Summary of today’s show: Every year, the Order of Malta, a 950-year-old organization with roots in Catholic knighthood, brings the sick and ailing from around the world to Lourdes, France, to pray and to bathe in the miraculous healing waters promised by our Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette in the 19th century. Scot Landry is joined by Craig Gibson and Joe & Sheila Feitleberg, local members of the Order, as well as 10-year-old Luke Dillon and his mom, Dawn, who made the pilgrimage earlier this month. Luke shares his experience of the pilgrimage as he suffers from muscular dystrophy, while Craig, Joe, and Sheila talk about the work of the Order and why this ministry to the “malades” is so important and fulfilling to them.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Craig Gibson, Dawn Dillon, Luke Dillon, Joe & Sheila Feitleberg
Links from today’s show:
- Order of Malta
- Order of Malta, American Association
- Order of Malta, Boston
- History of the Knights of Malta
Today’s topics: Lourdes and the Order of Malta
1st segment: Scot said today we’re profiling the Order of Malta’s pilgrimage to Lourdes with the sick and ailing. one of our guests is Luke Dillon, 10, who experienced the pilgrimage two weeks ago. Scot also welcomed Joe & Sheila Feitleberg in the studio along with Craig Gibson on the phone.
Luke said he goes to St. Catherine’s parish in Westford. His mom, Dawn, said Luke had been excited to go and was able to go because her in-laws, Jim and Sue Dillon, who are a Knight and Dame, sponsored I’m because of his muscular dystrophy. Luke said it was his first trip outside the country.
Scot asked Joe and Sheila an overview of the Order of Malta. It’s an actual order in the Church with both a military history but also a religious history. Joe said it is 950 years old and began with Blessed Fra Girard in Jerusalem and it was intended to care for pilgrims who were sick. It was at the time of the Crusades. What distinguished Girard was that it didn’t matter hither the injured and ill were Christians or Muslims, which continues today in Bethlehem. Sheila said one of the major initiatives of the Order is a big hospital in Haiti, Sacre Couer, as well as a national prison ministry to visit prisoners, but also Bibles and a newsletter for inmates. They also have a Haitian health foundation, a ministry for housing the homeless, plus local causes in New England to help the sick and the poor, like Cathedral Care at Holy Cross Cathedral; soup kitchens; inner-city schools.
Craig said he and his wife Nancy joined the Order back in 2008, in which they took an oath to uphold all the elements of the Order. The Boston chapter numbers about 230 members. What attracted them was that Nancy’s parents have long been involved as were a number of siblings and spouses. What was most appealing to them that it was an invitation to respond to the universal call to holiness. This was a different call than the parish or diocesan activities. It was a call to live a deeper spiritual life.
Joe said the spiritual element is particularly strong. There are more than 12,000 members worldwide and 3,000 in the US, but the underlying idea is not just to get people to do more, but to couple their works with the spiritual reasons. Joe and Sheila said they came into the order in 1984 and there’s nothing secret about the organization. They’re with people who have a value system that they share.
Scot said his experience with the order is that they are anything but elitist. They roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Sheila said the Church is the people and that’s what they’re about. She said being involved strengthens not just the individual, but the couple together. It’s thrilling to share the pilgrimage of Lourdes with other and with hundreds of other people who come along. By the time they come home, no one is a stranger and they are very committed to one another. The services they attend in Lourdes are beautiful and uplifting. They have Masses and Rosary processions and healing services.
Scot asked why the Order chose to do the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. Joe said it’s the 27th year for the pilgrimage run by the 1,800 members of the American Association part of the Order in the US. They had 50 “malades” (the sick), 50 family accompanying them, plus about another 100 health care workers, and then the Knights and Dames themselves for about a total of 350. Joe talked about the people who said the feeling of the presence of Our Lady was very strong there. Our Lady had specifically asked people to drink and bathe in the water of the spring that St. Bernadette Soubirous dug with her bare hands.
Sheila said it was her eighth trip to Lourdes two weeks ago. She finds it to be grace-filled and uplifting. She tries to nurture that feeling throughout the year, and eventually finds herself wanting to go back. She said it’s very strenuous and the accommodations are simple. THis is not a vacation by any means. The people she met at the airport coming home spoke about how they couldn’t possibly explain what happened to those back home.
