Each year on February 11th, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. On that day in 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old French peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous. It was to be the first of 18 apparitions. Mary identified herself as “The Immaculate Conception,” and she asked for prayer for sinners and the repentance of sins. She also asked that a chapel be built at the grotto where she appeared to Bernadette.
During her ninth appearance, Mary told Bernadette to drink from the fountain and bathe in it. Bernadette was puzzled by her request. There was no water anywhere nearby, but she wanted to be obedient. So, she began to scratch at the ground with her hands. As Bernadette uncovered the gravel, she noticed that the ground underneath was moist. She continued to dig, and a little pool began to form. She cupped her hands together, drank, and then washed her face in the muddy water. The following day, the pool was overflowing, and soon the trickle of water became a gushing stream.
As news of the miracle spread, people flocked to Lourdes. They drank the water, and reports of miraculous cures soon followed. Since that time, Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage. It is a miraculous place of healing, and even more, it is a place of faith.
Pope John Paul II chose the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to release his letter, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (in 1984). This action was significant not only because it was a sign of his great devotion to our Blessed Mother, but also because it showed his great compassion for all the sick and suffering in the world.
Nine years later, he set aside this Feast Day as the annual day on which we celebrate the World Day of the Sick. In choosing this date, the pope wanted to remind us that Mary never abandons us. She is always close by, ready to intercede for us if we seek her help. She cares about our difficulties and our suffering, and she is ready to comfort and protect us. He wanted this day to be “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind.”1 May we all continue to be united in our prayer and work, remembering that whatever we do for those in need is something that is done for our Lord (Mt 25:40).
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 Pope John Paul II, “Letter Instituting the World Day of the Sick,” 13 May 1992, n. 3.
Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes
Ever Immaculate Virgin,
Mother of mercy,
health of the sick,
refuge of sinners,
comfort of the afflicted,
you know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings;
cast upon me a look of mercy.
By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes,
you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary,
where you dispense your favours,
and already many sufferers have obtained the cure of their infirmities,
both spiritual and corporal.
I come, therefore, with unbounded confidence, to implore your maternal intercession.
Obtain O loving Mother, the grant of my requests.
I will endeavour to imitate your virtues, that I may one day share your glory,
and bless you in eternity.
2 Prayer from DivineOffice.org, “Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes,” Prayer App.