Photo contributed by the Order of Malta
Karen Cruickshank guides husband Ken’s hand at the Grotto in Lourdes, France.
Photo contributed by the Order of Malta
Karen Cruickshank guides husband Ken’s hand at the Grotto in Lourdes, France.
As they sat on the airplane, Karen Cruickshank and her husband Ken were filled with excitement. Karen looked around the plane at her fellow travelers.

“There are the ‘malades,’ the sick ones; they are elderly, they are ones who are clearly suffering from cancer or other disease, absolutely precious children in need of healing, and there are others who one wouldn’t know were in need of healing except for the tag around their neck indicating they were a malade,” wrote Karen in a web journal.

Karen is a teacher at St. Anthony School in Tigard, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church.   
Every person on the flight was en route to France as guests of the Order of Malta on a pilgrimage to the holy shrine at Lourdes, in the Pyrénées of southern France. The waters from the spring that originate there are believed to have healing power. The Marian shrine is where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.  

Every May, thousands of Knights and Dames from the Order of Malta travel from around the world to Lourdes in devotion, service, and fellowship. Dressed in distinctive uniforms, members of the international group minister to the sick and disabled.

Karen attended the trip as caregiver for her husband Ken who has multiple sclerosis. Others on the pilgrimage included nuns and priests from many orders, and a bishop who gave a group blessing before Karen and Ken’s flight took off.

At the Eglise Ste Bernadette cote Grotto, the malades were given rosaries made by nuns who live in a monastery in Domaine. Then Karen and the other caregivers had their hands blessed by holy water from the spring. Ken and the other malades had their feet washed, a reminder of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. They visited the Baths, where volunteers lowered Ken into the water from the original spring dug by Bernadette.

Helping the disabled into the baths is a coveted position, a task with great honor, Karen said.

The pilgrims take part in liturgies and Eucharistic processions. Among those who spoke was Cardinal Francis George, who recently completed cancer treatment.

One stop is at the Grotto, where prayer petitions are placed and malades run their hands along the damp walls, praying for Mary’s intervention.

“When I guided my husband’s hand, curled and relatively useless from the effects of MS, along the wall of the Grotto and saw the ring I placed on his hand almost 29 years ago, I thought I would burst with love,” Karen said.