Treasures of the Church- Marian Shrines and Apparitions
Relevance of Lourdes at 150th Anniversary
Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes
By Isabelle Cousturiť
LOURDES, France, FEB. 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The bishop of Lourdes
says the pilgrimage site in his diocese is like a promise that never
That's how Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes et Lourdes described the
spot on Feb. 10, eve of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, during his
homily at Mass celebrated in the grotto. "The apparitions in
Lourdes," the bishop said, "like Lent, propose to us the same
question, that of hope, to which our Pope has dedicated his second
encyclical. In what do we place our hope? What are we ready to do to
enter into the great hope?"
At the beginning of this jubilee year marking the 150th anniversary
of Our Lady's apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous, the prelate spoke
with ZENIT about the current relevance of the message left by the
Q: In this year of special importance for your diocese, what message
would you live to give to the faithful and pilgrims?
Bishop Perrier: If they come to Lourdes, they will be welcomed with
warmth, and something very simple will be proposed to them: to
follow the path of the jubilee, made up of four stages -- the
baptistery, where Bernadette was baptized; the ancient prison, which
is a place typically evangelical; and naturally the sanctuaries; and
the oratory where Bernadette received her First Communion.
Therefore, the message is to demonstrate that the phenomenon of the
apparitions are framed within a Christian life, which is the
Christian life of Bernadette and the Christian life of the parish of
Lourdes. It is necessary to try to propose again the itinerary of a
pilgrimage, which is a methodology currently in vogue, in the
framework of an ordinary Christian life, in the Eucharist, even
though today the number of priests has gone down a lot compared to
Those who come can trace this path. The message of Lourdes is not
essentially in words, but rather in actions, words, gestures all
taken together, to enter into the spirit of the apparitions, through
this itinerary by means of the four points of the city and the
And for all those who cannot come, there are ways to unite
yourselves from afar. [The Web site is in six languages, including
English.] A retreat, or more precisely a novena, has been made, to
associate oneself with the path of the jubilee, because for us, it
is important that these people too can live the spirit of the
jubilee, given that they don't have the possibility of being
physically present, because of a lack of time or due to financial
Q: This jubilee year is an occasion to follow the footsteps of
Bernadette Soubirous and rediscover the message the Virgin Mary gave
us through her. Could you remind us of this message and tell us what
is the current situation?
Bishop Perrier: There are various elements to the message. There is
a strictly evangelical and constant aspect, which [is] that God
chooses the humble and the little ones, because Bernadette was,
moreover, uneducated. She was intelligent but she was not educated.
She did not know how to read or write. She didn't go to catechesis
and she belonged to a bankrupt family.
There is also the aspect of prayer: All of the episodes of the
apparitions take place entirely in a climate of prayer. And there
is, as well, the aspect of trust, that is, that the Virgin and
Bernadette speak to each other, and sometimes don't even say
anything. The encounter takes place in silence on 18 occasions.
There is, thus, this type of cooperation, of reciprocal familiarity
between Bernadette and the Lady. And something of this remains. In
Lourdes, people are not afraid. And that's why there are so many
people. She presents herself as someone who can understand
everything and can welcome everything.
And there's an aspect of penance that can't be forgotten. This
aspect does not appear at the beginning nor at the end of the
apparitions, but rather in the middle. Five of the apparitions are
very focused on penance and during a time of penance is when the
fountain is discovered, which today is very associated with Lourdes,
because immediately Lourdes was spread around the world.
And then, there is the name. Finally the Virgin wanted to say her
name. She ended saying "I am the Immaculate Conception." Thus, there
is total purity, there is complete innocence, this perfect integrity
As you can see, there are many aspects in this message. And
precisely because there are a lot, everyone can find something. In
any case, this is not a message that can be summarized only in the
few words that have been repeated. The message includes as well the
gestures, the attitudes, the time that has passed. All of this is
the message. It is like in the Gospel: There are not just the words
of the Gospel that Christ proclaimed; it is the whole of the life of
Christ to which the Gospels bear witness.
Q: Compared to the past, what are the expectations of the faithful
and the pilgrims who come to Lourdes?
