Grace Hayes.
Grace Hayes.

As I have grown up, my eyes have been opened to a sometimes upsetting world — a place in which the good suffer and the evil seem to flourish. But Jesus taught us this world on fire could be saved through service, through acts that can change the lives of others and brighten our own. My dedication and passion for service were rooted in the Gospel teachings that I heard from both my family and my teachers at Academy of the Holy Names. In my junior year, my peers and teachers encouraged me to travel and to further my commitment to reverse the injustices many face around the world. 

At 16 years old, I found myself traveling out of the country for the first time but, more importantly, attending a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. This sacred place, where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette over 100 years ago, is legendary for its power to heal the sick. Every year, over six million people come from all over the world to wash in the holy baths with hope that the miraculous waters will grant them the blessing of health.  

When I arrived, the streets were crowded with people from all walks of life speaking every language imaginable. Stores bustled with religious commodities, while sounds of distant chimes filled the air. Every day our group woke up at dawn, said prayers, worked two service shifts and ended with Mass and reflection. At the end of each heavily scheduled day, I felt drained and exhausted but also positively amazed. Any anxiety I had prior to the trip had vanished. 

The simple act of taking the ill and handicapped off trains and delivering them to the holy baths was abundantly rewarding. For most pilgrims, traditional medical treatments had failed, and they consequently found themselves relying on faith as a last straw of hope. I saw many eyes flood with tears from the overwhelming physical and spiritual experience  received in the baths. Witnessing this emotionally-charged, hope-filled scene had suddenly made my service easy.  I knew then that this experience would have a lasting impact on my life. 

Although I could not understand the language of most pilgrims, the simple flash of a smile or a thumbs up of gratitude was communication enough. It was also satisfying to distribute our handmade rosaries to people we had formed an unexpected connection with. These were small gifts they could take back to their own country, serving as a simple reminder that our prayers were with them.

One woman with whom I connected, was bound to a wheelchair and wept tears of joy upon receiving my handcrafted gift. She seemed extremely grateful and said what I thought was a short blessing in my name. 

I often think about her and wonder if she was blessed with the strength to hold on to life for a few more years. Precious moments like this caused me to realize that volunteers like myself are all part of a world in which each of us has the obligation to go forth and serve others.
Grace Hayes is a senior at the Academy of the Holy Names.