February 11 is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes! Parishioner Sarah Banda shares her experience visiting Lourdes and witnessing the incredible healing that Our Lady offers.
Though having heard the story of St. Bernadette as a child, I didn't know much about Our Lady of Lourdes, nor had a strong devotion to her until I first visited. While studying abroad in Austria, I had the opportunity to serve on a mission trip in Lourdes with North American Lourdes Volunteers; a non-profit based out of the U.S. that organizes pilgrimages for people seeking healing from Our Lady and the sacred healing waters in Lourdes. At the time, I had no idea how impactful it would be to go and serve the weak, sick, vulnerable pilgrims whose hope was a light and reminder of our utter dependence on God. St. John Paul II said that if Rome was the head of the Church, Lourdes is the heart of the Church. It truly is the only place this side of Heaven where the last and the least are put first and elevated to VIP status. It was a stunning and gorgeous witness to see those on stretchers and in wheelchairs, those with visible and invisible ailments of every kind, being seen, loved, served, and held in highest reverence. Additionally, it was a melting pot of every country, culture, and language...the sheer magnitude of people which again was Heaven on Earth. Charity was perfectly ordered. Every heart was sincere. And Mary was honored for her aid in bringing souls to Christ. I remember thinking this is what God wants for every person, to be treated according to their dignity and loved fully. Our role was one of hospitality, making sure that the pilgrims who came with their medical teams were comfortable while lovingly attending to their needs. The simplicity of the mission is the same as the simplicity of the miracles of Lourdes. With regard to the healing waters, St. Bernadette reminds us that all we need is one drop and faith. Through it the Blessed Mother provides comfort and peace to all who seek it.
My heart was constantly consoled by the peace of being in such a sacred and ordered place. I remember wheeling a 98-year-old woman named Rita to the water fountains, which was essentially a long row of taps where visitors could wash their hands and face, bless themselves, or fill bottles with the Lourdes water. She asked me to fill a bottle for her and say a prayer. Afterwards she took out a cheap plastic Rosary and took a few seconds to silently pray. As she placed the rosary in the stream from the faucet, I watched as it miraculously changed to a much more precious rosary with pearl beads and a gold chain. This is exactly the rosary Our Lady of Lourdes held when she appeared to Bernadette. In a very humble and quiet way, Rita turned to me astonished and teary and said, "my rosary turned to gold!" Then she simply clutched it over her heart and repeated, "thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Mary."
I realized that Our Lady was incredibly active and that the manifestations like these (though not formally declared miracles of Lourdes) were common, mysterious, and fruitful for each soul as an individual. She revealed how present she is to us as a mother. My trust in her and love for her grew deeply.
One of the key things our Church does before declaring a miracle is to look for any evidence that the event could be of natural causes. She safeguards our belief in miracles, so that people in and out of the Church do not sensationalize what should only be glorifying to God. Because of this, there is a scientific bureau in that investigates each incident of healing or claim of the miraculous. In order to prevent bias, every scientist or doctor involved is generally atheist. Because of the sheer number of miraculous healings, many of the employees unwittingly convert to Catholicism, which I suspect is not merely a byproduct, but an intended fruit the Blessed Mother uses for souls. I say this part to preface that the next story, while clearly miraculous, was not declared an official miracle of Lourdes.
Another pilgrim from the States named Heidi, came with her team of two doctors, and her husband. She was a convert from agnosticism, to Judaism, to Catholicism through studying about Our Lady. Her devotion the Blessed Mother led her to Lourdes as a dying wish for consolation and peace. She had stage four cancer metastasized throughout her entire body, and was bound to a stretcher. Part of the pilgrimage involved going into the piscines, or baths of Lourdes water. I remember helping with a team of people to lower her on her stretcher in the bath. The tradition is to walk into the bath with an intention and walk out the other side where you kiss a small statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.
In this case, we brought the statue to her lips. Long after our return to the U.S., about six months later, we heard from her. After her pilgrimage she came home to Indiana, and continued with one additional treatment, though she had experienced a full recovery. She was walking again and completely cancer free, leaving her doctors dumbfounded.
While this was obviously a miracle, as her medical team had no explanation, the bureau of Lourdes could not declare it an official miracle of Lourdes because of the single treatment that she received. The Church in her wisdom stays above reproach and prudently did not claim it, but Heidi and her family attribute this healing to Our Lady of Lourdes. Mary did it again. Since that time, my devotion to Our Lady has deepened immensely. I'm very grateful to her for the work she has allowed me to witness, and how she has
healed me personally.
Thank you Sarah for sharing your story! Do you have a story of how a saint or pilgrimage impacted you? Let us know! Email email@example.com.