Interview: On Lourdes and St. Bernadette
allowed me to present a unique view of the shrine today and its importance for the future. Specifically, I was able to explore for my readers the complex process of authenticating miracles at Lourdes; the powerful spiritual conversion that happens daily in the confessionals as witnessed by the chaplains who serve there; the unparalleled network of volunteerism at the shrine and its significant effect on all pilgrims; the personal recollections of eyewitnesses to the historic visits of Pope John Paul II to Lourdes; and how the shrine is qualified and ready to contribute to the efforts of the universal Church to evangelize the world.
Q: What misconceptions about the shrine did you find in researching this book?
Ficocelli: There are those in the Catholic faith today that would like to categorize Lourdes as "pre-Vatican II spirituality" -- in other words, something that is quaint and perhaps borderline superstitious, but not really relevant for the modern world.
I feel nothing could be further from the truth. My experience in researching and writing this book proved to me that Lourdes is an important center of Catholicity, a place where our faith is alive and vibrant and appealing to people of all ages, life styles, and even religious beliefs.
For example, if your concept of Lourdes is that it is a place for rosary-wielding little old ladies, you will be surprised at the strong presence of young people who visit and work at the shrine. Lourdes is a magnet for teenagers from all over the world. They can really identify with Bernadette Soubirous, who was 14 years old at the time of the apparitions. Bernadette is an icon for young Catholics that they, too, can be powerful instruments in changing the world when they say "yes" to God. Young people find themselves not only welcomed, but needed at the shrine, because many of the volunteer positions demand the physical strength, stamina and exuberance characteristic of the young.
Secondly, Lourdes is not merely a Catholic phenomenon. Certainly, the far majority of pilgrims who visit are Catholic. But the shrine also attracts Protestants, Muslims, and Buddhists -- including the Dalai Lama himself -- who recognize Lourdes as an important spiritual center for the world today. Even atheists have been known to come to the shrine, mostly out of curiosity, trying to understand the powerful attraction of such places. Many people have converted because of their positive experience at Lourdes.
Finally, Lourdes has great relevance not only for today, but for the future of our Church. It is not, insists Bishop Jacques Perrier, a historical museum to commemorate an event of the past. Rather, it is a living sanctuary that continues to lead people to a deeper spirituality. This is why he has worked diligently with leaders of pilgrimage organizations throughout Europe to discern specific areas in which Lourdes can offer the universal Church input and expertise. These areas include the mission of the Church in relation to the sick, to people with disabilities, to young people, to peace, to Mary, to the promotion of the Eucharist, to the service of others, to the marginalized, to the nations, to the unity of Christians and to interreligious dialogue.
Q: Just at the time you were accepting this assignment, Lourdes was making headlines around the world. It seems there was talk of proposing a new way to approach the subject of healings and miracles that take place at the shrine on a regular basis. Can you tell us more about that?
Ficocelli: Since the apparitions took place 150 years ago, millions of people have visited Lourdes. Generations of people have credited the shrine and its healing waters for miraculous outcomes. But if you look at the number of Church-approved miracles, you'll see a different story: There are only 67. Why so few?
According to Dr. Patrick Theiller, medical director at Lourdes, the disparity is the result of three factors. First, the criteria used to evaluate miracles -- the same criteria used today to authenticate miracles in the process of canonization -- were established in 1734. These criteria exclude spiritual and psychological cures, as these cannot be measured scientifically. This automatically eliminates a significant number of healings that people experience at Lourdes.
Second, not every pilgrim who experiences a profound improvement in his or her physical health wishes to undergo the intense and lengthy examination process required for a cure to be authenticated -- or the publicity that often goes with it. A cure recipient, for example, is expected to return to the medical bureau at Lourdes several times over the course of five or more years to prove that a cure is lasting. This is simply not possible for all people, especially those coming from far distances.
Third, the process requires the consent and cooperation of the ...
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