On Thursday, February 11th we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. 158 years ago the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous (Sew-be-roos) at Lourdes in Southern France. Between January and July of 1858 a woman, dressed in white, belted in blue, with yellow roses at her feet and a golden rosary in her hands, appeared to this simple 14-year-old girl eighteen times. Just like the woman wearing a belted dress with roses who appeared to the peasant Juan Diego in Mexico 300 years before, the Lady who appeared to Bernadette asked for a church to be built on the site.
Only a few years before, Pope Pius the ninth had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as an infallible teaching. The vision Bernadette encountered told her “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed, but little more. Through this humble girl, a girl of about the same age that she was when she bore the Lord, Mary revitalized and continues to revitalize the faith of millions of people. Within just a few years of the apparition, people began to flock to Lourdes from other parts of France and from all over the world. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes became worldwide in 1907.
For a century and a half Lourdes has been a place of pilgrimage and healing, but even more of faith. Of the 30 or 40 cures reported annually, Church authorities have recognized over 60 of them as miraculous. There still may be people who doubt the apparitions of Lourdes, and it is not necessary for our faith to believe. Perhaps the best that can be said to them are the words that introduce the film The Song of Bernadette: “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”