When LaVern Pottinger helps the ailing and infirm bathe in the healing waters of Lourdes, he thanks God for the gift of good health.
“You see so many people that are physically broken and spiritually broken,” he said. “It makes me realize how blessed I am.”
Parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie, Pottinger is committed to volunteering each summer at the shrine in southwestern France, where the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. He’s a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, a New York-based organization dedicated to bringing pilgrims to Lourdes and Lourdes to pilgrims.
The former is a commitment to service at the shrine; the latter is accomplished through the Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage. Marlene Watkins, founder and president of the group, tours the world with Lourdes spring water and a rock from the grotto. She gives a presentation on the apparitions, then pilgrims participate in adoration, Benediction and a candlelight rosary.
Pottinger and his wife were on biking trips in Europe when they got involved with the group. He’s since joined Watkins on visits to Uganda and Kenya, where they’ve offered the Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage in major cities and remote villages. In the United States, pilgrimages are held in churches, schools, prisons and anywhere people are in need of healing.
“She’s been in many prisons,” Pottinger said of Watkins. “She likes to do the presentations in prisons.”
When the Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage comes to the Diocese of Superior May 11-14, it will be the third visit to Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie. Other stops on the tour include Catholic schools in Spooner, Ladysmith and Rice Lake and the parishes of Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith; St. Francis de Sales, Spooner; and St. Joseph, Hayward.
During her appearances to Bernadette Soubirous, the Blessed Mother asked for three things, Pottinger explained. She wanted a chapel built at the site, processions and an opportunity for pilgrims to wash in the healing waters.
Since 1858, healing – whether of the mind, body or spirit – has been the prayer of the millions of pilgrims, many of them sick or disabled, who flock to the grotto.
“There’s spiritual miracles all the time,” Pottinger said. Physical miracles – the documented sort, at least – are far rarer, and the church has confirmed fewer than 70 healings since 1858.
At virtual pilgrimages, Pottinger often witnesses the spiritual healing that comes from acceptance of physical limitations.
“We’ve had two or three small physical healings here that were just amazing,” he said.
But, that isn’t the norm.
“We don’t expect to see physical healings, but if people can go and accept it and offer it up … that’s the most important thing,” he added.
Anyone who attends a virtual pilgrimage also receives a plenary indulgence, a benefit extended by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and continued by Pope Francis. A plenary indulgence removes the temporal punishment due for sins.
In Africa, Pottinger visited villages so remote, the residents had never seen a white man. But, he recalls, they were people of faith.
“We’d have anywhere from a small group of 20 to as many as a 1,000 at a time,” he said. “People would walk two or three miles to get there.”
In the Diocese of Superior, he hopes to attract 100 visitors to each of the evening pilgrimages.
“We’re advertising, because we’d really like to spread the news,” Pottinger added. “It’s such a tremendous opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. I would hope people would take advantage of it.”
Besides touching a rock from the grotto, receiving a blessing and seeing images from the shrine, pilgrims are also given a small bottle of Lourdes water.
“When they come, I think they’ll have an experience that they’ll probably never forgot,” Pottinger said.
Where to attend
These are the days and locations for the Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage in the Diocese of Superior. Each session begins at 7 p.m. and lasts
approximately 90 minutes:
Monday, May 11, St. Joseph, Hayward
Tuesday, May 12, Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith
Wednesday, May 13, Our Lady of Lourdes, Dobie
Thursday, May 14, St. Francis de Sales, Spooner.
Contact the parishes for more information.