The choir taking part in the candlelit Rosary procession in Lourdes.

St Bernadette Church’s Emmanuel Choir journeyed to sacred sites in France recently. They share their experience.

A DREAM to sing the Hymn to St Bernadette before the saint’s incorrupt body became reality for members of a parish choir recently.

The Church of St Bernadette’s Emmanuel Choir sang this special hymn, which has been in the parish’s possession for decades, at the Nevers Convent Chapel during their May 8-20 pilgrimage to France.

In 2009, choir administrator Monica Lee had told members, “We will organise a Thanksgiving Singing Pilgrimage to Lourdes and Nevers, in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of our Blessed Virgin Mary to St Bernadette and the 50th anniversary of the building of the Church of St Bernadette in Singapore.”

Thus began two years of preparatory work.

The incorrupt body of St Bernadette in the Nevers Convent Chapel. Photo taken with permission.

The choir invited MEP priest Fr Rene Nicolas, the church’s former assistant parish priest in the 1960s, to be their spiritual director for the pilgrimage.

The French priest planned the itinerary meticulously.

A total of 35 people made the pilgrimage, which included Lourdes and several other pilgrimage sites.

It was a trip that the choir members, who ranged in age from 30 to 77 years, would treasure for the rest of their lives.

The choir travelled to places such as the Miraculous Medal Cathedral housing the incorrupt body of St Catherine Laboure, Chartes Cathedral, Rocamadour with its famed Black Virgin Statue Abbey and the Albi Cathedral of St Cecilia (patroness of musicians).

The pilgrims also visited the Cathedral of Le-Puy, Cathedral of St Etienne, Paray-le-Monial Cathedral of St Margaret Mary, where the choir attended Mass at the Apparitions Chapel. They also visited the Trappist Monastery of Sept-Fons, where the choir was invited to an afternoon tea of special bread and honey made by the monks themselves.

In Lourdes, the choir sang the special Hymn to St Bernadette during the Rosary procession, apparently the first choir worldwide to do so. At the end of the procession, the French choral director there asked for a copy of the music score.

The choir was also invited to join the International Choral Group on stage to recite the Rosary. Five choir members led the Hail Mary in Mandarin.

The choir in front of the Apparitions Chapel of St Margaret Mary Cathedral at Paray-le-Monial.

Petition letters from parishioners, collected by the choir, were also offered up at Lourdes.

When the choir returned to Singapore, “parishioners came to thank us, for their petitions were answered by the grace of God”, said choirmaster John Lee.

At Nevers, the choir song the Hymn to St Bernadette in front of her incorrupt body during Mass. The nuns there received a copy of the music score in English and French from the choir.

The choir also had the privilege of staying at the Nevers Convent.

From Nevers, the group made its way to Alencon and Mont-St-Michel and visited the Tomb of St Therese of the Child Jesus at the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux.

Many pilgrims said attending daily Mass, celebrated by Fr Nicolas at special shrines and basilicas, were moving experiences for them.

“I could not have imagined attending Mass at the Apparition Chapel at St Margaret Mary Cathedral,” where Jesus appeared to the saint, said Ms Jennifer Watt, 71.

Mr Fred Ang, 77, said he was impressed with the visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Rocamadour, located in an abbey 125 m above the river Alzou, and which could be reached through a stairway of 216 steps.

According to legend, the hermit Zaccheus of Jericho brought a statue of the Black Virgin to this shrine, where many miraculous healings and conversions were experienced by numerous pilgrims. From the 12th century onwards, it became one of the most popular pilgrimages in the whole of Christian Europe.

Another pilgrim, Ms Joyce Poon, 36, shared, “The show of faith by the pilgrims at Lourdes during the candlelight Rosary procession, the nightly Blessed Sacrament procession, the Way of the Cross and the Bath, revitalised my own faith and love of the Lord.”

“I am so happy to spend precious quiet moments at the Convent Chapel at Nevers, praying to our patroness St Bernadette,” recalled Mrs Lennie, 60. “The serene look of St Bernadette is so lifelike as if she is sleeping. I prayed for my family and for the parish.”

“The Walk of St Bernadette at the Nevers Convent, where we traced her daily life at the convent, helped me to understand and know better the humility of St Bernadette and the sufferings that she has gone through,” said Cecilia Yeo, 64.

The pilgrims also did their part to evangelise.

“We sang the grace before meals alternately in Mandarin and English,” said Mr Johann Wong, 31, “and this surprised the diners wherever we went.” Wong added that this was part and parcel of evangelisation, as mentioned by parish priest Fr Eugene Chong.

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