On this day Thursday 11th February in 1858 a young girl left her home in Lourdes, France with her sister Toinette, their friend Jeanne Abadie, to collect firewood in a remote piece of common ground, Massabielle, meaning rock. Her name was Bernadette. It was here that she first saw a beautiful young woman in a niche in the rock. 17 apparitions followed until 16th July. It was on 25th March that the vision revealed her name. Bernadette recalls “She lifted her eyes to heaven joined her hands, which were extended towards the earth, as though she was in prayer and said to me: “Que soy era Immaculade Councepciou” (I am the Immaculate Conception).
Since then thousands upon thousands of people have come here on pilgrimage. What makes Lourdes unique as a place of pilgrimage is that those who are sick take first place in everything. There are two places where sick pilgrims stay, the Accueil Norte-Dame and the Accueil Marie-Saint Frai. Each year 400,000 pilgrims are immersed in the water of the baths. This is in response to the Blessed Virgin saying to Bernadette’s on 25th February “Go and drink of the spring and wash yourselves there.” By the end of 1998 there were some 6,772 declarations of cures and among these declarations are 66 unexplained cures recognised by the Church. If you want to visit today here is the link. It is an amazing place and I have been able to go every year since I was sixteen years old. Last year because of the pandemic was the first time I was not able to go. For most of those years I have travelled with the HCPT Pilgrimage Trust.
11th February every year is World Day of the Sick, an observation introduced by Pope John Paul II as a way for believers to offer prayers for those suffering from illnesses. In his message this year Pope Francis wrote:
“United to Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit, we are called to be merciful like the Father and to love in particular our frail, infirm and suffering brothers and sisters (cf. Jn 13:34-35). We experience this closeness not only as individuals but also as a community. Indeed, fraternal love in Christ generates a community of healing, a community that leaves no one behind, a community that is inclusive and welcoming, especially to those most in need.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, the commandment of love that Jesus left to his disciples is also kept in our relationship with the sick. A society is all the more human to the degree that it cares effectively for its most frail and suffering members, in a spirit of fraternal love. Let us strive to achieve this goal, so that no one will feel alone, excluded or abandoned.”
“To Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Infirm, I entrust the sick, healthcare workers and all those who generously assist our suffering brothers and sisters. From the Grotto of Lourdes and her many other shrines throughout the world, may she sustain our faith and hope, and help us care for one another with fraternal love. To each and all, I cordially impart my blessing.”