In a debilitating condition for nearly nine years, JULIANA ELARDE struggled to find meaning in the pain and suffering, until a pilgrimage to Lourdes changed her life!
It was a day like any other when Juliana stepped into the elevator. She felt healthy, strong and independent, but her life was about to change forever. Stabbing pain suddenly radiated across her lower back and darted down her right leg. She collapsed onto the floor in agony. Despite tests and treatments, her condition continued to deteriorate until she was completely debilitated. Doctors could give it a name—Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—but around fifty medical specialists in eight and a half years could offer no effective treatment or pain relief and certainly no hope for a cure. Again and again, she tried complicated, expensive treatments in the hope that something would make a difference, but to no avail.
She felt hopeless and helpless. From the knee down to the toes, her right leg was grossly swollen, turning purple from lack of circulation as gangrene threatened. Her toes were twisted and purple while a painful, open sore oozed for years without healing. The constant load on her arms from the walking frame resulted in carpal tunnel syndrome which sent pain shooting through her wrists, making it hard to do the smallest things for herself. Even taking a shower was excruciatingly painful. The water felt like nails piercing through the leg and the slightest abrasion felt like a knife scraping through the skin.
Every night, Juliana lay awake in such excruciating pain those 2 hours of uneasy dozing was all she could hope for. “I thought my life had ended. My independence had been taken away. I was so angry with God. I blamed him and I could see no meaning in this pain—emotionally, spiritually, physically—I was a complete mess.”
Even though Juliana had been brought up in a devout Croatian Catholic family who prayed the Rosary every night, she had abandoned the practice of her faith when she was only 19, occasionally turning up for Easter and Christmas Masses. She had wanted to be in charge of her own life, so she didn’t want God in it. But the more she had sought happiness out in the world, the lonelier and more unsettled she had become. She did not understand the concept of offering up her suffering to Jesus, as someone had advised after her malady began. However, when she was given a prayer card, she started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. “Although I had no feeling in my heart, I felt compelled to do it.”
Since Juliana had no devotion to Mary, she was surprised when a friend suggested that she could also ask Mary to intercede for her. A pilgrimage to Lourdes was even recommended in the hope of receiving a miraculous cure. “If Jesus wants to heal you, He can.” Juliana felt like a hypocrite. How could she ask Mary to help her when she had no devotion to her and even feared Mary? But she decided that she had nothing to lose, so humbly started to ask Mary to pray for her.
Not knowing anything about its significance, she attended a special Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday. On that day, she made a General Confession of all the sins she could recall over her whole life. Everything changed spiritually for her from then on. She started praying for an hour, three times a day and fulfilled a promise to spend a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament every Monday from 4 to 5pm. Her seven-year-old daughter loved spending that time there with her.
Once she understood the meaning of her pain and suffering and united them to Our Lord in His Divine Mercy, she was able to surrender her will to God’s Will, and trust in His great plan for her life. She learned to deal with pain and suffering by praising and thanking God every moment of the day. He knew when the perfect time to travel to Lourdes would come, so she was at peace.
With the help of her mother and her daughter, Juliana was finally able to join Harvest Pilgrimages on their journey to Lourdes in 2008 for the 150th anniversary of Our Lady’s visions to Saint Bernadette. Paul, the leader of the group was very helpful to her and she felt encouraged by the strength of his devotion to Our Lady.
Waiting for her turn at the baths, Juliana felt very nervous. Since she had been told that the water was freezing cold, she feared it would cause spasms and increase her pain. Before she stepped into the bath, she gazed at a statue of Mary and requested her to warm up the water. To her delighted surprise, when the attendants gently lowered her into the water, it was completely warm. She was overcome with emotion that this simple prayer had been answered so completely, but more was to come.
When they returned her to the wheelchair, Juliana’s daughter noticed with excitement that the dark purple skin on her toes was fading. They were turning pinker. As they wheeled her out of the cubicle, she felt a sensation like cool, flowing water passing over the top of her foot. She kept asking her mother and daughter if her foot was wet, but it wasn’t. The pain in her wrists had also disappeared.
The next day, she went to the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction in the underground basilica. As she waited in her wheelchair in the front row, gazing at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, she asked Him, “If it’s Your Holy Will, could you please heal me spiritually, as well as physically, so that I can be a mother to my child in the way I’ve always wanted to be.”
