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By Barbara Kralis
©Barbara Kralis 2004
It was more than 150 years ago. The recently defined and promulgated dogmatic title was miraculously given to an illiterate peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, from the farming village of Bartrčs. The Blessed Mother proclaimed to her in l858 "I am the Immaculate Conception."
The theologically profound title, "I am the Immaculate Conception," held no meaning for the young fourteen year old who had difficulty memorizing her simple daily prayers.
To no avail, they tried to trick Bernadette into recanting her miraculous visitations.
The first apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes began on February 11, 1858, at the rocky grotto of Massabielle, near Lourdes in Southern France. Bernadette Soubirous was to see her beautiful Lady, a radiant woman, or "Aquero," seventeen more times.
At the third miraculous apparition, on February 18, the Blessed Mother asked Bernadette to come to the grotto every day for two weeks. She told Bernadette that if she did as she was asked, that she could not promise Bernadette happiness in this life, but she could and would promise it in the next.
Young Bernadette, the messenger of the Immaculate, followed the Blessed Mother's wishes and visited the grotto daily.
At one of the apparitions, Our Lady told Bernadette to scratch at the muddy earth and to drink and wash from an invisible stream of water. Later the stream became visible to all. It was discovered to have miraculous healing powers that would attract hundreds of millions of people from around the world.
Our Blessed Mother told Bernadette that she came primarily to tell the world of her Son's message of repentance and prayer for the conversion of humanity.
Has her miraculous plea ever been so needed as in our own times?
That first year of 1858, three miraculous cures took place. The reputation of Lourdes as a place of healing grew rapidly.
As with all miracles performed by Jesus, He did so not to show His power but to convince mankind that God exists.
In 1862, after rigorous examination and testimony of many, the Church declared the apparitions at Lourdes as authentic.
Part of the Blessed Mother's requests was to build a chapel at the site where she appeared to Bernadette. Today stands a large Basilica that has held more than 30,000 pilgrims at one time.
Saint Pius X, wishing to establish greater devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, proclaimed the Shrine of Lourdes, located in the region of the Hautes-Pyrénées, "the seat of Her immense kindness."
Bernadette died in l879. Pope Pius XI declared her a Saint on December 8, 1933. Her body is publicly displayed and remains incorrupt for over 125 years in the chapel of the convent of Nevers. The once invisible miraculous spring now produces over 30,000 gallons of water per day.
Six million pilgrims come to Lourdes each year. The multitudes come from around the world - the sick, the poor, the downtrodden, the psychologically confused, the spiritually wrought, and the never-ending handicapped.
The grace one receives on a pilgrimage to Lourdes varies from person to person. Some people come for physical healings and instead they receive from the Compassionate Immaculate the needed grace to bear the Cross God has given them.
Newly arrived miserable, anxious pilgrims come looking for peace and find the grace to change their lives and flee materialism and comforts.
The addicted come for release from demons and find the resolve, with God's grace, to miraculously abandon their vices.
Some people come following Mary's call for an increase of faith; they return home renewed spiritually and sometimes, surprisingly, physically well.
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The fallen away come to Lourdes for proof of the existence of God and their prayers are answered through the gift of the Sacrament of Confession and repentance.
None of these miraculous healings is recorded, but they exist by the tens of thousands, perhaps millions.
The sight of hundreds of handicapped persons in wheelchairs and carried on stretchers making the upper 'Stations of the Cross' is a never to be forgotten holy pageant. The evening candlelight rosary procession of thousands of pilgrims is a life-changing event.
"At Lourdes, each afternoon, in the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, the bishop or priest, carrying the monstrance, walks among the sick, blessing them. It is then that the cures and the miracles of grace usually take place. Mary brings her children to her divine Son and it is he who works the miracles."
The devotion of the hundreds of daily volunteer stretcher-bearers, the serene peace of the invalids, the fervor of the pilgrims kneeling before the grotto, are testimony of this 'multitude of believers of one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32).
It is common for many pilgrims, who having received great gifts at Lourdes, to give a month, some a whole year, of their lives to volunteer as caretakers for the infirmed pilgrims.
The occasional approved miraculous healings now number 66, and then only after meticulous, slow scrutiny by Vatican officials and the Lourdes Medical Bureau. Over 6,000-recorded healings have been claimed and studied. Sometimes the 'proper process' takes years to either confirm or deny the healing.
