COLORADO SPRINGS. A teen and two mothers of large families from the Colorado Springs diocese will join the Order of Malta’s Western Association on its annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, which will take place May 2-10. The three hope for spiritual and physical healing as they journey to the place where many miraculous healings have happened since Mary appeared there 158 years ago. The three will be accompanied by Bill and Eileen Maggio, Knight and Dame of the Order.
Kate Koop, age 15 and a member of Holy Apostles Parish, was 11 she was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis, a spontaneous genetic mutation which allows benign tumors to grow along nerve fibers throughout the body. In Kate’s case, it caused a low-grade cystic tumor to grow on her brain stem. After three brain surgeries, she was released from the hospital in time for Christmas. Two weeks later, she was rushed to the emergency room with meningitis, resulting in another hospital stay.
A year after that, an MRI showed that her tumor was growing again, and she underwent a year of low-dose chemotherapy, which ended around November 2016. Recent MRIs show the tumor is stable.
Sherry Ohotnicky said that she hopes to gain spiritual and physical healing on her trip.
“My prayers are for family members and others who are ill who have difficulties dealing with their illnesses. I pray for peaceful acceptance of God’s divine will in every illness. I am also going in humble thanksgiving for the countless blessings I and my family have received and continue to receive during this illness.”
The mother of seven and member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Security was diagnosed with Anaplastic Astrocytoma.
“In layman’s terms, I have a grade 3 brain tumor,“ she related. “I was diagnosed early in 2016. Last May, 90 percent of the tumor was removed. I underwent radiation treatments and chemotherapy last summer.” Currently she is on maintenance chemo five days a month. MRIs show that the tumor has not returned.
Joanne Ambuul is grateful for the community of people who have come to her aid since she was found to have stage 3 colo-rectal cancer last summer. The mother of 10 and member of Corpus Christi Parish had five weeks of radiation followed by surgery to remove what was left of the cancer.
“Radiation and prayer took that cancer to almost nothing,” she stated. She received a port in February and chemotherapy started the next week. “I have eight rounds of chemo. I will hopefully be doing round four this week.” She views her trip to Lourdes as an opportunity to “come away for awhile,” to leave behind the daily cares and really focus on God so to better hear what he is saying to her.
The Order of Malta is an international organization founded in the 11th century to protect pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, and to care for the poor and the sick. Now headquartered in Rome, they are present in 54 countries providing medical care and humanitarian aid to the poor, elderly, sick and disabled. The order is relatively new in Colorado; the Western Association, which includes eight Western states, normally takes about 50 sick people to Lourdes each spring.
Bill and Eileen Maggio became involved with the Order when their son Billy, shortly after graduating from the Air Force Academy, was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer. He received a liver transplant and resumed a normal life for some time. The Maggios, who were living in Florida, relocated to Colorado Springs. In 2013, Billy’s cancer got more aggressive and moved into his lungs. At that point, Bishop Sheridan recommended him for the Lourdes trip. Bill and Eileen planned to accompany him, but their son died before they could go. The Maggios decided to go on the pilgrimage anyway as volunteers. After the trip, they were invited to join the order.
The pilgrimage to Lourdes is a seven-day trip where members of the Order of Malta, volunteers, companions and “malades” (the French word for sick people) travel to Lourdes, France for a week of Masses, visits to the grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette, anointing of the sick, and bathing in the healing waters. Everything in the town is foot-accessible, and malades ride in special blue carts pulled by members of the order in procession to each event.
Many healings have taken place at Lourdes, but as most people seeking healing today have had medical treatment, it is hard to prove a miracle scientifically. Often the fruit of a Lourdes pilgrimage is spiritual consolation, said Eileen Maggio.
“Many people find a sense of peace about their suffering,” she said. “They change from when they get there to when they leave.”
The order pays for the trip of a malade, but companions, volunteers and members of the order pay their own way. Volunteers with medical expertise travel with the group as well.
“(Some people may ask) Why not just ask for healing here in our city? Why go to Lourdes?” Ambuul said. “Yet, in the Gospel, Jesus mixed his spittle and dirt and smeared it on the eyes of the blind man. Mother Mary directed St. Bernadette to dig and the miraculous spring was unearthed by which spring many people have been ‘touched’ by Christ and healed spiritually and physically.”
A pilgrimage to a holy place like Lourdes “is like the friends who brought their ill friend to Jesus on a stretcher. They made a hole in the roof to get their friend closer to Jesus. Sometimes Jesus wants us to put in some effort in our requests or prayers,” she said.
Ohotnicky said that the challenge of her illness has prompted her to learn that she cannot be as self-reliant as she was.
“When you are humbled to the point that you must rely on others for simple things, you learn that the help ultimately comes for God.” She continues to lead her life as normally as possible but when she has a bad day, she realizes that it is God who is leading the way and getting things accomplished — not her.
Koop said she felt comforted throughout her illness knowing that there were so many people praying for her, and it reaffirmed that her faith was in the right place. At the most difficult moments, she felt the comforting presence of God with her. By traveling to Lourdes, she hopes that she can grow even deeper in her faith and perhaps be rejuvenated from a rather bumpy past from a medical perspective.
For more information on the Order of Malta, visit. www.orderofmaltawestern.org.