Jesuit James Martin is also the author/editor of books such as Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, My Life with the Saints, Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints, Together on Retreat (Enhanced Edition): Meeting Jesus in Prayer, etc.
He tells the story of how the local Abbé Peyramale told Bernadette [after she told him of the vision], "'Ask her for a name... And, as an added test, ask her to make the grotto's wild rosebush flower.' During the next apparition, Bernadette did just that, but the vision merely smiled. No rosebushes bloomed and no name was given... ON march 25, the rosebush was still not in bloom, but a name was given. According to Bernadette, the vision clasped her hands and said... 'I am the Immaculate Conception.'" (Pg. 18)
He notes, "We land after a long flight... Seemingly all the hotels and shops at Lourdes have religious names, and it is startling to see a shop selling tacky souvenirs that is named after Charles de Foucauld, who lived in extreme poverty in the desert, or, worse, a knickknack shop under a sign proclaiming L'Immaculeé Conception." (Pg. 27-28)
He says, "After Mass in the ornate basilica, someone suggests a visit to the grotto, which I had assumed was far-off. But the church is built directly atop the rocky outcropping, and when i go around the corner and pass huge racks of tall white candies for sale, I am shocked to come upon it... as I approach I am drawn to the obvious peace of the place... Hundreds of people are gathered before the space... Many stand in line to walk through the grotto. Joining them, I run my hand over the smooth wet rock and am astonished to spy the spring uncovered by Bernadette. I am filled with wonder at being here." (Pg. 29-30)
Two days later, he recalls, "I am waiting for a turn at the baths. On long wooden benches under a stone portico sit the 'malades,' along with their companions and other pilgrims. Flanking me are two men from our pilgrimage with the Order of Malta... Carved in the stone wall are the Virgin's words to Bernadette: 'Go drink of the waters and bathe yourself there.' Every few minutes an 'Ave Maria' is sung in another language. After an hour, the three of us are called into a small room surrounded by blue and white striped curtains. Once inside we strip to our undershorts and wait patiently on plastic chairs... Inside a small chamber three men stand around a sunken stone bath... One volunteer points to a wooden peg, and after I hang my undershorts, he quickly wraps a cold wet towel around my waist. ('I think they kept it in the freezer for us!' says one of the malades at lunch.) Another volunteer carefully guides me to the lip of the bath and asks me to pray for the healing I need...Two of them gently take my arms and lead me down the steps into the bath, where the water was cold, but no colder than a swimming pool... Here, praying in this dimly lit room, in this spring water, held by two kind people, I feel entirely separated from the rest of my life. It's a kind of mini-retreat... And then---whoosh---they stand me up and point to a small statue of Mary, whose feet I kiss. Then I'm handed a quick drink of water from a pitcher... After the bath, i rush over to the Grotto of Massabielle, where our group is celebrating Mass. And, yes, the water dries from my skin immediately." (Pg. 41-43)
This book is an excellent, yet brief, account of a modern pilgrimage to the site. For those who can't/won't travel there themselves, the book does an excellent job of capturing the "atmosphere."