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Man with rare disease makes pilgrimage to Lourdes with Order of Malta

02/07/2020 | Comments

order of malta, lourdes, deardorffCOLORADO SPRINGS. When Keith and Veronica Deardorff and their seven children moved to Colorado Springs two years ago due to Keith’s military service, it didn’t take long for members of Holy Apostles Parish to reach out to them.

“A man knocked on my door and told me, ‘I would love to mow your lawn,’” said Veronica Deardorff. It turned out that the man — Gary Vitt — was not only a neighbor but was a member of Holy Apostles Parish, where the family had been attending Mass.

An even more providential connection came about when Father Jim Baron, pastor of Holy Apostles, approached the family and asked if he could nominate them for the Order of Malta’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France.

The Deardorffs’ eldest son, 32-year-old Braden, has an extremely rare condition called Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease that has caused his nerves and muscles to degenerate. He inherited the disease due to a chromosomal disorder that also affected several of his maternal uncles, and there is no known cure. 

Father Baron serves as a chaplain for the Order of Malta,  a worldwide order that serves the sick and poor. The order’s Western Association, which includes Colorado, accompanies about 50 seriously ill people and their families to Lourdes each year so that they can pray and immerse themselves in the shrine’s healing waters, which flow from a spring that was revealed when the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Subirous in 1858.

With Father Baron’s help, the family applied for Braden to participate in the 2019 pilgrimage, but he was not initially chosen for the trip. However, 10 days before the group was to depart, Veronica Deardorff got a phone call from a representative of the Order of Malta inquiring about Braden’s ability to travel.

“There were people all over praying that he would be chosen to go,” Deardorff said. “But we also told ourselves that, if he’s not chosen, there’s obviously someone who needs it more.” She later found out that Braden had taken the place of a woman named Suzanne, who had died. 

“I met her husband at a meal after the trip. He told me, ‘Suzanne would be very glad that Braden was able to go,’” she said.

Members of the Order of Malta were attentive to the extra demands that come from traveling with someone in a wheelchair, Deardorff said, and she also enjoyed interacting with others facing serious health problems and learning how their faith is giving them strength.

“It was an amazing adventure. God has a plan for all of us. I don’t know what the next day or hour brings, but I know he’s got us,” she said.

The Order of Malta, in conjunction with the Diocese of Colorado Springs, will also hold its annual Mass and anointing of the sick on Feb. 15 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, beginning with a rosary at 9:30 a.m. Those in danger of death due to an illness, upcoming surgery or advanced age are invited to attend. The event is held in commemoration of the World Day of the Sick, which was instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1992. It is celebrated each year on or near the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is Feb. 11.

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