By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun

As Larry Dorame answered the phone, there was a sense of genuine care in his voice, a tone both sincere and natural.

“I’m good,” he said. “How are YOU doing?” asked the 34-year-old Gilbert resident, who, with his wife, Casey, and two daughters, is a parishioner of St. Timothy in Mesa.

It was a warm, positive tone that belies the challenges Dorame faces physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally; challenges that received a sizable lift March 1, when the Dorames learned Larry and Casey were accepted to be part of the Sovereign Order of Malta’s annual pilgrimage this spring to Lourdes, France, site of the organization’s annual visits to the grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared over a dozen times to St. Bernadette, and whose waters are said to possess a miraculous healing quality for many believers who stop there.

“I was in complete shock,” he said, recalling the day he received the news from his Order sponsor, Dame Roxanne Schroer, DM. “There are no words to begin to describe this.”

Dorame will be one of the “malades” going on the 2023 pilgrimage, a trip carried out yearly by the Order’s Western U.S. Association. The association is part of the global lay religious order founded in the 11th century as a military entity to protect and care for religious pilgrims. Today, its core mission is to carry out medical and humanitarian projects as a civilian entity. It is actively continuing works in 120 countries worldwide.

“I’m thrilled,” said Schroer, who initially made the trip herself as a “malade” years ago and now reviews pilgrimage applications.

“It’s been 4-5 years of trying to get him there. He’s had one reason or another that has kept him from going.”

It was never a case of whether Larry’s story was compelling enough.

Diagnosed with throat cancer in 2011, the newly married Dorame was initially treated and went into remission in 2012.

A year later, however, he developed intestinal problems.

What followed was a medical journey that left Dorame without his stomach, which doctors removed, and a series of infections. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Casey, a physician’s assistant in Chandler, contacted the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. There, doctors performed a complete re-sectioning of Larry’s GI tract, including removal of his colon, gallbladder and all but a small portion of his intestines.

“They essentially saved my life,” he said.

Now sustained through a feeding tube, he wears an ileostomy bag to collect and dispose of waste. He undergoes regular immunotherapy. He said there are “good days” and “bad days” marked frequently by nausea, vomiting and fatigue.

“Some days, I can’t get out of bed. Some days, I can’t take a sip of water,” he said.

‘I just knew in my heart he was going’

He was having a good day when Schroer, his sponsor, called to tell him he would be among those going to Lourdes.

The Dorames applied several times for the pilgrimage, with a promising case only to learn that doctors would not clear Larry for a cross-global flight. But in recent years, his condition improved enough.

“The last couple of years, he’s done a lot better with tube feeding. He’s able to manage his needs. He’s not getting infections the way he was,” Casey Dorame said.

Still, Larry was prepared mentally for the possibility of being turned down this year, too.

“I was at the grocery store, (Roxanne) called and said, ‘Larry, are you sitting down?” he recalled. ‘They chose you!

Schroer, speaking to The Catholic Sun, said the Order’s decision was a “resounding yes.”

“We worked so hard to get him there. I just knew in my heart he was going to go,” she said, adding the Order’s Western U.S. Association received its biggest pool of Lourdes applicants ever this year.

“We probably have 150 applying,” she said.

Dorame will be among a group that also includes parishioners from St. Paul in Phoenix, St. Maria Goretti in Scottsdale, Our Lady of Joy in Carefree, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Thomas the Apostle, both in Tucson; Sacred Heart in Coronado, Calif., and the Mother of the Eucharist in Georgetown, Texas.

Most will be joined by a caregiver, often a family member or friend. But the Order only pays for malades. Their companions must raise their trip expenses.

The pilgrims will meet May 2 in Los Angeles for a chartered, nonstop flight to Lourdes.
They’ll return May 9.

‘It’s beautiful; a quiet place’

While a long flight can tax or rule out a patient with multiple medical issues, the Order’s Western Association, U.S.A. Pilgrimage Director Mark Tiernan, KM, said the 787 jetliner the Order now uses incorporates a number of health and comfort features.

The cabin, according to jet-maker Boeing, provides “a very comfortable environment with higher humidity, wider aisles and seats, and larger windows.”

It also has a high fuel efficiency. Tierman said the lavatories are roomy with easier access than earlier jet models, and the air system is conducive to traveling with medical conditions.

“It’s almost impossible to get COVID in that thing,” he said.

While there are new features to the flight, the time on the ground in Lourdes will follow a tried-and-true formula.

Pushed in carts to avoid fatigue or in some cases, because they simply can’t walk much, the malades will attend Masses, pray the Stations of the Cross, receive Confession, and have their feet washed by Knights and Dames.

They can go to the grotto any time with their hotel located a block away, Schroer noted.

