By Regina Linskey
WASHINGTON (CNS) – People today can identify with the weaknesses of St. Bernadette Soubirous and the message of her Marian apparitions, said a French bishop whose diocese includes Lourdes.
Everyone has limitations and flaws, Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes said Nov. 27, 2007. The eldest of nine children, St. Bernadette was illiterate and her family was so poor that they lived in a former prison, he said.
But St. Bernadette had a "kind of wisdom" and was "strong in the head," and Mary chose her, said the bishop.
When the 14-year-old girl was with Mary, she always was confident, Bishop Perrier said.
Noting that today people are expected to be successful and make money off of their own experiences, he said St. Bernadette "made a choice to remain poor, and she was always very humble." St. Bernadette entered religious life in 1862 and remained hidden from the world.
Bishop Perrier was in Washington to discuss the yearlong celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes. The jubilee year opened on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8, 2007, and will be celebrated with pilgrimages, missions, conferences and a papal visit to Lourdes. The events will involve places throughout the world associated with the name of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, including several hundred places in the United States.
On Feb. 11, 1858, St. Bernadette, her sister and a friend went looking for wood and bones. As she was taking off her stockings and shoes to get ready to cross a canal, she heard a gust of wind and saw a young woman dressed in white. That was the first of 18 apparitions.
The message from Mary at Lourdes – conversion and penance – is needed every day, Bishop Perrier said. He said people can change their behavior, have a conversion of heart and internal reconciliation with the past or with family, and strengthen their relationship with God.
Noting the millions of people who have experienced conversion and cures at Lourdes, he said someone might think, "If all these people experience that before me, maybe I can experience that myself."
For those who cannot travel to Lourdes, Bishop Perrier said people can experience the celebrations by linking to the images and live pictures on the jubilee Web site – www.lourdes2008.com.
He added that a novena, which will be available online in English, will be offered especially for those unable to visit Lourdes. Through the novena, all people around the world can experience the story of Lourdes, said the bishop.
Every year, more than 500,000 American Catholics are estimated to visit the sanctuaries at Lourdes.
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