Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2005
Flowing, healing water of Lourdes
The unique sanctity of this original site has been preserved over these 147 years
Our Lady of Lourdes — February 11
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
What amazes and delights many first-time pilgrims to the world renowned shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes is the way in which the actual site of apparitions to St. Bernadette Soubirous has been preserved. The grotto of Massabielle remains much as it must have been in that winter of 1858.
Except when Mass is being celebrated there, visitors may enter the shallow cave to partake of the traditional ritual of touching the cool rock walls and can observe the spring that miraculously appeared there.
Curative water sampling
Nearby, the pilgrims can sample the curative waters from this very stream. The Gave de Pau still flows serenely past the holy grotto and the crowds that approach the place do so humbly and noiselessly.
The story here is a familiar one - of how one of three poor children, gathering firewood near the river experienced an apparition of a woman - "young and fair - and she smiled" who joined Bernadette in reciting the rosary. This was the first of 18 visits from Our Lady despite violent skepticism and opposition from just about everyone in town.
The Blessed Virgin requested that Bernadette pray for a troubled world. At the 16th appearance, on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, after being repeatedly asked who she was responded, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Communicated in the local patois, Bernadette sought out the parish priest to explain the statement, which meant nothing to her since Pope Pius IX had only proclaimed the doctrine of the birth without sin of the Mother of God four years previously.
After the final encounter on July 16, Bernadette entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers and spent her last years in seclusion at Nevers. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933.
Topography at the site of the apparitions allowed for the construction of three great superimposed churches above the grotto.
They are all, including a number of smaller chapels, the scene of almost constant celebrations of the Eucharist.
The 80,000 sick and disabled yearly pilgrims are given pride of place at all functions, not surprising since Lourdes pioneered the concept of handicapped access and provides thousands of wheelchairs and attendants where needed.
So much to experience
The basilicas and their environs are only a part of the huge complex at Lourdes. There are monuments and statues to examine, walkways and a spectacular Way of the Cross with larger-than-life gilded figures.
Across the river, at the place where Our Lady appeared when police had sealed the grotto, a large modern church honours the name of St. Bernadette. Also on the grounds is the new underground Basilica of St. Pius X, capable of accommodating 30,000 people.
Pilgrims can visit Bernadette's birthplace, the Boly Mill and the Cachot where her family occupied a disused jail cell.
Lourdes, in the Haute-Pyrenees Department of old historic Gascony, owes its name to Lorus, a defender of the imposing hilltop castle here.
Besieged by Charlemagne, a compromise was reached and Lorus' name is perpetuated in the town of Lourdes.
With three and one half million visitors each year, Lourdes is the scene of almost constant activity, from a variety of Masses, celebrated in several languages, to the popular healing baths, to huge evening candlelight processions.
This year's anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated as an optional memorial in the Church calendar, since Feb. 11 falls in Lent.
Hopefully, visitors leave this holy place carrying with them a revival of faith for Christians, hope of recovery for the invalid and a reason to hope for all.
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