The Lourdes Experience

by Dan Valenti

The appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, France, stands as the defining, Church-approved Marian apparition of the "modern" (post-Industrial Revolution) era. Even more so than the events at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, Lourdes represents the seminal Marian visitation if for no other reason than it was at the former garbage dump known to the locals as Massabieille (the Big Rock) that Our Lady revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception.

Today, Bernadette Soubirous, a tiny but vibrant peasant girl, is revered as a saint. Back then, though, at the time of Mary's appearances to her in 1858, Bernadette was the victim of laughter and scorn. Nonetheless, the girl endured the vilification for the greater good of responding to God's will.

That is an oft-forgotten aspect of Lourdes - that is, the typically hidden nature of God's will. In a given moment, God's will is not so much for us to understand but to discern and then respond. That's what St. Bernadette did, and today thousands of "little Bernadettes" - nurses, doctors, guides, lay volunteers, chaplains, and pilgrimage directors - do the same. They minister to those who come to Lourdes for healing.

We can call it the Lourdes Experience.

The Lourdes Experience, though, is not just for those who physically travel to Lourdes but also for people who, in prayer, present themselves to Mary as the Mediatrix of All Graces and powerful intercessor for man.

The Lourdes Experience visited Eden Hill on Oct. 18, 2007. Father Regis-Marie de La Teyssonniere, Chaplain of Honor at Lourdes, brought his "Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage" to Stockbridge, Mass., home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy and the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

Father Regis-Marie led two virtual pilgrimages to Lourdes that day. Each 90-minute "pilgrimage" included prayer, a slide show, washing with Lourdes water, touching grotto rocks, and blessings.

Speaking of Lourdes, Fr. Regis-Marie noted two commonalities that have held true during its first 150 years as a pilgrimage site:

• At Lourdes, the sick suffer in peace "because they accept the cross as the will of God." Father Regis-Marie said, "They suffer well because they understand suffering's value."
• The overall impression of most who come to Massabieille is what the Lourdes chaplain calls "peace of soul." There, he said, even in the midst of crowds, "one feels alone before the Blessed Sacrament, alone with Mary. There, our thoughts fly to the Immaculate Conception."

In finishing his presentation, Fr. Regis-Marie called Lourdes "one of the great spiritual wonders of the 19th century, so relevant for us in the 21st [century]."

The "virtual pilgrims" stood convinced.

For more information about a Lourdes "virtual pilgrimage," contact North American Lourdes Volunteers, P.O. Box 3820, Syracuse, NY 13220. You can also call toll-free 1-866-LOURDES.


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