GREENSBURG — An atmosphere of hope and joy pervaded the 16th annual disabilities retreat, “Lourdes Leads Us to God,” at Our Lady of Grace Parish Oct. 13.
Participants experienced a full sensory experience of a pilgrimage to Lourdes without leaving Greensburg, including a replica shrine and a rock, water and candles from Lourdes.
“I wanted to bring everyone, especially the sick to Lourdes, if only I could. But instead, we brought Lourdes to them. In Lourdes, the sick are the VIPs; they are the most important people,” said Henna Bautista, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace who suggested the virtual pilgrimage theme.
“The message of Lourdes is the heart of Lourdes. It’s not about the experience but about the message,” said Bautista, who has visited Lourdes every year for the past 14 years.
Bautista introduced Lourdes and shared pictures from her time working with the sick there, which she says is a humbling and faith-building experience. She introduced a video, which allowed those in attendance to see and experience the visuals that would accompany a pilgrimage to Lourdes, as well as providing some background on the sacred place.
Remarks on the symbolism of the elements of Lourdes were offered by Msgr. Lawrence R. Kiniry, a retired priest of the diocese.
Msgr. Kiniry reminded the audience that the symbols of water, light and oil are all ways that we connect with God, the only one who can heal the suffering. He also praised those with disabilities for the faith he’s seen them exhibit daily.
“Oftentimes those with disabilities put those without disabilities to shame. God is working through them. There is a miracle of faith and miracle of love,” Msgr. Kiniry said.
“This retreat gives us a chance to think about our faith and reaffirm our faith,” said Yolanda Talamo, a parishioner from Our Lady of Grace who has battled cancer and is now waiting for eye surgery. Prayer is an essential part of how she deals with trials, she said.
“The only way to get through it is God. I don’t know how anyone could survive without faith,” Talamo said.
Participants were encouraged to write their petitions, which were read with hushed reverence as the rock and water from Lourdes were brought around for people to touch. Prayers were offered for personal healing, care of families and the government.
“People come (to this retreat) because of their faith, their love of God, their humility, their trust in God, and to love one another,” Msgr. Kiniry said. “Every year I see a tremendous amount of love and sharing.”
That was evident through the stories people told of how God has blessed them as they struggle with various disabilities. Students from Greenburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School volunteered their services at the retreat.
Judy Huber, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace who has spearheaded the event from the beginning, and parish volunteers helped plan and implement the retreat.