Category: Student Blog, Student Experience

Title: My Nursing Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

By Christine Mauvais (N’24)

In June, I got to go on a trip to Lourdes, France, with fellow nursing students. We were visiting through Georgetown’s Lourdes Magis Immersion Program, an annual trip within the School of Nursing, to help pilgrims who were seeking healing in this city known for miracles.  The trip had been paused for the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year was the first time it began again. 

I was excited for my passport to finally stop collecting dust and be put to good use. And I couldn’t wait to explore French cuisine, gaze at cultural sights and practice my rusty French. I never imagined though that my biggest takeaway from the trip wouldn’t be any of those things, but rather, a raw spiritual connection I’ve never felt before — one that changed my view of nursing.

A City for Healing

For context, Lourdes is known as the site where a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary at a grotto in the 19th century. Ever since, the city has been renowned for its water that’s said to have healing properties. 

People with chronic illnesses or paralyzed limbs have traveled to Lourdes, and some have reportedly left miraculously cured. It was amazing to see how people from all over the world united and sought healing for their pain together. The city has been a beacon of hope for believers everywhere. On my trip, we played a particular role in their journey.

Work, Work, Work Two nursing students stand over a nursing bed in a hospital and put a blue pillowcase on a white pillow.

When I arrived in Lourdes, we were put to work right away. Our group teamed up with the hospitality organization there to help make the journey as comfortable as possible for the pilgrims. We welcomed them and assisted those who were in wheelchairs. We washed windows, swept floors and dusted handrails.

I won’t lie, at first, some of the tasks felt menial. They felt more like housework, and I wasn’t sure how we were helping pilgrims by washing windows.

Our training instructor told us that every little thing helps someone feel more at ease during their spiritual journey. But I didn’t understand the importance of her words until I stepped foot in the baths. 

A Moment of Healing in the Baths

At the baths, there’s a facility with indoor piscines, or swimming pools, where pilgrims participate in a special water gesture ceremony. During the ceremony, the visitors enter the space and say their intentions in front of the statue of Mary. Afterward, the volunteers pour water from the grotto onto the visitor’s hands and instruct them to do a series of three steps: wash their hands, drink from the water and wash their face, respectively. Afterward, they say a prayer together and part ways.  

I witnessed people who appeared intimidating at first glance break down and become vulnerable within that same space. It was a comforting environment for them, where they felt secure enough to open up their hearts.  

The language of love and kindness always shines through, even with a communication barrier.

Christine Mauvais (N’24)

We were each assigned to an experienced volunteer. I was paired with a lovely Italian woman who didn’t speak English. Even with limited knowledge of each other’s native tongues, we still managed to laugh, cry and smile with each other. Our language barrier didn’t stop me from being able to comfort the pilgrims. When I had to wipe the chairs, she signed with her hand for me to wipe them. Whenever Italian families came in, she tried to help me understand what they were saying. Our moments together showed me that the language of love and kindness always shines through, even with a communication barrier. And that continued when an Italian family of three walked in later. 

The mother was in a wheelchair accompanied by two of her children. The children wheeled their mom to the front, praying together in unison. Then, we did the water ritual. With families, we modify the ritual steps and ask them if they’d also feel comfortable washing each other’s faces, which makes the moment feel more intimate. This family gladly agreed. I poured the water into each of their hands. I couldn’t stop smiling as I watched how they affectionately splashed water onto each other’s cheeks. The son gazed up at his mom with watery eyes and a sincere smile. I’ll never forget the beauty of that moment. 

After the ceremony, they expressed how at peace they felt and thanked us for our service. Later in my trip, I learned that the mother reported a potential miracle to Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis, leader of the Medical Bureau of the Sanctuary. She claimed that she felt some relief from the nerve damage in her hands after her experience in the baths. I saw how happy and hopeful she was after the moment in the baths. 

I don’t know if it was the simultaneous background noise of people beautifully singing “Ave Maria” in unison or the news of her slight recovery, but I felt something new in my heart that day. My own faith felt strengthened, and I recognized how powerful a role love, kindness and spirituality can play in moments of caring for patients. Suddenly, these tasks felt much bigger than I’d thought.  

Importance of Spiritual Care

 

A lot of times in nursing, we tend to leave the spiritual aspects of care to the religious leader on staff. But through this trip, I realized the importance of spiritual care – whether it be through praying, singing and reflection – and that  as a future nurse, I could help support my patients emotionally and spiritually too, even if just through my presence. 

A lot of the visitors who come to Lourdes come to be healed physically. Still, many find emotional and spiritual healing in the process, leaving with newfound hope and courage. After Lourdes, I hope to be able to bring this spiritual care to my future patients. 

The moments on this trip will help shape me into the best nurse I can be. It was truly an unforgettable experience – one I’ll forever be thankful for.