Lourdes: 150 Years of Healing and Hope
CINCINNATI—Although Lourdes has been described as the “Disneyland of the Catholic Church,” the
countless pilgrims over the years would strongly disagree. Believers see Lourdes as less about manufactured
joy and more about the true joy that is found in giving time and loving service to the sick and needy.
At the heart of Lourdes stands an encounter of love between a child and a mother, between Bernadette
Soubirous and Mary, the Mother of God. This month marks the 150th anniversary of the first apparition
there. This meeting forever changed the face of a small French village and reawakened the spiritual
yearnings of people, making Lourdes a worldwide center of pilgrimage.
This holy place is featured in St. Anthony Messenger’s February cover story, “Lourdes:
150 Years of God’s Healing Care,” by Father John Lochran. The article is an excerpt from
his book The Miracle of Lourdes: A Message of Healing and Hope (St. Anthony Messenger Press,
2008). After January 21, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.
As chaplain to English-speaking pilgrims to Lourdes between 1985 and 1995, Father Lochran knows the
power and history of this faith-filled place. In 1858, Lourdes was an obscure village in southwestern
France. Among its poorest citizens were members of the Soubirous family: Francois, a miller by trade,
his wife, Louise, and their four children.
On Thursday, February 11, 1858, Bernadette, accompanied by her sister Toinette and a friend, Jeanne
Abadie, went to look for firewood. There, in a grotto, she saw a vision that left an indelible imprint
on her heart and began the story that is Lourdes.
She saw a “Lady dressed in white with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot, the color
of her rosary.” Who the “Lady” was became the subject of much debate. There were
18 apparitions in all, the last one occurring on July 16, 1858.
For Bernadette it was a time of private ecstasy and public hell. A 14-year-old illiterate child, she
was hounded by police and local authorities, interrogated and even threatened with prison. In the face
of this adversity, she remained steadfast. Bernadette stayed in Lourdes until 1866 when she joined
the Sisters of Charity and Christian Learning at Nevers in northern France. She remained there until
her death in 1879.
In the last 150 years, the appeal of Lourdes
hasn’t wavered. It has become synonymous with the physically sick and the handicapped. And there
have indeed been well-documented miraculous cures.
The message of Lourdes, however, goes far beyond physical healing. “Lourdes represents the Gospel message of a Father who lovingly
waits for the prodigal’s return,” Father Lochran writes. “It is a message of conversion
and mission. Lourdes is about the pilgrimage we make through life with God, in God and to God.”
When asked once in an interview what Father Lochran would say to those who have doubts about the story
of Lourdes, he quoted Bernadette’s reply to her contemporaries: “My job is just to give
you the message,” he said. “It’s up to you whether you believe it or not.”
Permission is granted to reprint this release.
The second article posted will be “Getting Lost in Lent,” by Judi