Letzter Halt: Hoffnung

At 5:00 in the morning the volunteers of the Order of Malta stand on a platform of the Munich train station looking as if they arrived from another century. In their traditional uniforms and long capes they are looked at with confusion by the drunk party guests from the local venues on their way home. Unconcerned the Hospitalers continue with their mission to load the train with crates of food. For the next eight days these 50 volunteers are unconditionally committed to the bible‘s principle of loving thy neighbor. The destination is Lourdes, where 150 years ago a girl had an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Today Lourdes is one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in the world for Catholics – in France the most visited destination after Paris. The Order of Malta visits the small town by the Pyrenees several times a year with different dioceses. The reason for Lourdes’ popularity is its miraculous healings that date as far back as the apparition. Currently there are over 7000 documented healings of which 70 cases are recognized by the catholic church. 36 handicapped and sick people are accompanied and nursed by the voluntary hospitalers. All together they travel in a chartered train, customized for the pilgrims’ needs. It takes them about 28 hours to get a little closer to god. In Lourdes they merge with the 5 million annual tourists on the streets and in the holy district. But not only the Order of Malta takes care of the pilgrims, so do the uncountable souvenir shops and hoteliers. They realised that they can make a good business out of religion – there are about 250 different accommodations and at least as many stores with religious artifacts in this little town. Back on the train, on their way home, everybody is inspirited. On their personal journey in search of god or healing, everyone has taken something with them – even if it is just a container of Lourdes’ spring water.