By OTTO HERSCHAN
NEAR the entrance to the Domain at Lourdes I noticed the stump of a large tree trunk. As I looked I saw a little crowd and one youngster knocking a nail into the tree.
It seemed odd and warranted investigation.
Yes, true, one after another in the small group were knocking nails into a tree-trunk.
Then 1 read the appeal above the hammer and nails: " 100 francs for one nail to help towards the City of the Poor."
The shops hardly looked poor, the hotels .aPPeafed to be prosperous, and surely the generosity of the. thousands of pilgrims could not leave the Church authorities ill need?
What, then, was this City of the Poor? Behind the tree stump was a large modern shop front and there was the beginning of the answer — three questions boldly displayed:
I AM POOR '
"I AM poor, I have come on foot from Paris (or cycling from Brussels). I cannot afford a night in a hotel. I brought a coverlet with me. Is there any shelter here ?
" I am not really poor, but I have come to Lourdes to do penance. I don't want to break my vow, Can you recommend an ordinary place for the night ? " My little girl is five. She is an invalid. The parish took charge of her and paid for the travel in the hospital train. She will stay in a hospital, but she wants rue to accompany her. I cannot afford a five day stay in Lourdes. Is there any shelter? Here is our answer: let us build the Shelter City. Please help us."
' COME AND SEE'
THIS became more intriguing. I entered the modest but very modern office— it looked rather like a travel bureau and perhaps this overcame my reluctance—in the hope that someone would speak English.
Preliminary enquiries in broken French brought forth Mselle D'Auvergne who proceeded to. answer my questions in fluent English.
" One could go on asking questions forever," said my kind hostess. " Why don't you come and see it?"
As we were talking this over a young Scots lad appeared, it transpired later that he was one of the very few British to stay at the City.
" This makes it easy," said Mslle. D'Auvergne, "for you will see exactly how it all works."
Our young Scots friend, incidentally a reader of THE Scorns!' CATHOLIC HERALD. explained that he had gone to Madrid for a job; the job had not materialised, but having come so far he thought be ought to visit Fatima and Lourdes. He hadn't much money, and he had been told on the train that the Shelter City might help. They did.
WE got into a bus which was due to leave in 10 minutes. Free of charge, we were taken an eight minute ride up a bill to where overlooking the town we saw the City of the Poor, part of it dedicated to St. Peter and part to St. Paul.
The young student went to the reception desk where he completed a card giving his name, address, age, nationality and other details.
In return for this he was given two tickets, one for a meal. one for a hed. Roth free. For the moment, we parted. He went to settle in and I was shown round this remarkable foundation.
There are already built three " pavilions " to house the poor, but in addition to this there is an excellent dining hall, an old farm
house, now used for meetings and lectures, and a genuine Henri 1V castle.
THE" pavilions," built and designed in excellent taste, are completely simple and practical, and not only is the structure so, but also their furnishings.
Rather than have the formality and coldness of a large dormitory, they are divided into little bedrooms on two levels, each for 12 pilgrims, each " pavilion " holding 72 in all.
The bedside chair has in it a drawer, making it also a bedside table. The bed has under it a drawer making it the pilgrim's wardrobe.
Twelve washbasins. or even six, would take considerable space, but a mysterious large round bowlshaped object, with a stick in the centre, serves the purpose instead.
Pressing a bar with one's foot, water pours forth fountain-like for about a minute and at least six to seven people can wash at the same time, but ill half the space.
The " pavilions" are not locked up, but there is a -keeper in each.
NEXT, I was taken to a small cluster of old farmbuildings. now completely modernised, but
still retaining their orginal character.
The stable. nicely decorated. is used as a lecture room, or for meetings. At the end there is a row of four desks. These open up to reveal four complete altars at which visiting priests may say Mass,
A small statue stands in the window—next to it hangs the name Fortuna. An Italian woman was found praying one day to St. Fortuna. Nobody had the heart to tell her Fortuna was the name of the cow who had formerly occupied that spot !
Above the stable is the hayloft, and there is room for 20 priests to stay—but should any intending visiting priest be alarmed at the thought of sleeping in the hay, it now in no way resembles its former purpose. There are 20 clean and spotless cubicles at the disposal of priests, and just conveniently downstairs Mass can be said.
REMOVED from this cluster of REMOVED is a little chapel
which is simplicity itself with wooden stools and built from old bricks, it appears exactly like the sheepfold of St. Bernadette. In fact, it is this peace and quiet of the settlement looking down upon the bustle and the lights of Lourdes that is most impressive.
After my little tour, I was invited by the Director of this city, M. Duquennc, and his wife, to dinner in their superb modern dining hall. As we went down, conversation revealed that during 1957, an average of 350 poor had been accommodated per day, amongst them very few English. The centre, I was told, is only open during the season for pilgrims who, incidentally, must bring a letter of recommendation from their parish priest to show that they cannot afford a hotel. It is open for retreats and recollections during the winter. No walking sick are accepted, and there is no particular time at which the centre closes. Before its present use it was a farm, and how lucky for Mgr. Rodhain, the moving spirit behind this venture and similar "citys" at Paris and Marseilles to have secured the site, for many an hotel must be envious of this peaceful spot.
In the dining hall we saw once again our young Scots friend lucking in with a healthy appetite to an ample meal.
I was told that with the modern kitchens, they are able to serve
1,000 dinners in an hour. It is self-service, and smilingly the director of the City reminded me of similar cafeterias in England.
Two German nuns helped us with our trays and the early dishes, and what an excellent meal it was. Soup, cold meat, potatoes, green salad, tomatoes, sweet, cheese, and fresh fruit, and finally a cup of coffee.
M. DLJQUENNE remarked on
M. DLJQUENNE remarked on
' the rareness of English pour visiting the city, or the even fewer occasions on which English priests have been to the centre, and he promised a royal welcome to any English Bishop !
Of course, M. Duquenne immediately added, even more welcome than the poor, of whom, after all. there is no dearth, is money.
He then suggested that if I could provide 16 million francs (approximately £13,000) he could show me ( in fact, he pointed out the site) where an English and Irish " pavilion" would be built.
He even added that they had already proposed the name of this combined English-speaking pavilion—St. Columban.
It was time for me to go, and leave with memories of a great work for the poor that was little known in this country. The last words of the Director of the Centre were: "I hope next time you come' we shall have our English and Irish 'pavilion.' After all, we have one for Italy dedicated to His Holiness Pius )UI."