Last Monday was the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes who appeared in Lourdes, France in 1858. Our Lady of Lourdes is known for many miraculous cures. In many instances, those who are suffering from illness travel to Lourdes for the miracle of cure.
I took a pilgrimage to Lourdes a decade ago. I was not physically ill but emotionally wounded. The cure did not take place instantly but it was through many stages.
I flew from London to Pau, the nearest airport from Lourdes. At that time, I was working in London and was just offered another employment with a better package in Korea. The news brought congratulations from many around me as it seemed to guarantee a successful life in material terms.
The town of Lourdes was small and peaceful. However, as I flipped through the photos I took in Lourdes, I looked so sad. Why feel so sad in such a beautiful place?
In my secondary school years, I took great pleasure in liberal arts such as foreign language and history. As I wanted to become a museum curator, I prepared myself in this realm of studies in college. However, that wish could not be fulfilled because of opposition from my parents. I had been told that I would not be able to achieve such a goal because none of my family had a similar profession. Such dissatisfaction in life led to unbearable stress and depression throughout my 20s. At the time of pilgrimage, I was almost reaching 30 and I thought that it was too late to make a career transition.
As I was preparing to go back to my hometown, my mother told me about the miracles that people experienced in Lourdes. I was not particularly spiritual and, to be honest, did not believe what I had heard. However, I took the trip anyway to meet my mother. I arrived at the Grotto where the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared. A sister standing next to me handed me a leaflet with the prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes. As I read down the prayer, I could understand what brought me here.
“Comforter of the Afflicted, you know my wants, my troubles, my suffering.”
Yes, there were many wants, troubles and sufferings that I could not share with anyone. Tears poured down immediately. However, I could not understand what made me shed ears. I did not talk much with my mother either about the problems that I was facing. After living apart for many years, we had little in common. She only told me to pray and gave me the holy water that cured many people who drank or bathed in it. After drinking the water and praying at the Grotto, I took a nap.
After a brief nap, I woke up crying because it felt so real. In the dream, my grandfather who passed away appeared. He was the person with whom I had the closest bondage in the family as my parents were often absent in my early days. He was nodding his head while holding onto the letters that were supposedly written by me. I used to write letters to him when he was alive. Although it wasn’t the Virgin Mary or the face of Christ, I interpreted it as a sign of my prayer being answered because of its profound feeling.
I made my way to my hometown, Korea to begin a new job. I happened to sign the contract on my 28th birthday. It was like a birthday present but I was not very happy. Months passed and my health started failing. Exactly one year since I started working, I found myself lying in bed and paralysed. Several weeks passed without any progress. Then I went through another examination. The results found that various parts of internal organs were badly damaged. The doctor told me that I may not be able to walk normally and be limited physically because of the medical equipment that I may have to carry. He told me to prepare for the worst-case scenario and carry out an operation immediately. I was terrified. By this time, I thought that God has abandoned me. Why me? What have I done to deserve this tragic experience?
I could not schedule the operation right away because I was scared. If I would not survive the operation, these few weeks would be the last memory in life. I asked myself what I would like to do if I survived. Then, I remembered how I prayed in Lourdes. I did not ask for a miracle but another chance to start over. I spent a few more weeks to find peace within myself. While spending time in solitude, I put all my intentions in prayer and became rather hopeful about the results from the operation. As I think back to that moment, I should have not been so scared if I truly believed with all my heart that the Blessed Virgin Mary has the power to perform miracles.
It took several months to be able to walk again on my own and the physical strength was not as good as before. I was totally unprepared for this kind of situation. However, the scars on my stomach disappeared within a short period of time and there was no sign of any surgery left on the body. The nurses who watched my progress looked puzzled so as I. How could this happen? Through such experience that was not scientifically explainable, I started to understand the meaning of faith. Saint Bernadette Soubirous was the girl who witnessed the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes back in 19th century and she said “One must have faith and pray; the water will have no power without faith.”
I have become hopeful although I was facing uncertainty about the future. What would I do in the future and how am I going to live? An inspiration for life came through a film that I was attracted to. In the movie, a woman sees her deceased mother and finds her long-held passion. And through the process, she eventually reconciles with her mother. One of the songs from the film was from Seville, the birthplace of gypsy music and where the largest Gothic cathedral is located. I couldn’t explain why but I was so fascinated by its history and culture since I was young. And I remembered that the sister whom I encountered in Lourdes spoke to me in Spanish. I thought that was awkward and presumed that it may be a spiritual calling from God.
Despite being not physically well, I took another pilgrimage to Seville with faith. Within a few weeks of stay, I could almost forget that I had been sick. It was my passion to write and I started writing an online journal so that people who plan to visit can find the information. The following year since I started writing, one of the publishers offered me a contract to write a book about Spain. The publisher proposed with a specific request: emphasis on church history from the Middle Ages to Renaissance. Through this opportunity, I was able to spend two years to do research and study. That was unusual because most of the travel book publishers expect more fun-based information.
It is said that Our Lady of Lourdes appears to provide an awareness in a place where people are lacking faith. On the feast day of Lourdes a few days ago, I was writing up a report about Macau church history. Initially, I came to Macau to find answers to my estranged relationship with my parents. The memory with them ended at the Ruins of Saint Paul’s many years ago. I could not reconcile with them. However I understood what brought me here. It was an opportunity to remember that I am a child of God regardless of the presence of biological ties with parents.
As I decided to pursue studies here, it turned out to be a more fulfilling life. I believe that wherever you find peace is the path that God allowed us. God’s wondrous works are sometimes not so apparent unless you are awake and seek an answer from him. My previous studies in history ended with the chapter of European Reconquest which marks the beginning of Age of Discovery and the era of the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires in the Far East and New World. The history of Macau is an extension to where I left off and now I am being granted another opportunity to spread the words of the Gospel. In times of uncertainty, God always shows the way when one submits everything to him. I am looking forward to publishing articles about Macau church history in the following issues.