By Father Jeffrey Keefe, OFM Conv.
North American Lourdes Volunteers (NALV), headquartered in Syracuse, sponsored its most recent pilgrimage in mid-October, bringing a group of over 80 persons to the shrine of Our Lady in Lourdes, France. NALV sponsored 20 pilgrimages to Lourdes in 2010.
Marlene Watkins, who founded NALV in 2002, accompanied this pilgrimage, as did Father Jeffrey Keefe, OFM Conv, spiritual director and board member of this ministry; Father Robert Hyde, pastor of St Margaret Parish in Mattydale; and Father Michael Taylor, OFM Conv., associate rector at Assumption Church in Syracuse. The group included 35 students from the Austrian campus of Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, and over 20 pilgrims who were seriously ill and/or disabled. Many of these pilgrims require constant mentoring by a nurse and/or physician.
Several college student volunteers are studying nursing and pre-med. The college student group volunteer as aides to assist the patients as they arrive on trains from various parts of Europe, provide stretcher and wheelchair transport, perform hospital chores and serve in the baths fed by the spring discovered by St. Bernadette. Bernadette Soubourois was directed in visions of Our Lady to dig in the mud and uncover this spring in 1858. The spring now produces 30,000 gallons of water a day.
The student volunteers whose services keep them occupied from early morning to the night hours pay their own expenses. Several physicians and nurses provide essential medical supervision gratis.
NALV was designated as a Public Association of the faithful by Bishop James Moynihan, and later confirmed by Most Rev. Jacques Perrier, bishop of Tarbes/Lourdes. It is the first and only official hospitality of Lourdes in North and South America, and brings pilgrims from the U.S., Canada and Central America.
As an official hospitality whose function it is to welcome and assist pilgrims and the sick, NALV was able to elicit the help of an Italian hospitality, OFTAL, to provide train transport of the Steubenville students to the Austrian campus of their university when national strikes disrupted transportation in France during their week of Lourdes service. Father Michael Taylor served as spiritual guide to this group.