A Ukrainian Summer: where to go, what to do...

TRAVELOGUE: A journey to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lourdes

by Chrystia Shashkewych-Oryshkevych

On March 18, 2005, the Oryshkevych family from Silver Spring, Md., embarked on a long-awaited pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. The idea started when my mother, Anna Shashkewych, traveled to Lourdes in August 1982 for the blessing of the Ukrainian Catholic church in Lourdes, built and funded by Ukrainians from Great Britain and currently funded by donations from Ukrainians and others throughout the world. Through the years my mother would speak of her trip and encouraged me to someday make the pilgrimage with my spouse and children. My response was that someday when the children are older and can appreciate it, we, too, would visit Lourdes.

That day came on March 18, 2005, when four of us - my husband and I, and two of our three sons (Adrian could not join us due to professional commitments) boarded a C-5 - the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force - and flew from Dover Air Force Base (AFB), Delaware, to Ramstein AFB in Germany. My spouse, Yaromyr, is a 30-year military retiree (USAF, ANG, USAFR), and our family is able to fly space-available to many U.S. airbases in the world.

At Ramstein AFB we rented a VW Passat, and our son Alexander drove us all the way to Lourdes, passing through and visiting Nancy and Dijon, France, Geneva, Switzerland (our first overnight stopover), and Avignon, France (our second night stopover). We stopped in St. Remy de Provence and visited the house where Nostradamus was born.

Alexander continued driving west along the Mediterranean coast, through the towns of Cete and Agde, and by evening we stopped in the medieval town of Carcassone. Even in the rain the massive hilltop castle is impressive and even overwhelming. There is actually a town inside the castle, with churches, homes, hotels, restaurants and shops throughout. Proceeding on, we arrived in Lourdes around midnight on March 21, having located our hotel on the outskirts of town overlooking the majestic Pyrenees.

After breakfast the next morning, Yaromyr and I left our sons Alexander and Andrew at the hotel for much-needed extra shut-eye, and we eagerly walked the 2 kilometers into town, and quite easily found our Ukrainian Catholic church, which was very visible from a distance. Its five beautiful shining gold domes are a landmark along Rue de l'Ukraine.

At the rectory, we were greeted warmly by the Rev. Peter Guy, recently appointed to serve at St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lourdes, and Sister Stephania (from Canada). The Rev. Guy is of Irish ancestry, and his family has lived in Australia for six generations, but you couldn't tell that from his eloquent pronunciation of the Ukrainian language. We chatted, exchanged much information, and we returned the following day with our sons to attend liturgy at 9 a.m.

Our foursome then walked around town, shopped for plastic bottles (shaped like the Virgin Mary) to hold water from the Grotto of the Apparitions, purchased other mementos of Lourdes, sat at a restaurant, ate and wrote post cards. As evening fell, we saw people heading in the direction of the Rosary Basilica, and we followed. As we strode down the hill, we could hear the rush of the water, and realized that the Basilica is located next to a river, which collects the snow melt, and which flows into the Gave de Pau (river) flowing toward the Atlantic.

That evening at 8:45 p.m. we participated in the torchlight procession, which meandered through and around the "park" which is in front of the Basilica of the Rosary. At the forefront of the procession are numerous "medics," because many sick and invalids come to Lourdes looking for help from Above. Since this was quite early in the season, only several hundred people participated; during high tourist season, there can be as many as 30,000 people in the procession. It is something to behold at night, by candlelight.

Once the procession ended, we wandered to the right of the Basilica, walked along the river bank until we approached the grotto. Knowing what happened here in 1858, and its meaning to Catholics and Christians worldwide, it was a most humbling experience. We sat in awe, meditating for quite a while, and only the night chill gave us incentive to return to our hotel.

The next day we awoke early, stopped by a bakery to purchase chocolate croissants, and arrived at the church for 9 a.m. mass. Afterwards, we took a group photo in front of the iconostas, and the Rev. Guy and two nuns hosted us to a breakfast, which was accompanied by much conversation. The Rev. Guy is quite knowledgeable in Ukrainian politics, and we also became quite informed about European politics.

Toward the end, the Rev. Guy and Sister Stephania encouraged us to return to Lourdes, but in the meantime, to spread the good word to other Ukrainian families to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Since we all lead busy, hectic lives and have very active families, we owe it to ourselves and to our children to make the time for religious, spiritual enlightenment of our Ukrainian and Christian roots.

After liturgy and breakfast, we walked through town, observed various sites, and spent the afternoon at the basilica and Grotto of the Apparitions, where the Virgin Mary appeared to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous in February 1858. Above the Grotto are three churches, and the lower church is where the statue of the Virgin Mary is kept for the daily procession. The uppermost church contains 15 breathtaking mosaics of the life of Christ and of Mary.

The following day, Thursday, March 24, was our last in Lourdes and we made more time to visit the grotto and the water fountains and to pray and contemplate. We drank the water from the grotto and filled our additional bottles to take back to family and friends as souvenirs. We even availed ourselves of the baths, which contain water directly from the source. My spouse, sons and I were equally touched by all that we experienced together, during this special Holy Week in Lourdes.

