I wish you experience “awe” in a place of worship or in special places. It’s nothing as compared to the overused cliché – awesome. Do you remember when was the last time you felt such awe – a reverence you cannot explain in words?
I pray that you continue to have more of such experiences that transform and transpose you into the mystery of God.
I had one such moment recently. It was a humbling experience to participate in the solemn mass to welcome the relic of St Bernadette at the Westminster Cathedral, London.
The sound of the church organ, and melodic singing, engulfed in sacred incense, and the congregation in silent adoration as the relics were led in solemn procession to the sanctuary.
“St Bernadette leads us to a meeting with Jesus,” said Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, during the rite of welcome of the relics.
Before the service began, I met Cardinal Nichols in the sacristy along with Fr Patrick D’Souza SFX, my priest companion and Goan Chaplain. The relics were delayed in arriving at the Cathedral due to the traffic for over half an hour.
When we introduced that we are part of the Goan Chaplaincy, Cardinal Nichols congratulated us as our Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao had joined the college of cardinals.
The visit of the relics of St Bernadette to England, Scotland and Wales has generated excitement amongst the devotees.
But why is St. Bernadette going around the world?
St. Bernadette is the young girl whom the Virgin Mary appeared at Lourdes. The place of apparition has become a place of healing, associated with divine spring and miracles.
As a pilgrim, I visited Lourdes, France over a decade ago. It is indeed a place of spiritual healing and those of you who have been to Lourdes will testify to the incredible faith experience at the grotto. I landed in Lourdes just minutes before mass began at the grotto – the other priests waited for a couple of minutes for me to vest for the service.
Due to covid-19 pandemic, pilgrims were unable to visit the holy place. Authorities at Lourdes have acknowledged people’s increasing frailty and inability to afford the travel to visit to Lourdes.
So, the visit of the relics of St Bernadette around the world is an opportunity for Lourdes to come to us. The relics will be in England, Scotland and Wales in September and October 2022.
St. Bernadette knew the pain of poverty, suffering and rejection. And yet she remained faithful, dedicating time for prayer. The hope continues that a visit to the relics will renew faith in our troubled times.
Did the saint come to visit, because I failed to plan my visit while I was in Lourdes? Well no excuses now, the saint came marching on.
My moment with the relics
I was not sure when will I get a moment alone with the relics. I was near the relics, walking the aisle to concelebrate the inaugural mass at the Cathedral. In the Cathedral, by sheer accident, I was seated close to the relics in the sanctuary.
Recalling the saint’s life, Bernadette died due to tuberculosis at age 36. But the interesting part is that she died while praying the rosary.
Earlier, while in the sacristy, a priest asked us when we intended to visit the relics. A curious conversationalist wanted to know what relics were being venerated, assuming St. Bernadette’s body was exhumed multiple times.
“You can come at 2 am and have all the time for yourself,” another one suggested. The relics were open day and night while in the Cathedral. The relics will move to another location on its itinerary.
It was another first; I was at the Westminster Cathedral. I thought to myself, what a memorable day for the visit to the historic place of worship. The Westminster Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Westminster and the mother of the Catholic Church for England and Wales.
Cardinal Nichols encouraged me to visit the relics at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
“It is going to be special,” the prelate said. “It is a place of Mother Mary.” I am scheduled to visit Walsingham. But I am not sure if I can make it during the visit of the relics of St Bernadette at the shrine.
Delaying a Confession Request
After mass, I did not want to visit the relics as devotees were in a queue outside the Cathedral. I was supposed to come back in the evening as a visiting priest to help with the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
As we were going out after mass, a young lady wanted me to hear her confession. I had to tell her that now the volunteers wanted all the people to leave the church as they were preparing for the anointing of the sick service due in a short time.
The Cardinal had announced that Pope Francis had given a plenary indulgence to the ones who visited the relics and fulfilled the conditions attached to indulgences.
The young lady told me that confession is one requirement for indulgence. I wanted to hear her confession but had to respect the order of the volunteers. The confession booth would be open from 5 pm to 10 pm.
As I was talking to other devotees on my way out, I saw a priest sitting in the church listening to a confession of a devotee. The volunteers were not stopping him. So, I felt guilty for sending the lady away.
I scanned the church to see if the lady was still there. Then I spotted her behind one of the inside pillars, looking anxiously for a priest to come to her assistance. I did walk up to her, and she was glad to kneel and confess her sins to be in a state of grace.
Later on in the evening, I returned for my volunteer time in the confessional. A priest who guided me in the confessional booth told me to let him know when I wanted to visit the relics.
“I will grant you special access from inside the church,” he said. That was another unexpected favour.
And I did get to spend time with the relics and witness the devotees’ thong to the area in veneration. At 8 pm, I came back to Victoria station to head home.
The lighter side of life
A priest told me that he is leading a pilgrimage to Lourdes in the coming week. Obviously, I added the same has come to visit us. The priest joked and said, I am going to pray to bring her back safely to Lourdes.
Something unusual always happens. We were chatting with a Goan family outside the Cathedral. And a bishop stopped to say hello. He introduced himself and talked to us for a brief moment – a casual conversation.
He was Bishop John Sherrington, who would preside over the Anointing of the Sick service in the afternoon. I should have requested a selfie.
About the Author
Feroz Fernandes, a Catholic Missionary, identifies himself as an Uncommon Priest. Father Feroz loves adventure in the apostolate. Check out his debut book The Uncommon Priest: Incredible Stories You Never Read on amazon. And also, the YouTube Channel: Feroz Fernandes promotes a better understanding of scripture.