More than 7,000 people have reported that they experienced a physical healing because of a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, but what about the millions more who come to the Lourdes Grotto and leave without receiving a miraculous physical healing?
This was the case for a 54-year-old man who came to Lourdes from England. Doctors had given him three months to live and he arrived at the Marian shrine with his wife and two children in his last month.
When he arrived, he told the volunteers at the shrine: “I want to be cured” and “I have to live!”
The volunteers walked with the man and his family throughout their pilgrimage to Lourdes, bringing him to the Eucharistic procession, encouraging his family to pray together at the baths, and inviting him to make a confession.
“But I haven’t made my confession for 25 years,” he objected at first.
After a little encouragement, the man approached the sacrament and afterward he was filled with joy. “I feel so clean and I feel so happy,” he said.
By the final day of the pilgrimage, the volunteers noticed a change in the man. He seemed much more calm. He said that his prayer had changed from “I want to be cured” to “Thy will be done.”
“Now I’m ready to go,” he said. “And all I can say is ‘Thy will be done.’ And if I die, I go in glory.”
Two weeks later the man died. His wife said that in his last two weeks, the man was so happy and kept telling all of his friends, “Lourdes was the greatest gift I received in my life.”
The man’s story was recounted by Jay and Aruna Perumal, a Catholic couple from Canada who have been volunteers at Lourdes for more than 20 years.
“A lot of people come here to Lourdes expecting miracles,” Jay told CNA.
“So we always tell them, ‘Look, it’s a process. You first go and cleanse yourself by making a confession. Then you go and pray at the grotto. If you can, go up the mountain to pray the ‘Way of the Cross’ … and then go for a bath … putting yourself into Mother Mary’s hands,” he continued.
“And we have found that everyone who has gone through the process and done it properly, they may not have had a physical cure, but they have had either a mental, or spiritual, or a physical cure. … They are completely different people to what they were when they came here.”
Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes and Lourdes agrees that spiritual healing through the forgiveness of sins is at the heart of the message of Lourdes.
“This is the healing God wants to offer to everyone. The healing of the soul, of the heart, of the will,” the bishop said.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is one of the most visited religious shrines in the world, attracting more than 5 million visitors each year. It marks the site where a young St. Bernadette Soubirous witnessed 18 Marian apparitions beginning on Feb. 11, 1858.
During the ninth apparition, the Blessed Virgin Mary told Bernadette: “Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself there.” The miraculous spring that appeared after Bernadette humbly dug in the dirt with her hands resulted in the healing of a woman with a paralyzed hand in the presence of more than 1,500 people in 1858.
Since then, doctors on the International Medical Committee of Lourdes have certified 70 medical cures from the spring as being “unexplained on the basis of current medical knowledge.” The most recent medical miracle at Lourdes took place in 2008 when Sister Bernadette Moriau was cured of total paralysis resulting from cauda equina syndrome, a disorder of the nerves and lower spine.
When accompanying visitors to the baths at Lourdes, Jay points out that there is also a spiritual meaning in the Virgin Mary’s words “Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself there.”
“She is asking us to go to the fountain, who is her son, Jesus, and to cleanse yourself through him and get his mercy in confession,” he said. “She was giving a sign to show that you should go to confession and cleanse yourself.”
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The Marian shrine places an emphasis on the sacrament of reconciliation, offering confessions in French, Italian, English, Spanish, German, Dutch, and other languages in response to Our Lady of Lourdes’ request to Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners.
When one attends Mass at Lourdes, it is not uncommon to hear the chaplains and volunteers invite people to make a confession during their pilgrimage, sometimes with the phrase, “No pilgrimage to Lourdes is complete without making a confession.”
Bishop Micas said that visiting priests also experience renewal and healing in their priestly ministry in Lourdes by offering the sacrament of confession all day.
Priests who come to Lourdes and hear confessions often share the experience of hearing from “people who hadn’t confessed for years and years,” Micas said.
“The life of the priests who serve in this ministry is changed by consequence of this ministry,” the bishop added. “I see here in Lourdes priests being healed themselves in serving in this special sacrament.”
“The experience of Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle and the message … from the Virgin Mary … for the Church for the world, touches the heart of everyone, and the experience and the life of everyone, everywhere,” Micas said.
Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the head of the Maronite Catholic Church, shared a testimony on the shrine’s website about the power of the Lourdes message.
“At Lourdes, healing is possible on the physical, spiritual, and moral levels. But what Christ desires above all for each of us is spiritual healing,” the cardinal said. “We are all sick in our hearts. Spiritual sickness is sin. We all need to be healed.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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