And then an unplanned opportunity turned to reality. My husband had suggested the previous Wednesday evening that I and our youngest son, Andrew, extend our holiday for another week. On our last night in Lourdes, I stayed awake late, pondering the thought, and early the next day I decided to stay with my shocked and reluctant son, Andrew. We continued the discussion as we drove to our next point of interest, Rocamadour, approximately a seven-hour country drive northeast of Lourdes. We toured the Rocamadour Castle and Notre Dame Chapels and had a dinner celebration for our son Alexander's 20th birthday at a restaurant that overlooked the cliffs and scenic view of the Rocamadour castle.

The owner of the restaurant helped with hotel reservations for Andrew and me at Hotel du Roc, a quaint hotel in town at the foot of the castle. Yaromyr and Alexander repacked and at 12:55 a.m. caught a train from the Rocamadour train station to Paris, then on to Ramstein AFB and Dover AFB, Delaware. We said our good-byes and wished each other a safe journey.

The next three days, Andrew and I drove around the cliff areas known as the Dordogne Region, visiting the Beynac Castle, Sarlat-La-Caneda, and Les Eyzies (prehistoric capital) Font de Gaume Caves.

At the Rocamadour Castle, which required a Great Stairway walk of 216 steps, Andrew and I attended Good Friday and Easter Sunday liturgies at the Notre Dame Chapels. After Sunday mass we continued on our trip east toward Clermond-Ferrand (a town of extinct volcanoes), and then to Lyon for the next two nights. The interior of the cathedral in Lyon is exquisite, and it is a must stop to view, meditate and pray. In Lyon, we spent about two hours at the automobile museum which houses many exotic cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and even the pope's white mini- van and Hitler's bulletproof Mercedes.

During a brief stop in Becanson, we took the opportunity to walk around and take note that Victor Hugo was born here. As we entered the Alsace region of France, a full afternoon was devoted to a guided tour of the castle of Haut-Koenigsbuorg near the town of Selestat. It is situated off the beaten path, with 9 kilometers of winding uphill driving to view this breathtaking location. The castle was restored a century ago and is immaculately preserved, even with furniture. At the very end of the Middle Ages, the Hapsburgs gained possession of Haut-Koenigsbourg.

The following two days were spent in Strasbourg. When in Strasbourg, park your car at Place Gutenberg and do a self-walking tour for the day, but do include la petite France, the well-preserved medieval quarter in the southwest section of the city and the high-gabled gingerbread houses on narrow streets and canals that date from the 16th and 17th centuries. Andrew and I walked all day long and just absorbed the beauty of this city. The grand cathedral in Strasbourg houses, inside the church foyer, the awesome astronomical clock, which springs to life at 12:30 p.m. each day.

Our next day was spent at the Maginot line, also in Alsace, to view the Schoenenbourg Major Fortress. We were able to secure a private three-hour guided tour passing through its iron gate and armored doors, descending 30 meters down 135 steps into a maze of underground galleries. Andrew and I walked the 1,200-meter-long tunnel to the command center and a pillbox equipped with a retractable rotating gun turret.

That evening we arrived at Ramstein AFB, Germany, for the next four nights for much-needed rest. The base is like a second home to us, this being our fourth time visiting here. We shopped, ate at the Deutsches Haus and visited the 24-hour shoppette at all hours of the day and night. Andrew would go to the driving range to pass the time, and I would write out postcards, read or go for walks. On Sunday, April 3, 2005, we attended 8:30 a.m. mass at the Base Chapel, and then drove to Heidelberg for the day, which is a 90-kilometer trip from Ramstein AFB. The 16th century castle is the most prominent landmark in Heidelberg, and a great city for shopping. On Tuesday, April 5, 2005, upon returning from a day in Kaiserslautern, my husband surprised us and returned to Germany to take us out to dinner. On Wednesday, April 6, 2005, we returned to the U.S., via the Frankfurt Airport, since Ramstein AFB was completely booked.

This was our family trip of a lifetime, and I encourage all to consider a family holiday in Lourdes and visit the Ukrainian Catholic church, and the various neighboring regions. We four pilgrims had a precious bonding experience of a lifetime in Lourdes.

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The five-domed St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lourdes was designed by Myroslav Nimciv, and it stands on a narrow piece of property close to the railroad station. Its height makes up for its breadth, and it is even quite visible from the basilica. And from the hotel and church it is about a 10-minute walk to the basilica and the grotto. The Ukrainian Catholic church (telephone 05-62-94-90-33) is located on 8 Rue de l'Ukraine, 65100 Lourdes, France; and the Maison Diocesaine des Ukrainiens, is located directly across the street from the church, on 2 Rue de Bourgogne 65100 Lourdes, France (telephone 05-62-42-03-32); 45 rooms and a meal plan.

A Ukrainian Summer (main page)

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, May 7, 2006, No. 19, Vol. LXXIV

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