FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11: In spite of the advances of modern medicine, today’s Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes reminds us that millions of ill Christians around the world still look to Lourdes after more than 150 years. Those faithful believe that miraculous healing waters can be found in Lourdes at a site where a young French girl first reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary on this day in 1858. (Get prayers for today at Women for Faith and Family.) Bernadette Soubirous was only 14 when she witnessed a series of apparitions, but she has since been canonized by the Church—and millions of pilgrims flock to this site every year. (Wikipedia has details.)
Perhaps what makes today’s observance so interesting is that its young Marian witness had very little knowledge of the Church. As the impoverished daughter of a family little involved in the Church, it was a most surprising event when Bernadette began telling her family and local religious figures about her experience. (Get the Catholic perspective at Catholic.org.)
Tradition has it that the apparition itself told Bernadette to dig in the ground to locate the spring, and from the very beginning, medical patients who drank this water reported miraculous cures. When quizzed by religious authorities on her apparition, Bernadette told them she had seen the “Immaculate Conception”—an official term that experts say she had no way of knowing.
Today’s site of Our Lady of Lourdes is quite a complex operation: The site consists of more than 20 acres, 22 places of worship, a Grotto and a Sanctuary. Thousands of pilgrims claim miracles from the Lourdes waters, although the Church only recognizes 68 of these. The Lourdes Medical Bureau, in fact, has long ensured that “miracle” cases are subject to investigation and accessible to doctors around the world.
The site of Our Lady of Lourdes attracts more than just ill visitors, though: One priest recently reported, in Catholic San Francisco, that his visit was the very reason he entered the priesthood. (Check out the article here.) In his article, the priest explains the ways he felt healed by Mary on a spiritual level—and how his life was changed by the experience.