journeying closer to Christ and the Catholic faith.