There are said to be thousands more physical healings every year that have never been officially documented; however, those with eyes to see have clearly seen these healings.
Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, President of the French Episcopal Conference, and Bishop Jacques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, have invited the Holy Father to come on pilgrimage to Lourdes to celebrates the 150th
Anniversary of the Declaration of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
Last visiting Lourdes in l983, the Holy Father will make his second Papal visit to Lourdes to give thanks and praise to Our Lady for her many graces upon mankind.
It was originally intended that Pope John Paul II would attend the closing session of the Eucharistic Congress in July 1981. However, on May 13, 1981, an almost fatal bullet from a young Turk, Mehmet Alě Agca, severely wounded the Pope. He eventually came to Lourdes in thanksgiving for his life on August 14 and 15, 1983.
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Some 2,700 French police will be mobilized for the Pope's visit to Lourdes this year. The 'miracle' town is expected to draw at least 300,000 faithful Catholics. The Lourdes trip will mark the Pope's 104th trip outside of Italy.
Internet makes it possible to participate spiritually in John Paul II's pastoral visit to Lourdes on Aug. 14-15, and deposit a prayer in the grotto of the French shrine.
Father Thierry Lamboley and Sister Catherine Sesboue have committed themselves to place in Massabielle the intentions sent before Aug. 14 to the e-mail address: Lourdes2004@croire.com
The priest and nun will open the e-mails at Lourdes and deposit the intentions in the Massabielle Grotto.
Many Cardinals have come to Lourdes before becoming Pope. Cardinal Ratti (future Pius XI) visited Lourdes in 1921, Cardinal Pacelli (future Pius XII) in 1935 and Cardinal Roncalli (future Jean XXIII) in 1958. It was during his visit here that the latter consecrated the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X.
It is said that the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen would never visit Europe without making a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Lourdes. Archbishop Sheen said often, "If you are devoted to Our Lady, you will never lose your soul."
The Immaculate Virgin, who knows the secret ways by which grace operates in souls and the silent work of the supernatural leaven in this world, discreetly calls pilgrims through St. Bernadette to "Kindly come."
Anyone who ignores the Church's four Dogmas on Mary, such as the "Mother of God," "Perpetual Virginity," "Immaculate Conception," or "The Glorious Assumption" can be classified as a heretic. They must be explicitly believed by all in order to achieve eternal salvation. 
The spiritual proportions of Lourdes are better measured today, compelling the world's wealthy, famous, poorest and lowly alike to drink and bathe in the miraculous springs, to pray in the great shrine erected at Mary's request.
But, perhaps, never before nor since has there been a healing as magnificent and complete as the one that Bishop Sheen relates in the following true story.
Here, below, is a popular Bishop Sheen vignette.
By Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
Just at the turn of the century, there was a woman married in Paris, just a good, ordinary Catholic girl, to an atheist doctor, Dr. Felix Leseur. He attempted to break down the faith of his wife and she reacted and began studying her faith. In l905, she was taken ill and tossed on a bed of constant pain until August 1914. When she was dying, she said to her husband, "Felix, when I am dead, you will become a Catholic and a Dominican priest."
"Elizabeth, you know my sentiments. I've sworn hatred of God, I shall live in the hatred and I shall die in it."
She repeated her words and passed away. She died in her husband's arms at the early age of 47.
Rummaging through her papers, Felix found her will. She wrote:
"In l905, I asked almighty God to send me sufficient sufferings to purchase your soul. On the day that I die, the price will have been paid. Greater love than this no woman has than she who lay down her life for her husband."
Dr. Leseur, the atheist, dismissed her will as the fancies of a pious woman. He decided to write a book against Lourdes. He went down to Lourdes to write against Our Lady.
However, as he looked up into the face of the statue of Mary, he received the great gift of faith. So total, so complete was it, that he never had to go through the process of juxtaposition and say, "how will I answer this or that difficulty?"
He saw it all. At once.
The then reigning pontiff was Benedict XV. Then came World War I. Hearing of the conversion of Dr. Leseur, Pope Benedict XV sent for him. Dr. Leseur went in the company of Fr. Jon Vinnea, orator of Notre Dame. Dr. Leseur recounted his conversion and said that he wanted to become a Dominican priest. Holy Father said, "I forbid you. You must remain in the world and repair the harm which you have done."