Craig works at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen in pastoral services for patients. He said when any of us are dealing with difficult health situations, we would normally look upon a pilgrimage to Lourdes as opportunity for healing of body, mind, and spirit. He said there now 68 documented miracles, documented by the Vatican. There are 2,000 more miracles that have been proposed for those who have visited Lourdes. In most cases, however, people are drawn closer to God permanently, even if there isn’t obvious physical healing.
2nd segment: Luke said he wanted to go to Lourdes because he thought his legs would get better in the baths. He talked about the airplane travel and arriving in France. In Lourdes they went to the Rosary Basilica and then the St. Pius X Basilica which is underground. They talked about going to the Grotto. He said he waited a long time to bathe in the grotto. He said the water was very, very cold. He was in the water for just a second or too. He recalled praying. Luke said he felt different in his heart after. He remembered listening to people praying in all different languages.
Joe said people may not understand how big it all is. There were more than 25,000 people at Mass on Sunday morning in the Pius X Basilica. There people from all over the world. Sheila said it made you realize how universal the Catholic Church is. Luke recalls seeing kids who were younger even than him.
Scot asked Luke what he told his friends about the trip after he got home. Luke said he hasn’t told them a lot yet, but he would tell them about all the people who were there and the miraculous baths. He remembers the story of St. Bernadette and how she was ill and poor. But she continued to be faithful to God. He recalls a movie about her life in which her body remained incorrupt after her death.
Luke’s mom, Dawn, said everyone was incredibly kind. She said she didn’t have to do a single thing, everything was taken care of them. She didn’t have to carry luggage and Luke was carted around by others everywhere. She said there was a truly wonderful spirit, even in the midst of three-hour airplane delays. She said in Lourdes they are surrounded by miracles every day. After she stopped anticipating the big miracle, she realized those miracles. She said they came home better because they had been surrounded by Godly people. She said the trip was as much for Dawn and her husband Tim as it was for Luke. She said few are cured but all are healed.
Scot said he was last at Lourdes about 10 years ago and recalls the display of the thousands of crutches left by those who are healed. Luke said an autistic boy came out of the baths and was able to speak to his mom for the first time.
Scot asked what it’s like to know so many people love you who didn’t even know and Luke said it was great. Scot asked what kinds of things did Mrs. Gibson, Craig’s wife Nancy, do for him in Lourdes. Luke said she gave him all kinds of goodies.
Joe said anybody who godson the pilgrimage and gives of themselves gets much more than they give. He said anyone who knows someone with an illness can come forward and ask to be considered as malades. About 50 to 55 have thje opportunity to go again next year. People looking for this kind of opportunity are encouraged to step forward. Sheila said they schedule it for the beginning of May because it’s the beginning of the month dedicated to Our Lady. All of the Order in Europe are able to bring many more on special trains set up for the especially sick.
Craig said of Nancy’s experience on the trip that when she came home she had arthroscopic surgery on her knee. She had a wonderful time with Luke and others. They had a larger number of children on this particular trip. They had a three-year-old from Florida who couldn’t move very much at all.
Nancy said her brother went on the trip for the first time. He is the father of eight children. About 12 years ago, their seventh child at the time drowned in a pool accident. When he went on the pilgrimage, he opened up about the memory of his son that Nancy couldn’t begin to comprehend. He realized we all come to Lourdes with broken pieces in our journey and he was able to touch the brokenness of having lose his 2-1/2 year old son.
Scot asked Luke what other kids his age at 10 years old should know about the Blessed Mother. He said she can help you and she does a lot of miracles. They should pray a lot and have fun doing it. Luke said he prays in his room without anyone bugging him. Sometimes he tells jokes to Jesus and Mary and gave a sample. He thinks other kids who need healing should go. Other kids would especially love seeing the Basilica of St. Pius X.
3rd segment: Sheila said it’s important that members of the Order on the pilgrimage remembers that we are all malades. We have to seek out those who are not obviously ill to shore them up and encourage them. She added that an important element of the Order is defense of the faith and Cardinal Seán has been encouraging the Order to stand and be counted. It’s important in today’s political climate to be very aware of what is eroding our freedom of religion.