February 11, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The appearances of Our Lady of Lourdes

John F. FinkSince Feb. 11, the date of this issue, is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I thought I would take a break from my “wisdom of the saints” series to write about what happened at Lourdes, France, in 1858.

The Blessed Virgin appeared that year to Marie Bernadette Soubirous, who was 14 at the time, 18 times beginning on Feb. 11. When she reported the visions, civil authorities tried to frighten her into recanting her accounts, but they could not. On Feb. 25, a spring emerged from the cave above which Mary was appearing.

On March 25, 1858, Mary told Bernadette that she was the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed infallibly by Pope Pius IX four years earlier.

Bernadette, who was canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI, wrote about her visions in 1861. She said that she and two other girls were on the banks of the river Gave when she heard a rustling sound. When she looked up, she saw a cave and a lady wearing a lovely white dress. There was a yellow rose on each of her feet, and she had a yellow rosary in her hand.

Bernadette said that she took out her own rosary and began to pray it while the lady let her beads slip through her fingers without moving her lips. When Bernadette stopped praying, the lady vanished. Bernadette asked her companions if they had seen anything, but they said no.

Bernadette returned to the site, and the lady reappeared. On the third occasion, she spoke and said that she wanted Bernadette to tell the priests to build a chapel there. She also told her to drink from the stream by the cave. But there was only a trickle of water there. Bernadette started to scrape the ground, but only on her fourth attempt was there enough water for any kind of drink.

She continued to return for 15 days, and the lady appeared each time except twice. Each time, she told her to look for a stream and wash in it, and to tell the priests to build a chapel there. She also told her to pray for the conversion of sinners. And then, Bernadette wrote, “Finally, with outstretched arms and eyes looking up to heaven, she told me she was the Immaculate Conception.”

Since then, Lourdes has become one of the major pilgrimage destinations in the world. More than 6 million people visit each year. The spring has produced 27,000 gallons of water each week, and it is seen as having healing powers. Pilgrims bathe in it.

The Knights of Malta annually take planeloads of maladies (sick people) to Lourdes so they can wash in the healing waters. More than 7,000 unexplainable cures have been reported, but the Church has recognized only 67 of them as miracles since 1858, most recently in 2005.

Each reported cure is examined carefully by the Lourdes International Medical Committee composed of 30 specialists, surgeons and professors from various countries, who meet once a year. Assessments continue over several years. †

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