Lourdes shrine invites the sick to find hope through virtual visit
by Courtney Mares
Rome Newsroom, Feb 11, 2021 / 08:00 am MT (CNA).- On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the papal delegate for the Marian shrine urged masked pilgrims and virtual viewers alike not to lose hope in the face of sickness and difficulties.
“Lourdes is the place where numerous sick usually come to entrust to Mary their lives, their pains, sometimes their discouragement, but also to find peace, confidence, daily hope,” Bishop Antoine Hérouard said in his homily for the Mass offered at Lourdes on Feb. 11.
Hérouard, the papal delegate for the Lourdes sanctuary and auxiliary bishop of Lille, said that he knew that many people “have a heavy heart not being able to come to Lourdes” during this difficult time. But he underlined that, whether from behind a screen or through the airwaves, “the power of prayer brings the whole world together with Mary here in Lourdes.”
More than 6,000 viewers tuned in live online to watch the Mass at the Lourdes Basilica of St. Pius X and prayer at the Marian grotto through the sanctuary’s YouTube live-stream Thursday morning.
After a difficult year for the shrine in which 95% of pilgrimages were canceled, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars, Lourdes has been working both to host sanitary and safe pilgrimages for the summer of 2021 while offering online resources.
From Feb. 11 to Feb. 12, Lourdes is hosting an online conference with 850 registered participants, mostly made up of pilgrimage directors, local hospitality leaders, and religious tourism professionals.
Lourdes has also published a 60-page health charter outlining its new health measures for the processions, use of Lourdes spring water, and other elements that typically make up a pilgrimage.
“The Word of God that we have just heard … invites us to look far ahead, to turn resolutely towards the Lord, to receive from him the true hope, the concrete hope,” Hérouard said in his homily.
“Yes, the Lord invites us to look beyond the difficulties of the present moment, to broaden our horizon, to open our hearts … It is about recognizing that our life is bigger, more beautiful, than what we know and understand, and that beyond the sufferings and difficulties that we may experience personally or collectively, we are in the hand of God, it is he who opens the future to us.”
The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes coincides with the World Day of the Sick, established by St. John Paul II in 1992.
Lourdes has been known as a sanctuary for the sick for more than a century. The shrine contains a spring through which miraculous healings have been documented.
Feb. 11 marks the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to the young St. Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto at Massabielle in 1858. Bernadette said: “I saw a lady dressed in white: she was wearing a white dress, and a white veil, a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot.”
The Virgin Mary went on to appear to Bernadette in Lourdes a total of 18 times. In the ninth apparition, on Feb. 25, 1858, Our Lady instructed Bernadette to “drink from the fountain and bathe in it.” The young girl began to scratch gravel off the ground and discovered a spring that still provides approximately 27,000 gallons of fresh water each week.
There have been more than 7,000 miraculous recoveries attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes at the shrine, fewer than 100 have been recognized by Lourdes officials, while others have been documented by bishops in local dioceses. An official miraculous recovery must generally be a complete, spontaneous, and immediate healing from a documented medical condition.
The latest official miracle attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes was declared in 2018.
In this year’s message for the World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis said that Christ’s death and resurrection gave full meaning to the experience of illness.
He wrote: “The Gospel frequently makes this clear by showing that Jesus heals not by magic but as the result of an encounter, an interpersonal relationship, in which God’s gift finds a response in the faith of those who accept it. As Jesus often repeats: ‘Your faith has saved you.’”
The pope also said that “sickness raises the question of life’s meaning, which we bring before God in faith.”
Hérouard said in his homily that the hope brought by Christ’s death and resurrection reminds us that we are made for a “life that does not end.”
He pointed to the hope found in this passage from the Book of Revelations: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth … I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband … He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them.’”
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ … To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water.”
Lourdes is one of the most-visited pilgrimage sites in the world, typically receiving three million international pilgrims and visitors each year, including more than 50,000 sick and disabled people.
The sanctuary closed for the first time in its history in March 2020 due to lockdown restrictions imposed by the French government because of the coronavirus.
Msgr. Hérouard said that throughout the months of closure to the public in 2020, the religious at the Marian shrine never ceased praying for “innumerable intentions received every day in all languages and from all walks of life.”
At the end of the feast day Mass, international viewers of the live-stream could see masked French pilgrims joining in a procession from the basilica to the Marian grotto carrying a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and singing the “Immaculate Mary” hymn, also known as the “Lourdes Hymn.”
“This daily prayer of the sanctuary in the celebrations of the Eucharist, in the recitation of the rosary, has been, and always will be, the expression of the mystery of Lourdes, of the grace conferred on Bernadette and transmitted to us, of a communion that unites believers for whom Lourdes is a landmark, a hope, a joy,” Hérouard said.