By Francesca Merlo
In 1903 a suffering man made the pilgrimage to Lourdes, in hope of being cured from his sufferance, and with plans of taking his own life in the case in which he wasn’t.
Though he did not find physical healing from the deforming arthritis from which he was affected, he found emotional and spiritual healing, he found faith, he found hope and he found love.
The man, Giovanni Battista Tomassi, decided that other people suffering from whatever it may be should be given the chance to experience the same life-changing comfort he did from his pilgrimage to Lourdes.
That is how UNITALSI was born. An Italian acronym, meaning the Italian National Union of Transport for the ill to Lourdes and International Sanctuaries, or, a volunteer association that organises and accompanies the ill, the disabled, the elderly and anyone in need of help to Lourdes and other International Sanctaries.
The Pope's words
In his telegram on the occasion of the next pilgrimage to Lourdes, on behalf of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin writes that the Holy Father, who is “spiritually present” with the pilgrims and volunteers on their journey, hopes that “this significant experience of prayer and of brotherly charity may help each person to recognise Jesus, suffering and glorious, present in each person.”
He also expresses his hope that the pilgrims will experience the consolation and hope that comes from faith. He concludes by assuring them that he will be keeping them in his prayers.
A way of life
The UNITALSI website reads that their way of life “leads us to walk together every day even once the pilgrimage is over”, for this reason since 2001, the charity has been working to make life easier for those in need – from help for the young, to help in homes and to organising holidays.
Along with being a volunteer association, it also works to promote civil service. A job, which they say, would not be possible without “Sisters, stretcher bearers, families, health workers, young people, priests, people with disabilities and benefactors” – all described as the souls that move and give meaning to the Association.