Community AA and AO in Plovdiv

11-19 August 2006 Ecumenical Visit to Lourdes


 Our parish's pilgrimage to Lourdes was the must important event of the summer. It took place after much preparation and many meetings.
Half of the participants were Orthodox; thus it was truly an ecumenical event. Father Daniel, Father Claudio, Sister Ana and Sister Didina went on the trip with 50 Catholic pilgrims; in addition there were Fathers Athanase and Theodore, their wives and 50 Orthodox travelers.
For all participants this was a unique opportunity because this trip wouldn’t  have been possible without the help of benefactors, especially Father Marie Gerard who deserves special mention for his passion for the  Assumptionist Mission in Eastern Europe.
Traveling by bus we were gone from August 11 to 19, during the period of summer vacations in France.

It was a  very long and exhausting trip; we slept in the bus two nights on the way there and three on the way back. It was a rich experience of fraternity and solidarity. We were particularly happy to meet with the pastor and parishioners of Busto Arsizio near Milan, the hometown of both Fathers Claudio and Celeste. Some of the highlights: the Mass celebrated in the Byzantine rite, the solemn litanies of the novena to prepare the feast of the Assumption, the fraternal meals for which we wish to recognize with gratitude the spirit of our Orthodox brothers, and the welcome we so generously received at  Ambrosio’s church. 

On the second night of our  trip we arrived near Montpellier.  The purpose of our stop there was to make a visit of the Orthodox monastery of Bousquet d’Orb, but unfortunately we were unable to go. Disappointed, we made our way immediately to Lourdes.

We had a long wait  to get into the city. We entered to hymns in honor of the Virgin.  We could share the happiness of all those who had finally arrived at their destination.
After settling in to our hotel near the Salus center of L’UNITALSI (Italian Association to help the sick people ),  we began our program with some prayers at the grotto before setting off to catch some sleep, tired but happy.

The 13,14,15 and the 16 of August were 4 extremely busy days, with so many celebrations and other events to remember. There were so many significant moments that marked our souls: the Way of the Cross organized by Father Marie Gerard,  the Orthodox prayer to the Virgin Mary prepared by Fathers Athanase and Theodore in Bernadette’s church; the candlelight procession through town, the Assumption feast,  the Mass with the Anointing of the Sick in the underground basilica (including Fr. Daniel's father).

We left Lourdes August 16 in the afternoon our hearts heavy but aware inside of us of having just celebrated something very special, something that we would ponder in our hearts for a long time. As we continued our itinerary we made our way in he footsteps of St. Bernadette. We arrived in Nevers where she entered religious life and stayed till the end of her life.  

Awaiting us were some French friends, Bernard and Claude Thierry.

We spent the morning with the  celebration of Mass in the Byzantine rite, a visit of the convent where the saint’s body lies and a stroll through the town.


Then there was another night of travel on our way. In the morning the Italian sun welcomed us to Padua, another significant site of Christian pilgrimage. Italian friends Alfonzo, Graciela, and Teresa were available  to guide us through town, particularly to the basilica Saint Anthony of Padua, a saint much recognized even in the East .
We experienced another very rich day, one balanced with prayer and tourism.

Then there was one more night of travel till we reached home. We arrived at the border and waited to get through customs. We were tired, but we were beginning to hear words in Bulgarian that were evermore familiar. We finally arrived in Plovdiv, our starting point. Yes, we were very tired and ready to sleep with dreams of another day and perhaps another pilgrimage one day.....

Many thanks to all the people who made this experience possible.