By Archbishop John C. Favalora *
My dear friends,
Exactly 150 years ago this month, the Virgin Mary began appearing to a poor peasant girl in a small village called Lourdes in France. The Virgin identified herself as the Immaculate Conception — an article of faith that had been proclaimed by the pope only four years earlier.
There was no way this 14-year-old peasant girl living in that isolated village could have known about that teaching. That was the first proof for the authenticity of the apparitions. Then came the miraculous cures from a mysterious fountain that had never been seen before.
Lourdes today is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the world. Thousands upon thousands come year-round to pray and wash in the healing waters. Hundreds more come for weeks at a time as volunteers, to help the sick who come in search of healing.
Crutches line the walls of the grotto, left behind by those who have been cured of physical ailments. Hundreds more have been cured psychologically and spiritually.
At Lourdes, God chose to intervene in human history. The apparitions confirmed the wisdom of the church in declaring that Mary — unlike any other human in history — had been conceived without original sin.
God had accorded her this privilege in preparation for her role as mother of his son. Because of Mary’s “immaculate conception,” a feast we celebrate Dec. 8, she also would be spared from death, and instead “assumed” into heaven, body and soul. We celebrate the feast of the assumption of Mary on Aug. 15.
Although the streets leading up to the apparition site in Lourdes are filled with shops selling religious articles, the site itself is an oasis of peace and prayer. In Lourdes, people of all nations, languages and cultures come together for a eucharistic procession each night. They pray the Rosary as one, each in his or her own language.
Those who make pilgrimages to Lourdes do not come to worship Mary, for she is human like us. Since the beginning, and Lourdes is no exception, Mary has pointed to Christ: “Do whatever he tells you,” she told the waiters at the wedding feast in Cana. “Do whatever he tells you,” she tells us today.
Lourdes serves as a reminder that God can and does intervene in human history. It is a reminder that God is with us still. He has never abandoned us. He has not forgotten us.
Let us pray that through the intercession of the Immaculate Conception of Mary we may be blessed with a pure heart with which to hear the word of God and do his will, as Mary did when she said “yes” to being the mother of the Lord.
Printed with permission from Florida Catholic.
* Most Rev. John C. Favalora is the archbishop of the archdiocese of Miami, Florida.