" I am the Immaculate Conception"
© Manuel González Olaechea y Franco
On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with her sisters Toinette and Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to be able to buy some bread. When she took off her shoes and stockings to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she heard the sound of two gusts of wind (coups de vent) but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. She saw a light in the grotto and a girl, as small as she was, dressed all in white, apart from the blue belt fastened around her waist and the golden yellow roses, one on each foot, the colour of her rosary. Bernadette tried to keep this a secret, but Toinette told her mother. After parental cross-examination, she and her sister received corporal punishment for their story.Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto with the two other girls. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil provenance, however the vision only inclined her head gratefully when the water was thrown.Bernadette's companions reportedly became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. Bernadette remained ecstatic when they returned to the village. On 18 February, she was told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady allegedly said: I promise to make you happy not in this world but in the next. After the news spread, the police and city authorities began to take an interest. Bernadette was prohibited by her parents and police commissioner Jacomet to ever go there again, but she went anyway. On 24 February the apparition asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners. The next day, Bernadette was asked to dig in the ground and drink the water of the spring she found there. This made her dishevelled and caused dismay among her supporters, but revealed the stream that soon became a focal point of pilgrimage. At first muddy, the stream became increasingly clean.As word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, and numerous miracle cures were reported. Seven of these cures were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman, whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. Several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, and Church and government officials became increasingly concerned.The government fenced-off the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of emperor Napoleon III with an order to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858. The Church had decided to stay away from the controversy altogether.
Bernadette, knowing the localities rather well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under the protection of darkness. There, on March 25, she was told: " I am the Immaculate Conception" ("que soy era immaculada concepciou"). On Easter Sunday, 7 April, her examining doctor stated that Bernadette, in ecstasy, was observed to have held her hands over a lit candle without receiving any burns. On 16 July, Bernadette went for the last time to the Grotto. I have never seen her so beautiful before. The Church, faced with nation-wide questions, decided to institute an investigative commission on 17 November 1858. On 18 January 1860, the local bishop finally declared that: The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous. These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fátima, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually.
The verity of the apparitions of Lourdes is not an article of faith for Catholics. Nevertheless all recent Popes visited the Marian shine. Benedict XV, Pius XI, and John XXIII went there as bishops, Pius XII as papal delegate. He also issued with Le Pelerinage de Lourdes a Lourdes encyclical on the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions in 1958. John Paul II visited Lourdes three times and Pope Benedict XVI completed a visit there on 15 September 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in 1858.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Lourdes
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