“It’s beautiful, a quiet place to reflect. It’s nice at night,” she said.

“On the last day, we (will) take them to a little town, and attend Mass in an ancient church. The pews are so old, they’re bowed,” said Schroer, who has followed her initial trip as a malade with several as a helper for the Order.

“It’s wonderful. You’re seeing it through their eyes. You see this transformation of the malade, finally recognizing this is where they need to be. You see such a change in them at the end.”

A vision and a pilgrimage is born

The highlight, of course, is the visit to the grotto.

It is the site where a young St. Bernadette experienced her first vision of the Virgin Mary nearly two centuries ago. According to Catholic Online, the world’s Catholic library, the 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous was gathering firewood with her younger sister and a friend when a beautiful lady appeared to her. Clad in blue and white, she smiled at Bernadette before making the Sign of the Cross with a rosary.

Bernadette fell to her knees, took out her own rosary and began to pray. Bernadette returned several times and again saw the vision. But it was an encounter two weeks later that changed her life and defined the site as a place of healing and comfort. On that day, the vision directed Bernadette to drink the grotto’s muddy water as an act of penance. The next day, the water was clear.

Church authorities and the French government later confirmed the water’s quality, and the city’s medical bureau has verified the accounts of a number visitors who have experienced cures after bathing in baths there filled with the grotto’s water.
Bernadette later became a nun and served in an infirmary, battling tuberculosis and asthma until her death in 1879 at age 35. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933.
Larry Dorame finds hope, comfort and inspiration in this saint’s life.

“I can’t help but completely relate to her. St. Bernadette suffered all these things, and the Lord still came to her and comforted her. As her life was ending, she felt despair, but she knew Our Lord and Our Lady were there.”

“I’ve known of Lourdes my entire life. My family has prayed to Our Lady for me, and I’ve had a huge devotion to her as well,” he said.

If the Blessed Virgin has been one of Larry’s spiritual pillars, his core of physical support has come largely through his wife.

Besides locating the pivotal treatment through the Cleveland Clinic, Casey Dorame is Larry’s caregiver.

Friends and family pick up the couple’s children and are physically present so the girls, ages 9 and 6, can do homework. But Casey Dorame makes sure Larry’s daily nutrition intake is accurate and sets up his infusions.

“[She] bears the biggest burden,” he said.

A key Bible verse

Casey and Larry met when she was 18. They never could have imagined the turns life would take. It’s been years since Larry was first diagnosed, and Casey has logged hours of care, not to mention mothering. Marveling at how it all gets done, she feels “truly sustained by Divine grace.

“I’ve never felt depleted – it has to be from God.”

Her spiritual resources include Scripture and the Sacraments: Adoration, Holy Communion and prayer, as well as speaking to priests at St. Tim’s and her faith family there.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t feel crushing at times, but when I carve out time to be silent and in His presence, I have a serenity — it doesn’t matter whether Larry is in the hospital or there is going to be another medication, or something to go through, there’s a peace no matter the circumstances.”

She has found particular comfort and inspiration through the Epistle of St. James, Chapter 1, verses 2-4, which state, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Called to be Christ to others

As the trip nears, the Dorames have full buckets of prayer and financial support.

On leave from his position with a professional fundraising and public relations firm since 2019, Dorame and his wife have had numerous medical bills.

Less than a week after learning of Larry’s selection, Casey’s GoFundMe web page netted over $9,000 – dollars that will cover her costs and his medical needs.

“The Saint Tim’s community are authentic, Christ-loving people who are so selfless. I know they prayed us to Lourdes,” she said. “We are immensely grateful and looking forward to giving back to them what they’ve given to us.”

She’s even more inspired by her husband.

“I know how incredible He is. He’s touched so many people’s lives in great ways, and I know he’s doing God’s work.”

The Dorames applied several times for the pilgrimage with a promising case, only to learn his doctors would not clear Larry for a cross-global flight. But in recent years, his condition improved enough.

“The last couple of years, he’s done a lot better with tube feeding. He’s able to manage his needs. He’s not getting infections the way he was,” Casey said.

While Larry is joyous and full of hope, he added that no one is promised God’s healing. He sees the message beyond himself in his condition.

“As Catholics and Christians, we should empathize with someone who suffers. My ailment is physical, someone else may be dealing with anxiety, depression, fear or job loss. We need to be compassionate in somebody’s suffering,” he said.

“We are all meant to spread God’s joy and mercy. We are all called to be Christ to someone else.

“I look back at all the things I’ve been through, yet I’m still alive, I’m speechless. Miracles already have happened in my life and continue to happen every day. Just when I’m about to give up, the Lord justifies my faith even further.”