When the priest lifted the monstrance in Benediction, she felt a tremendous jolt from her waist down to her toes in both legs. It felt like she was being electrocuted. Such intense pain, on top of her usual agony, made her want to scream, but she gripped the arms of the wheelchair tightly and held the suffering deep inside. As the priest placed Jesus on the altar and began the Divine Praises, the pain started disappearing, from her waist down to her legs, section by section.
At that moment, she knew that something had taken place, but what? She was still in pain, but her right leg felt very light. She felt in her heart that Jesus was calling her to go to the Grotto right away, so that she could pray the Rosary in the place where Mary had appeared to Saint Bernadette.
As they prayed the Rosary at the Grotto, she experienced a very special, mystical moment with Our Lady. Although, the sun was shining on her right she saw a tiny light in the sky ahead of her. She had a deep sense that Mary was behind this light and heard Mary’s voice in her heart saying, “Julie don’t worry, everything will be all right. Just trust!”
Immediately Juliana felt deep, tender, motherly love from Mary, and love for Mary spontaneously burst from Juliana’s heart in return. Without judgement or fear, Juliana felt she could really trust Mary. Only then, did the Lord allow the completion of her physical healing.
Her toes, which had been so twisted and mangled, felt like they were being stretched out. She started crying, “My toes, my toes!” When her mother removed her slipper, the toes were wiggling. The pain in her lower back and leg had totally disappeared and she could even touch her leg without wincing, which had been impossible for the last eight and a half years.
“I think I can stand up!” she exclaimed. As Paul and her mother lifted her out of the wheelchair, she rejoiced at being able to stand without any pain at all. “I think I can walk!” she declared, feeling as if she were gliding on a cloud, as she moved toward the beautiful statue marking the spot where Saint Bernadette had seen Our Lady. “Wow! Is this really happening?” she thought, astonished at the lack of the pain which had been her constant companion for eight and a half years. Later, she would realize that the day and hour of her healing was that of her usual Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament.
The open wound on her leg, that had failed to heal for several years, closed up a few days later and healed over permanently. Apart from some initial physiotherapy to strengthen the disused muscles, she has needed no further treatment. She has no more symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome—a condition that she had been told was incurable—or any after effects. The purple, mangled toes returned to normal in Lourdes and have been perfect ever since. The carpal tunnel syndrome, which healed immediately after the Lourdes bath, has also not returned. Her doctor still refers to her today as his “miracle patient.”
Most importantly, at Lourdes she experienced her Heavenly Mother’s love, the moment of Mary, as she calls it. She cherished that moment and nurtured the maternal affection Mary had given her by lovingly praying the Rosary every day. To keep Our Lady with her always, she invites Mary to join her in all the activities of her daily life. She asks Mary to use her as Mary’s little instrument and as a result, “I’ve never been happier in my whole life.”
Our Lady has interceded for her to grant even the hopes she had felt were too much to ask for. Crucially, Mary brought her a loving husband to share her life with and be a wonderful stepfather— modelling Saint Joseph—to her daughter as she entered her teenage years. Even better, he shares her love for Jesus in His Divine Mercy and for Mary. She met him on the pilgrimage to Lourdes—Paul, who cared for her so tenderly and was present when she was healed. Juliana and Paul are looking forward to their pending 10th anniversary.
©Juliana Elarde ARTICLE is based on Juliana Elarde’s personal testimony, including her interview on the Shalom TV program, Mary my Mother https://www.shalomworld.org/episode/juliana-ellarde
A special message from the Papal Preacher to our readers. Once I assisted at the midnight Christmas Mass presided over by pope St. John Paul II in St. Peter’s Basilica. The moment arrived for the singing of the Kalenda, that is, the solemn proclamation of the birth of the Savior, present in the ancient Martyrology and reintroduced into the Catholic liturgy after Vatican II: When ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. When the last words were said, I felt a sudden inner clarity, so that I remember saying to myself: “It is true! Everything they are singing is true! These are not just words; the Eternal actually has entered into time. The last event of the series has broken the series; it has created an irreversible ‘before’ and ‘after’; the computation of time, which took place earlier in relation to different events (the Olympics, such and such a kingdom, and so on), now takes place in relation to a single event, the birth of a baby in a poor village of a despised Roman province!” A sudden emotion shot through my entire person, and I could only say, “Thank you, Most Holy Trinity, and thanks be also to you, Holy Mother of God.” In most people’s lives, there’s an event that divides life into two parts, creating a before and an after. For spouses, this is generally the wedding, and they divide their lives into “before getting married” and “after getting married”; for bishops and priests it’s episcopal consecration or priestly ordination: before ordination or after; for religious it’s their religious profession. St. Paul also divided his life into two parts, but the watershed event was neither marriage nor ordination, but the moment he met personally the risen Lord. The fiery encounter with Christ created in the apostle’s life a kind of “before Christ” and “after Christ,” just as it happened in human history. What prevents that from happening on a smaller scale for us too?