The Holy Father then talked to Fr. Vinnea and then again to Dr. Leseur and said:
"I revoke my decision. Whatever Fr. Vinnea tells you to do, you may do."
In the year 1924, during Lent, I, Fulton J. Sheen, made my retreat in the Dominican monastery in Belgium. Four times each day, and 45 minutes in length, I made my retreat under the spiritual guidance of Father Felix Leseur of the Order of Preachers, Catholic Dominican priest, who told me this story.
Nota Bene: The cause of Elisabeth Leseur's canonization is proceeding in Rome. Fr. Leseur died a priest in 1950.
©Barbara Kralis 2004 All Rights Reserved
 In 1854, Pope Pius IX, in his December 8 apostolic Constitution entitled "Ineffabilis Deus" solemnly defined the infallible dogma of the 'Immaculate Conception,' the belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived without sin. The Pope said, "This doctrine is revealed by God and therefore must be firmly and constantly believed by all of the faithful."
 "History and Significance of Dogma of Immaculate Conception," Zenit, 7/19/04.
 Letter of July 12, 1914; Acta Apostolicć Sedis 6: 1914, p. 376.
 Quote, Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, O.P., Dallas, Texas
 "Le Pelerinage de Lourdes," Pope Pius XII Encyclical Warning Against Materialism, July 2, 1957.
 The Pope, hit by two bullets, was rushed to the hospital as he repeatedly prayed 'Zdrowas Maryjo' (Hail Mary) in Polish. He was severely wounded in the stomach, the right arm and the left hand. He was operated on for 6 hours at Gemelli hospital. The surgical doctors removed part of his intestines. On May 17, John Paul II recites the Angelus at Gemelli hospital saying, "Pray for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven." After 22 days of recovery in the hospital, the Pope returns to the Vatican. Due to little rest and much work, he is newly hospitalized on June 20 for a serious viral infection. On August 5, he undergoes a second operation. The Pope returns to the Vatican on the 14 of August. On December 27, 1983, the Pope visits the Rebibbia prison and meets with Alě Agca, the Turk who made an attempt on the life of John Paul II. The Pope sent the bullet to the Shrine of Fatima, which was set into the crown of Our Lady's statue
 Zenit.org, July 29, 2004, 'Lourdes Accepting Intentions via Internet," #ZE04072908
 Vatican Council I, "Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, On Faith," Chapter III, published in "The Creeds of Christendom," by Philip Schaff, Harper Publishing, 1877, Vol. II, pp. 244-245, pp. 234-238; Dr. Ludwig Ott, "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma," §4, "Concept and Classification of Dogma," pg. 4-6; "The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism," by Fr. John Hardon, Image Publishing, 1981; "The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent," in Philip Schaff, "Decree on the Sacraments," pp. 118-119; "The documents of Vatican II," Follett, l966, Ch. III, n.18, p. 38.
 "Theotokos" or "The Mother of God" defined at the Council of Ephesus I the year 431; "Perpetual Virginity" or "Ever Virgin" defined at the Lateran Council in 649; "The Immaculate Conception," defined December 8, 1854; "The Glorious Assumption" defined November 1950.
 "The Woman I love," video, Keep the Faith, Inc., 141 Main Ave, P.O. Box 1069, Clifton, N.J. 01014-1069; phone 201-471-7494. http://www.keepthefaith.org/index.htm
 Cf. "Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur," by Robin Maas, John Paul II Institute; "My Spirit Rejoices - The Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief," by Elisabeth Leseur, Sophia Institute Press, 1996.
Barbara Kralis, the article's author, writes for various Christian and conservative publications. She is a regular columnist at Catholic Online , RenewAmerica.us , Life Issues , The Wanderer newspaper , New Oxford Review Magazine, Washington Dispatch , Catholic Citizens , Illinois Leader , NewsBull , MichNews , Intellectual Conservative, Phil Brennan's WOW , ChronWatch and others. Her first journalism position was with Boston Herald Traveler, l964. Barbara published and edited 'Semper Fidelis' Catholic print newsletter. She and her husband, Mitch, live in the great State of Texas, and co-direct the Jesus Through Mary Catholic Foundation. She can be reached at: Avemaria@earthlink.net
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