I've been traveling Euclid Avenue east of Cleveland quite a bit lately, and it seems my eyes are often drawn to the wooded hills on the south side of the road where figure of the Blessed Virgin gazes serenely down at the six lanes of traffic whizzing past. A sign beside the chain link fence declares that this is the home of the National American Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Having a little time on my hands this week , and eager to try out my new camera, ( I had to replace the one ruined in the downpour following the Cleveland Orchestra concert on Public Square) I turned up the drive to visit this sacred destination of pilgrims.
The first time I was at the Grotto was for a field trip back in the early seventies, when I was a student at Notre Dame Academy. I recall about two hundred of my plaid-skirted classmates and I noisily exiting yellow school buses and being herded by the sisters onto the rows of wooden benches to celebrate Mass amidst the trees. Afterwards we were encouraged to walk the path leading through the woods to pray the stations of the cross, and recite the rosary as we followed the stones along Rosary Hill. Not too surprisingly, more than a few groups of girls took advantage of the privacy afforded by the leafy trails to catch a smoke rather than meditate on the sacred mysteries.
I returned again about twenty two years later, under very different circumstances.
My mother passed away suddenly in 1995, and shortly afterwards, my father suffered a mild heart attack, and was told he needed a quintuple bypass. While awaiting his surgery date, he became very sick with what was initially thought to be the flue. After several days in the hospital Dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. We were told he was already in the fourth stage, and had about six weeks to "get his affairs in order".
As an adult, my beliefs tended more toward biology than theology, but times of crisis often cause us to re-examine our beliefs, as we scramble to gather every last shred of hope. Desperately seeking a miracle, I remembered stories of the cures attributed to Our Lady of Lourdes, and one afternoon on my way home from visiting my father at the Cleveland Clinic, I stopped to pray at the Grotto, dip my hands in the blessed water flowing from the fountain, and light a candle at the shrine. I stood before the large glass case to the right of the shrine that displayed items donated by pilgrims who had come to the grotto to pray for cures. Letters, pictures, and news paper clippings fill the case, as well as clothing, braces and crutches. Even if there was a God of miracles, why would He listen to the prayers of someone who wasn't even sure there was a God?