Bishop Perrier: There are two answers to your question. The first is
that no one can know precisely because the people who come here are
not questioned. They are not pressed with questions; they aren't
submitted to surveys. They don't have to fill out questionnaires.
They are not told: If you want "x" or "y," stand in the line on the
left; if you want "a" or "b," the line on the right. Each one is
left a great spiritual liberty. Thus, from this point of view, we do
not have an opinion survey. We don't have objectives like those who
Regarding the motivations of the people, one could note a certain
constancy, rather than a great renewal. Both theses could be
maintained. I'm not so sure that the motivations of today are that
different from those of a century ago, as could be thought. The
world has changed, but I'm not sure that in the depths of his heart,
man has changed in this regard, because in the end, it's notable
that the same signs attract people: the rock, the grotto, the water,
the light. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was like it is now.
What that means is that all of this goes to the depths of the human
Q: The fact that the figure of the believer has changed today, that
his way of acting has become an interior, more personal obligation
-- does that influence the behavior of the pilgrims or the faithful
in their way of showing today their love for Lourdes?
Bishop Perrier: Pilgrimages in Christianity have never been
obligatory so they are not despised by our generation as a duty. I
think that they have always been the object of a truly volunteer
spirit. So I think that corresponds very well with today: All of the
pilgrimage spots, the sanctuaries, in all religions, get along well
with current times.
This is both good and not so good. It's good because it allows this
spiritual dimension of the human being to manifest itself, to not be
totally repressed. The totalitarian regimes have always tried to
impede pilgrimage spots. Under the Polish communist regime, it was
impossible to find a sign showing the way to Czestochowa. Thus, it's
true that this [dimension] exists, but it's not enough, because a
Christian life cannot be built, not to mention a militant or
committed life, only with the fact of going infrequently to a
pilgrimage spot every few years. But it's better than nothing. Thus,
pilgrimages and sanctuaries have a recognized place today in
Q: For many years, a pilgrimage has been seen from the outside as a
request for a miraculous cure. Is that still true?
Bishop Perrier: I donít think anyone comes for starters because of
that. Certainly in the history of Lourdes, this has had an important
place. But I think that today, healing is spoken of in all senses of
the word. It can be the healing of a relationship, a more
psychological healing, a physical healing, an interior healing. Then
there's reconciliation. So it's something very open. The word
healing now has a greater connotation, not just a physical sense.
Q: Last year, you saw a necessity to take a position on the question
of the healings and miracles linked to Lourdes, defining new
focuses, before the healings. Why did you see that as necessary?
Bishop Perrier: Because medicine has changed so much that applying
traditional criteria has become very difficult. We have entered into
an era of probabilities. They tell us that there are great
probabilities that this person has had such-and-such disease and
that effectively he had very little opportunity of being healed of
it. But rarely will they tell us that it is absolutely, 100% certain
that this person had such-and-such a disease and that it is
absolutely certain that he would have died three days later.
The doctor of today talks of prognoses of life. Now then, the
criteria normally oblige speaking in a formal and absolute way:
"Yes, she had such-and-such sickness and it was totally incurable."
Today, you don't talk like that. So, it's not that theology has
changed, but rather that medicine has changed.
Q: Do you still receive a lot of petitions to recognize miraculous
Bishop Perrier: Every year, about 40 cases are presented to the
medical offices, but it is known that this is a low percentage of
those people who, in fact, have benefited from a cure, from a grace.
Many people don't realize this process exists. And among those who
know, many are not interested in presenting their case. To get into
the process of recognizing [the cure] is a maze, so it's obvious
people don't want to start it.
It has to be recognized that it's very complicated as a process. [Ö]
On the other hand, countless very old testimonies are received, of
things that happened 50 years ago.
Lourdes has had a worldwide projection almost since the beginning.
This continues, so we take advantage of the means offered today so
that people can unite themselves to our thanksgiving.
© Innovative Media, Inc.
Bishop Jacques Perrier has been
Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes since 1998. He is Co-Chairman of the
internal Medical committee of Lourdes.
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