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Vocations pilgrimage to Lourdes was ‘wonderful experience’

02 11.9.17_lourdes.vocations PAGEThe men who participated in a recent pilgrimage to Lourdes are shown with Father Andrew Ginter, second from right, and seminarians Cameron Pollette and Zachary Alspaugh. (Courtesy photo)

November 9, 2017 Valerie Schmalz

Seven young men traveled to the site of Our Lady’s appearance to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, on a pilgrimage sponsored by the vocations department to “help foster disciples for Christ.”

“We wanted to focus on guys who were involved in high school,” as altar servers, in campus ministry or otherwise in a way that demonstrated a “greater spiritual awareness and love for the Lord,” said Father Andrew Ginter, who led the pilgrimage in early August with the assistance of seminarians Zachary Alspaugh and Cameron Polette.

The young men, ages 18-21, were recent graduates of archdiocesan Catholic high schools, Father Ginter said.

“It’s just a beautiful way to feel God’s presence, through Mary,” said Jimmy Velasco, a 2017 graduate of Archbishop Riordan High School who attends University of San Francisco as a theology major.

The men were able to participate in the Sunday Mass, which draws 20,000 pilgrims, as well as to visit all aspects of the shrine, participate in eucharistic processions, say the rosary and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. The last two days were in Paris, and through the intervention of a priest they met at Notre Dame Cathedral the small group was able to celebrate Mass on the high altar of Notre Dame, Father Ginter said.

“Our Lady took care of us. Because we knew that wasn’t planned,” Father Ginter said, noting many saints have celebrated Mass and attended Mass at Notre Dame. “Our Lady really took care of us. They said I have never smiled so much.”

Father Ginter said he took a trip to Lourdes in 2009 with now Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly as a recent graduate of Marin Catholic High School. Bishop Daly, as vocations director and president of the Kentfield Catholic high school, frequently led young men on pilgrimages to Lourdes.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Father Ginter said, noting he had been talking with Father Daly about vocations for four or five years before that. “I left content that God wanted me to try” the seminary.

“We are all called to be good Christian men” whatever our vocation, and Father Daly told him that no matter what he would emerge a better man, Father Ginter said.

Seminarian Alspaugh said he also had been to Lourdes in 2007 before he entered the Catholic Church in 2012 at the age of 37. In retrospect that trip affected his discerning a vocation to the priesthood, Alspaugh said.

“On that trip, I was deeply moved by the eucharistic procession in which thousands of men and women, some seated in small hand-pulled carts or wheeled on hospital gurneys, were led into the basilica for adoration. In the midst of that huge crowd, I experienced God’s grace profoundly. In the basilica, I had an inspiration that someday I might offer a Mass for the family who had brought me to Lourdes,” Alspaugh said. “As I look back on my life, I see how Lourdes was a key moment in my conversion to Catholicism.”

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