Perhaps the most famous Marian shrine in the world is at Lourdes, where in 1858 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the 14-year-old peasant girl, Saint Bernadette Soubirous. Between February 11 and July 16 of that year, Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette 18 times at the Grotto of Massabielle along the Gave de Pau river. The most acclaimed element of Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette was what occurred during the ninth apparition, on February 25. It was then that Our Lady directed St. Bernadette to uncover a miraculous spring, telling her to drink and wash from its waters. She was observed by the crowds stooping over the muddied ground within the grotto and then scraping at it until a little water appeared. She drank from it, muddying her face to the point that she appeared to have gone mad.
She was then led away and most in the crowd concluded the spectacle had gone too far. Yet, that afternoon people returning to the grotto discovered that a spring had emerged from the hole St. Bernadette had dug. Out of devotion, they filled bottles with the water and took them home. This spring would eventually produce clear, flowing water which flows to this day and has resulted in thousands of miracles of healing since it was uncovered.
Last summer, while I was on pilgrimage to Lourdes, I conducted an interview with Doctor Alessandro de Franciscis—the “useless” doctor of Lourdes—for CWR. Dr de Franciscis is the Médecin Permanent—that is, the permanent, in-resident physician of the Lourdes sanctuary and president of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales de Lourdes, or the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations. This office was founded in 1883 to record, study, and judge the hundreds of cures reported by pilgrims who came to Lourdes to wash in the waters of the spring revealed by the Mother of God in her apparitions to St. Bernadette.
Since then, 7,000 cases of unexplained cures from severe medical conditions have been recorded. In my September 2017 article I reported how a total number of 69 of them investigated by the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations have been declared miracles by Church authorities, and I detailed the latest of them, which occurred in 2013. That was the “latest” miracle—until now. The 70th miracle has just been affirmed by the Church this past Sunday, February 11—the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the 160th anniversary of Mary’s first apparition to St. Bernadette.
79-year-old Sister Bernadette Moriau is a religious of the Oblate Franciscans of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her convent is located in Bresles within the Diocese Beauvais in the north of France. She had been suffering from a condition known as “cauda equina syndrome” for nearly fifty years of her life. CES is a compression of the spinal nerve roots that often leads to a permanent paralysis of the legs. This condition forced her to undergo four operations on her spinal column between 1968 and 1975. One foot became permanently twisted requiring her to wear a brace and use a wheelchair. By 1987 she had lost the ability to walk.
But ten years ago, while on a July 2008 pilgrimage to Lourdes, Sr. Bernadette Moriau was miraculously cured. According to a February 11th La Stampa article Sr. Bernadette recounted:
In February 2008 my doctor invited me to the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes scheduled for July 3-7, 2008…I had never been there since I became ill…In the cave I felt the mysterious presence of Mary and of little Bernadette….In no case have I ever asked for healing. I had asked for the conversion of my heart and the strength to continue my path as a sick person.
But it was when she returned home to her convent the healing occurred:
On July 11th, during our time of adoration in communion with Lourdes, I relived in my heart the strong moment of the blessing of the sick with the Blessed Sacrament and I really felt the presence of Jesus…At the end of the adoration, I felt a feeling of warmth in my body…I felt good…I returned to my room and, there, a voice told me to ‘take off your braces.’…“Surprise. I could move.
Her fellow sisters in the convent were witness to this immediate change in her condition. According to an Associated Press report, Sister Bernadette immediately did away with all her aids—from braces to morphine—and took a five kilometer hike a few days later.
The healing was presented to the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations which after a rigorous analysis determined the cure to be inexplicable on the basis of current medical knowledge. The case then advanced to the “second instance” committee known as the International Medical Committee of Lourdes, which has the task of assessing and certifying the findings of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations. The International Medical Committee of Lourdes has about 30 members. At the moment, it is jointly presided over by the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Nicolas Brouwet, and its secretary, Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis, who is also the president of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations.
The International Medical Committee of Lourdes can only pronounce a cure to be “medically inexplicable.” If the committee comes to that conclusion, the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes forwards the findings to the bishop of the diocese where the cured individual lives. That bishop must make the determination on behalf of the Church as to whether the given case is miraculous. In this we can see the Church’s integrity in applying rigorous standards to affirming miracles. Of the 7,000 cases of unexplained cures that have been recorded at Lourdes, only the 70th was formally declared by the Church to be miraculous just this week by Bishop Jacques Benoit-Gonin of Beauvais.
Again, as reported by La Stampa, Sr. Bernadette Moriau’s case was examined during the committee’s meeting in November 2016 and the verdict that her cure “remains unexplained in the current state of our scientific knowledge” was approved by all but one doctor. Bishop Benoit-Gonin affirmed the committee’s findings and declared with the authority of the Church the cure to be miraculous—a healing given by God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Our hearts can rejoice in seeing God’s goodness and mercy miraculously revealed in our own day in a case as compelling as the cure of Sr. Bernadette Moriau. It is fitting that God granted her this grace—a sign of the Father’s love to a daughter who faithfully consecrated her whole life to His service. A sign of love granted through the intercession of her loving Mother, who might have looked with greater favor upon her on account of her special patroness, St. Bernadette. Sr. Bernadette Moriau, like the little girl at Lourdes 160 years ago whom she is named after, knows with a conviction the solicitude the Mother of God has for her children on earth that the rest of us can but pray for.
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