Mother of three children, Janet Russell from San Diego, came to Lourdes in 2023 with the Order of Malta’s annual pilgrimage accompanied by Michelle, one of her daughters.
Lourdes has always held a special place in Janet’s heart, since her mother had always told her that she was a descendant of Jeanne Abadie, the girl who accompanied Bernadette Soubirous when, on 11th February 1858, she went to gather firewood at the Grotto of Lourdes and where she was blessed to encounter the Virgin Mary.
An unexpected gift
“On my 51st birthday, my life as a “malade” began. “Malade” is the French word for “sick one,” and it became part of my identity when I was diagnosed with low-grade follicular lymphoma following a routine check-up. Cancer was not the birthday gift I was expecting, but the spiritual journey I would embark upon as a result would truly change my life and bless me with a gift of understanding that I feel the responsibility to share,” recalls Janet in her testimony, which appeared on 21st August in Angelus News from the diocese of Los Angeles.
Janet is convinced that each person who makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes does so through the invitation of the Holy Virgin. Her story is just one example. She was hoping to come in 2020, but the pandemic cancelled her plans. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
She was able to come in 2023 with her daughter, Michelle, who was just 16 years old (not much older than Bernadette and her friend, Jeanne Abadie, during the apparitions in 1858).
The hospitaliers from the Order of Malta looked after Janet and assisted her with her many needs throughout the pilgrimage, and because of their help, she was able to be fully receptive to the blessings of the pilgrimage.
“The love, care, and friendship I felt from each knight, dame, doctor, nurse, priest, and even the teen volunteers will be something I will never forget. When a dame washed my feet at the church, it was the gesture of a true servant of Christ. Indeed, I felt the love of Jesus and his Mother working through each and every one of them. It was a little piece of heaven on earth,” explains Janet.
The water, the Grotto and following in the footsteps of Bernadette and Jeanne Abadie
It is hard to count all the blessings she received in the week she was in Lourdes. Her main goal was to visit the Grotto, which was even more beautiful than she had imagined. The water flowed from the spring in the Grotto, the very spring that Bernadette discovered on 25th February 1858 in response to the request from the Lady of Massabielle who said, “Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself there.”
After having touched the rock like millions of other pilgrims, Janet and her daughter placed their prayer petitions in the box in the Grotto. Their intentions were joined by all those collected by the Order of Malta in Los Angeles at their mass for the World Day of the Sick.
Mother and daughter went together to make the Water Gesture and the emotion they felt was very moving: “I felt a sense of cleansing and a renewal of faith, plus a deep love and connection with my only daughter.”
The two pilgrims also walked Bernadette’s Way following the brass way-markers, which guide pilgrims and tourists on a trail around historic Lourdes. They retraced the steps of Bernadette and Jeanne Abadie.
A visit to the cemetery in Lourdes
Janet also wanted to pay a visit to her great-great aunt at the cemetery de l’égalité with the Abadie family monument on one side, and the Soubirous family on the other. They prayed for both families in what was a sacred moment of communion with their ancestor!
A complete pilgrimage
Pilgrims to Lourdes are always invited to visit the chapel of Reconciliation, follow the Stations of the Cross and to pray at the Grotto of Massabielle.
In front of the Grotto, Janet Russell was able to reflect and consider the pain and confusion she had felt when first diagnosed, and how clearly it contrasted with the peace and love she had experienced in the years since that day.
Reconciliation was a special moment for Janet where she was able to confess everything that she felt needed healing and forgiveness.
A pilgrimage to Lourdes is a source of renewal and peace.
Our Lady of Lourdes said to Saint Bernadette, “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the other. Would you do me the honour of coming here for fifteen days?” Millions of pilgrims would soon follow St. Bernadette and accept the Blessed Mother’s invitation. And, while they know they will not find eternal happiness in this life, the moments of joy they feel in being close to our Blessed Mother are an experience they will never forget.
* (Source: Angelus News from the diocese of Los Angeles)