Friday, February 11, 2011


On three occasions in the past decade, I have had the opportunity to visit the shrine of Lourdes in France and have even been privileged to celebrate Mass in the famous Grotto, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous a total of 18 times, from February 11 to July 16, 1858. As I suspect almost anyone who has ever been there will gladly confirm, it is certainly an awesomely inspiring experience to go as a pilgrim to that beautiful and special place – joining the 5 million people of varied backgrounds who journey to that holy shrine each year. Lourdes, like Rome, offers that very special experience of the universality of the Church, as one joins one’s prayer with pilgrims from all over the world in such great gatherings as the daily procession with the Blessed Sacrament and the evening candlelight procession and group rosary. It is especially inspiring to see so many sick people travel to Lourdes to pray for physical and spiritual healing there, and also to observe the compassionate and loving way in which the sick are welcomed and enabled to participate in all the various activities. Since 1858, the Church has recognized some 65 miracles at Lourdes. In addition to the Grotto itself, the shrine also features the miraculous spring of water, from which one can drink and into which one can submerge oneself – as I did one very cold morning on my first pilgrimage to Lourdes. (I still have a supply of Lourdes water from my last trip there). The shrine also includes four distinct churches, three beautiful churches built one on top of the other, each larger than the one below. The fourth church, separate from the previous three, is actually an enormous underground basilica, which was dedicated by Blessed John XXIII in March 1858, in the centennial year of the apparitions, just a few months before his election as Pope. Since 1992, today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes has also been designated as the World Day of the Sick. In so designating it, Pope John Paul II (who certainly knew something about the experience of sickness in human life) called it “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church, and of reminding us to see in our sick brother and sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind.”

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