Picture this –
It’s been almost 2 decades ago. Or, was it only yesterday? Every time the month of September comes, my memory rewinds, back to the 15 days that I spent in Europe when I joined a pilgrimage tour.
Riding on a tourist coach bus, I was awed as “God’s beautiful Europe” unfolded in front of my eyes. Cerulean sky with small patches of white thin clouds met with the horizon. Along each side of the seemingly never-ending highway, sheep and cattle grazed leisurely in the meadow, unmindful of the noise of the passing motorized coaches and cars. From Luxembourg to Belgium, to France, we travelled.
Our tour started in Luxembourg. We stopped by the Hamm Military Cemetery to have a firsthand look at the burial site of US Gen. George S. Patton, along with the hundreds of American soldiers; their final resting place in a foreign land.
Visited the churches and religious shrines in Beauraing and Banneux in Belgium, and in Lourdes, France where documented Marian apparitions of the Blessed Mother Mary took place, centuries back.
In Brussels, the bronze statue of The Little Boy “Mannekin Pis” urinating in a fountain basin, was one of the famous attractions that we never failed to visit. There has been so many legends about this statue, but all the same, never leave Brussels without seeing the little boy.
I sat foot on the soil of Bastogne, where the Battle of the Bulge took place; the largest single battle fought by the US Military. I was kind of experiencing an eerie feeling while standing in front, looking up at the tall and imposing 5 point star-shaped McAuliffe Memorial monument.
In Normandy, standing along the beachfront, I could picture in my mind’s eye, the American soldiers fighting the famous and lengthy Battle of Normandy, which ended up to the restoration of French Republic. Our trip went on to the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, in a rocky tidal island in Lower Normandy. This was the seat of the Saint-Michel monastery. It still retained its original structure and survived through the centuries since the 18th century.
In Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy, I pictured out the young Joan of Arc riding high and mighty, leading the French soldiers during the so-called Hundred Years War. I had the chance to set foot on that exact place where she had her last breath, when she was executed by burning her to death. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized as a saint in 1920.
And then…Lourdes,France. A peaceful community nestled in a valley between the Pyrenees bordered by France and Spain. We spent 2 days in Lourdes, to commune with thousands of devotees to have a personal and emotional healing, and spiritual renewal; to recapture the experience of the young Bernadette Soubirous, when the Blessed Mother first appeared to her on February 11, 1858. Inside the “domain” i experienced peace; as if I was in a different world. A world so simple, where the protective mantle of someone great and loving, enveloped me. If I could only choose to live there, I would have. Perhaps, this was the same feeling shared by everyone who had the chance to enter that sanctuary, all through these years, this pilgrimage site is and will be the cornerstone of Catholic faith.
Final destination…Paris, France! Oh, the beautiful and gay Paris. The city was bustling with Parisians and tourists from all parts of the globe, enjoying the sights of the Eiffel Tower, the Louver museum, and the Arc de Triomphe. Not to forget the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmarte (Sacre-Coeur), and the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
But most importantly, as my own personal pilgrimage, I vowed that I will never leave Paris without visiting the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. And, I did! This place has a special affinity to me, because I was born on November 27th, the same date when the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labore, on this exact place (Rue du Bac, Paris), on November 27, 1830. As I entered the chapel, I was so overwhelmed and could not contain the happiness I felt in my heart, for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Where can it be to end this trip, but Paris!
As our pilgrimage tour came to its end, three of use: Frank, Terry, and I, composed the lyrics of a song “The 15 Days of September” (to the tune of The Things We Did Last Summer). The lyrics laid out in a nutshell, the unforgettable experiences we had and shared during this awe-inspiring trip.
“The 15 days of September, we’ll remember, all life long”.