Interview: On Lourdes and St. Bernadette
Elizabeth Ficocelli, author of "Lourdes: Font of Faith, Hope and Charity" is interviewed on the Pilgrimage site and the life of St. Bernadette.
In this interview with us, Ficocelli comments on the popularity of the pilgrimage site, her own experience at Lourdes, and what she hopes Benedict XVI will highlight during his Sept. 13-15 visit there.
Q: What is the particular draw to Lourdes, especially from those who visit the shrine from abroad?
Ficocelli: There are many factors that draw people to Lourdes, even across oceans and continents. Certainly, there is still the hope for physical miracles, as there has been since the earliest days of the apparitions. This is evidenced by the number of pilgrims with physical illness and disability that visit the shrine each year from all parts of the world -- upward of 70,000 -- and the 100,000 volunteers who travel with these individuals to assist them during their pilgrimage.
Less visible, but in no means less important, are the pilgrims who come to Lourdes in hopes for mental and emotional healing. This can include the healing of depression, bipolar disease, and addictions of all kinds.
Of course, individuals are also drawn to Lourdes for spiritual reasons. Some come in thanksgiving for favors bestowed upon them. Others come out of respect for Our Lady and the messages of prayer and penance she imparted in the grotto.
Many pilgrims to Lourdes -- including myself -- have found themselves surprised at the spiritual conversion they experience at the shrine during poignant moments such as participating in the processions, being lowered into the baths, or making a deep and heartfelt confession.
Q: What special challenges did you face as an English-speaking journalist writing a book on Lourdes?
Ficocelli: My first challenge in taking on this assignment was that I had never been to Lourdes myself. God resolved this perfectly, as I was invited to join a special needs pilgrimage organized by Our Lady of Lourdes North American Volunteers, an organization founded by Marlene Watkins, who herself had a profound conversion experience at Lourdes. My traveling companions gave me an insider's look at what it is to serve and be served at this popular Marian shrine.
As a naive American, I assumed everyone in France would speak English. I quickly discovered this was an incorrect notion. Far from the metropolitan center of Paris, Lourdes is nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France, not far from the Spanish border. The popular languages spoken at the shrine are French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, and then English. Therefore, I needed to have translators for most of the people I interviewed.
It was important to me that I did not merely report on Lourdes as a news story. My intention was to fully immerse myself in the experience of being a first-time Catholic pilgrim to the shrine. Although at times it was challenging to change hats from conducting interviews to entering prayerfully into the experience of Lourdes, I feel the blend of historic reporting and personal reflection has greatly strengthened the book.
Q: You had unprecedented access to some key personnel at Lourdes. How did this come about and what did this achieve for your book?
Ficocelli: I must credit God for every aspect of this book, from the invitation to write it to my pilgrimage experience and the unprecedented access I had to key personnel at Lourdes. Marlene Watkins, whom I mentioned above, was the first important door that God opened for me. This "veteran" of Lourdes introduced me to Father Regis-Marie de La Teyssonniere, an invaluable resource.
Father Regis-Marie served as the father general at Lourdes for over 10 years. He is a leading expert, author, and speaker on the apparitions, second only to the great Marian theologian, Father Rene Laurentin.
Fortunately for me, Father Regis-Marie spoke English. He graciously agreed to review my manuscript carefully for any inaccuracies in the telling of the history of the apparitions that seem to have crept into numerous books about Lourdes. Father also arranged for me to interview several important figures at the shrine including Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes; Father Patrick-Louis Desprez, general chaplain; Dr. Patrick Theillier, medical director; Gabriel Barbry, former president of hospitality; Philippe Tardy-Joubert, International Hospitality Conference coordinator; Father Raymond Zambelli, rector; Pierre Adias, communications director, numerous chaplains, volunteers and others.
These fascinating interviews ...
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