Local teens volunteer in Lourdes, France

by Katie Bell
Ramstein High School

Lourdes is a small town in the Pyrenees Mountains in France, near the border of Spain. It is a place of religious healing and conversion that is known for the Virgin Mary’s apparitions to a young shepherdess named Bernadette Soubirous, in 1858.

During these visits, Bernadette was led to an underground spring of water that is now famous for several miracles. After four years of investigation, the Catholic church proclaimed the apparitions as valid and deemed the site a place worthy of pilgrimage. 

Now, Lourdes receives more than 6 million pilgrims every year from places all over the world. People travel there to drink and bathe in the healing water from the well-known grotto, see the famous basilica and participate in the nightly candlelight processions.

Many sick, disabled and elderly people travel to Lourdes — sometimes as their dying wish. However, as they are usually unwell, these pilgrims require people to take care of them. That’s where the North American Lourdes Volunteers come in.

Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers is a program that was originally formed in 2002 with the primary goal “to extend the invitation to North Americans and to serve the sick and suffering.”

English-speaking volunteers in Lourdes are needed as well as someone to help aid in the admission and training of these volunteers and help make their service more affordable. The teens of Ramstein’s Holy Family Catholic Community parish have been volunteering their services as NALV for four years now.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our military teens to serve in a special way,” said Cindy Czajka, the youth minister of these teens. “They lovingly offer service and share their faith. In return they grow emotionally, spiritually and build relationships that last a lifetime.”

These teens assist the pilgrims by serving them meals, cleaning their hospital rooms and pushing their wheelchairs all around the city. But it isn’t all work. These teens also build relationships with the pilgrims, often keeping in touch by letters or e-mail.

“There are a lot of friends. You meet new people,” said December Ambos, a teen volunteer from last year’s pilgrimage.

Teens often come back from this trip with a changed attitude.

“I have seen teens return to their home communities excited and energized,” said Capt. David McGuire, a Ramstein chaplain. “I have seen them bring their understanding of the ‘Lourdes experience’ home and allow it to find a place within the local church and community.”

 This trip helps teens become more active in their faith community and encourages them to spread the news of this magical place.

“I was changed somehow because of what I did there,” December said. “Lourdes was like my other family.”

The teens are returning to Lourdes again this June for their fifth year of volunteer service. They are holding various fundraisers to support their trip.

For more information on these fundraisers, e-mail Cindy Czajka at