Feeling lonely can be detrimental. Here’s 5 ways to overcome loneliness. The Covid19 Pandemic that surged throughout 2020 took everyone out of their comfort zone—rich or poor, young or old, healthy or non-healthy, well-educated or less-educated from every race, culture and religion. The pandemic made people feel isolated—from the outside world, from their loved ones, from their kids, from their spouses, from their houses of worship, from their priests, pastors and rabbis, from their counselors and therapists, from their friends and co-workers, from their parents and grandparents and from building human connections. The pandemic has increased the feeling of loneliness in many people, leading some to desperate measures. Feeling lonely creates a void in our hearts; we long to find someone to help us, to hug us, to care for us and pay attention to us. No one wants to feel lonely! But people can feel lonely even when in a relationship or among friends. Loneliness can come at any moment in our lives and at any age. Loneliness can be triggered by a major event like a break-up or divorce and by lesser events like feeling overwhelmed or feeling out of place. Thinking of a particular event or tragedy can also trigger feelings of loneliness. But with every struggle, God can provide hope, comfort, and strength to anyone who seeks him. Overcoming loneliness is not easy. It is a process that requires constant practice. The best way I have found to overcome loneliness is to place my trust in God. But we know that grace builds on nature and so we must also seek out the many practical strategies that also can help. Here are five positive steps I believe can help you cope with and overcome loneliness. 1.Ask for help when feeling lonely and feeling overwhelmed! Reach out to people who are reliable and trustworthy. 2.Identify and engage in activities that bring you joy, that make you smile and keep you positive mentally, emotionally, and physically. 3.Fill your soul with spirituality—read the Bible, enroll in a Bible study or social weekly fellowship, pray privately or in groups and with family, pray online or on the phone. 4.Practice almsgiving by giving to a cause dear to your heart. Make a positive difference in other people’s lives by volunteering your time and talents. Giving yourself to others will lessen your feelings of loneliness. 5.Distance yourself from negative social media platforms and negative followers. Create a positive public forum to promote healthy spiritual conversations. See a Pastor or Counselor if your loneliness persists despite your efforts to deal with it. Try these steps to deal with your loneliness. Taking action will almost always result in a better mood. But remember that in challenging and uncertain times, trust in God is our best strategy.
Have you experienced the real joy of Christmas? I’ll bet you, it makes your life worth living! It began at Mass that morning. I walked toward the front of the Church where most Catholic Masses still have room. But that Christmas day everyone was packed in. As I squeezed directly in front of a former eighth-grade religious education class student his mouth flew open in wordless surprise. On our way out, he started with, “Mr. Manicone, seeing you made my day!” I said sincerely, “Rob, you made mine!” As I prayed silently after receiving the Eucharist, a man squeezed my shoulder as he passed by with his child. I recognized him, an old friend whose dad died the week before. After mass, I found him outside. “I’m really sorry to hear about your dad—such a great guy. But he must be happy celebrating Christmas with Jesus face to face.” He smiled. Walking down the steps, I saw another former student. He spoke with a glow, “Ya know, Mr. Manicone, I chose visiting nursing homes as part of my Confirmation service project. That’s ‘cause of joining you for Christmas caroling last year.” I felt so proud of him: “That’s super, Gary. Just hearing that makes my Christmas happier.” I headed out to the Care Center to meet this year’s carolers. The residents called out my name and ran to embrace me. Some didn’t want to let me go and hugged me without letting up. They said “Thanks” so wholeheartedly. They kept saying, “I love you,” and I did too. These poor and sick under-loved discarded people have nothing to give except their love. And they so much appreciate us allowing them to love us. As prep in the entryway, I tell my companions, “I encourage you to listen to love a little more—unconditional pure giving love. Value your time spent with a person who has no one but you. That time is priceless, and its treasure is in heaven.” My friend Zeke and I received an instant lesson in love when we happened on two men in their room. One in a wheelchair spoke for the other who could not speak. He gazed at the bedridden man, and asserted, “That one is the most important person in the whole building.” That’s love. Afflictions only seem to heighten love. Down the hallway, we sang. One woman, Millie, could only grunt. She seemed to know and sing every line, glowing as though singing from the mouth of her heart. Singers came and left through the day, and the last part in the evening became more intense. A resident named Terry said his long-time roommate had a stroke and didn’t speak or move. As he lay immobile, we sang four songs around his bed. On the way out, I felt compelled to take the man’s hand and bless him, “Andy, I pray that Jesus will let you know how much He loves you—you’re His special friend. Merry Christmas!” His whole body came to life as he lifted himself up, grasped my hand, and exclaimed loudly, “God bless you! I love you.” Wow—the Christmas spirit brings forth life! Louise at 95 was in excruciating pain when we entered her room. She smiled peacefully as we sang and prayed over her. Mary has lain in her bed staring at the ceiling for years, with no TV or radio--she’s so content. When I asked her what she did with her time, she smiled, “I think.” It made me wonder: If she can be so peaceful, appreciate our singing, and take in our love, could I? What a day filled with the awe and wonder of Christmas—Jesus came to me, and I was privileged to bring Him to others.
