At the annual World Day of the Sick Mass — this year happening on Feb. 10 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels — thousands will be attending to gain, at the very least, a blessing and a little bit of comfort from the infirmities they face every day.
The Mass will feature an anointing of the sick, blessings for caregivers, and holy water from Lourdes. Each attendee will also receive a small bottle of water from Lourdes, along with a prayer petition card that will be taken to the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France.
Tom Condon will be one of those in attendance at the Mass, helping to bring up the gifts for holy Communion.
Although he will be seated at the Mass in a wheelchair — having severe arthritis in his hips that makes it difficult to stand or walk for long periods of time — Condon, 85, is not simply a bystander to the World Day of the Sick Mass or the Order of Malta organization that helps put it on.
For years, Condon served as the first Los Angeles president of the Order of Malta, a service organization whose history goes back nearly 1,000 years. As a successful businessman in the securities industry, he transferred his talents to use for giving back and helping others.
“I found it very uplifting,” said Condon, who, along with his wife, Julie, was in the Order of Malta’s second class, which is rarer. “Things that I had never done personally over the years.
“I really got to a point that I looked forward to it immensely.”
Condon has had a unique experience with the Order of Malta. After years of leading and serving during the Order of Malta’s sponsored pilgrimages to Lourdes, France — where malades (“sick” or “disabled people”) are taken to the grotto and spiritual baths of Our Lady of Lourdes — Condon spent his 10th time on the pilgrimage, not as a worker, but as a malade himself.
“As a malade, I could sense the care and loving that people put in it themselves,” Condon said. “It’s not a chore, it’s a privilege.”
Condon recalled an experience in Lourdes when he was president where the Order of Malta decided they should wash the feet of a malade. Condon said he was the first to do it.
“It was the most amazing sensation I ever had,” Condon said. “I didn’t need water; my eyes were watering that hard. It brought me down to a level of service that I never had. In my mind, I envisioned Christ doing that.”
Ann Sanders, an Order of Malta dame who co-chaired the World Day of the Sick event with Katy Calderon, had the opposite experience of Condon: She first went to Lourdes as a malade and later served on pilgrimages as a nurse.
“It was very humbling,” said Sanders, who went to Lourdes in between kidney transplant surgeries due to a genetic disease. “But it’s such a boost to your spiritual life. To experience that and to feel God’s love in so many ways.
“They just showered you with love and you knew that that love was God working through them. Now being in the Order as a dame of Malta, I get to now be the one that allows God to work through me and now share that love with those that we take on the trip.”
The Lourdes pilgrimage is so powerful that Sanders said they chose it as the theme for this year’s Mass: “A Spiritual Journey to Lourdes.” As part of the event, they will have photographs of Lourdes at the cathedral, along with people like Condon to speak about their experiences.
For this year’s Mass, the Order of Malta also had a 4-foot statue made of Our Lady of Lourdes that they will use in the opening procession, similar to how they do it on the pilgrimage.
“It’s such a beautiful experience in Lourdes and we realize that for many people this is the closest they’re going to get,” Sanders said.
The effort to bring water back from Lourdes to hand out during the World Day of the Sick Mass — about 180 pounds’ worth — plus taking the thousands of prayer petition cards to France can be laborious, but it’s worth it, Sanders said.
“They don’t all fit in one person’s suitcase,” she joked.
As someone who spent his life serving the sick and the suffering — and who is now the recipient of such care after his wife died in 2021 — Condon will continue his role with the Order of Malta during Saturday’s Mass, as he appreciates even more the organization’s mission to aid those who are ill or debilitated.
“You can tell when you go to a hospital, you can tell that the person taking care of you is because it’s a job,” Condon said. “When you go someplace like Lourdes where the person is there because they want to be involved and want to take care of you, you can feel the love.”