THE El CHAR FS FIC CONGRESS at Lourdes has coincided with a week of prodigies. Shortly after Dom Helder Camara spoke, there was an earthquake. Winter has returned with snow and rain. The tour operators in the Pyrenees blame the Congress for the loss of trade. They feel better blaming people than the elements.
The chateau fort that dominates the town of Lourdes on its sheer shoulder of rock lies empty day after day.
The lower tourist town of Lourdes is like Soho set down in a Scottish glen.
The horrible vulgaritr of plastic immaculate conceptions in arches of flashing lights cannot be denied.
But how can you object? the pilgrims like the souvenirs. The townspeople make their money.
0 A FLASH of colour appeared in the Rue de la Basilique half an hour after the opening fanfares of the Congress had finished sounding.
It was the 17 strong Ethiopian delegation, and nothing more splendid can be imagined since the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and Philip baptised Queen Candace's eunuch.
Ten shin) ladies in robes held up bright flashing umbrellas. Before them strode the flagbearer followed by an ancient priest with a beard, a black pillbox hat, a cassock and a thick bamboo stick crooked on his arm. The procession wound on, past the grinning brancardiers, past the magpies pecking for worms on the grassy roof of the huge underground basilica of St Pius X, until, as luck would have it, their entry to the crowded meadow came up neatly at the end of the train of the Papal legate and the cardinal primate of France. This delegation from an ancient land, racked by famine. war and persecution, trumped the whole of Christendom.
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A B1 ZANTINE liturgy was scheduled for Saturday, but many got their first taste of eastern rites by accident. The English lass. said mostly in Irish by Cardinal 0 Haich, started an hour earlier than programmed, so lots of lost pilgrims squelched about the meadow outside the big-top marquees looking for a suitable alternative.
A good number of them found themselves in the upper basilica in the middle of a sermon bv a man with a beard. The only recognisable word was 'communist' — it was a Ukrainian rite Mass.
Before midday, the mysteries were almost accomplished. The stolid French and Irish housewives had their biggest surprise at communion. The priest dexterously holding a chalice, pattern and golden spoon spoke to each in old Church Slavonic. Some desperately answered amen, hoping that was right.
Communion was by intinction, or at least, the form of bread was floating in the form of
wine. All I knew was that one should not put one's tongue out.
With the taste of such crumbly bread and such wine.) wine,
the most habitual communicant must have been jolted into considering what the Congress was all about.