Where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid world? Find it today! Covid Chronicles The word “lockdown” still takes my breath away. Fear is enemy number one. To prepare the battlefield, I placed Divine Mercy images on all my doors. I prayed that the Angel of Death of our times—Covid—would pass over this house. Inside my house, my statues of Jesus and His Mother faced out to protect the whole neighborhood and world. Then I began a notebook journal, my own “Covid Chronicles”. Anxiety, isolation, boredom and depression are relentless stalkers on this battlefield as well. Rereading my journal now, I see how the Lord is continuously helping his little ones to fight them. The Kingdom moments are in plain sight now. Do you recognize them? Your Daily Kingdom Moments Start your day with Power. Raise your heart and mind to the God who waits to hear our prayer. We have a God who, on His redeeming cross, said, “I thirst.” Do you know anyone else who died for you and still wants to help you more? Put all your fears right there at the foot of the cross. Because He is God, He knows them anyway and delights in banishing them. In return for your trust in Him, He gives you peace. Fair warning though: this is not a once and done deal. Every time fear sneaks back, have a battle cry ready. It could be simply, “Jesus, I trust in you.” That is the Divine Mercy prayer. When fear becomes too great for you to stand, kneel. I found that the moments on my knees were profound teaching moments. Humility is so necessary to authentic prayer. The rosary to our Blessed Mother, our great intercessor, is the greatest weapon for our time, according to Padre Pio. Pray it every day for soothing peace. Take in Wisdom. Read from daily devotionals, and religious magazines. The short meditations and scripture readings will say exactly what you need to hear at that time on that day. They will verify God’s presence with you and that is a Kingdom moment. Make Mass the mainstay of your day. I felt so grateful to our priests and to our technology which live streamed the Mass every day. The Word of God and spiritual communion were Kingdom moments delivered right to me. I knew I wasn’t alone. Mass was still a communal meal. Plug into Prayer Groups. I learned to Zoom and connected with an out of state prayer group. I attended many virtual conferences on healing and gifts of the Holy Spirit. My own local Charismatic prayer group conducted weekly meetings through both email and group telephone meetings. Scripture, personal witnessing, petitions for healings, and music were shared. Faith communities nourish the soul and we see that we are a united force connected to a mighty Power who blesses us because we worship and praise Him. Get outside. Life is for the birds, literally. There they were living their uninterrupted lives. They sang their songs, built their nests, fed their young etc. Nature is a Kingdom gift of beauty itself. Talk to positive people. I have smart and grace-filled friends. Connecting with them brings me laughter, and prayer reaffirming visits of the heart. We sympathize, support, and, most importantly, just listen to each other. They are life support during Covid days. If you don’t get a call, make a call. Someone is waiting for a Kingdom moment which you can supply. Set goals each day. At the beginning of Covid-19, I attacked boxes that I had promised myself I would go through years ago. Every day I still set a goal and accomplishing it makes me feel content. A pat on the backwards off depression. Indulge in “me” moments. It sounds contradictory, or even selfish, but doing what you love makes you a happier person. If you live with someone else, they will appreciate that a lot, I suspect. So sing, paint, write, exercise or create by crafting and kingdom moments will be given to others as well as yourself. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11) Always put yourself in the presence of God. Continually look and listen for Him. You will forget, but He will remind you. He is there; your Forever Friend, Savior, and Supplier of all you need. Yes, Covid-19 is a formidable foe, but if we put on the Armor of God we have the best defense. And if God is for us, and He is, the battle is already won. So where is the Kingdom of God in a Covid World? Where it always is—in our innermost being, our spirit.
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