By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, FEB. 11, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The World Day of the Sick has a special link to the Blessed Virgin, as it is celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and as Mary has the devotion of the faithful with her title as “health of the sick.”
But another saint of Lourdes is also a key figure for today’s world day: St. Bernadette (1844-1879), the young visionary who received Our Lady’s message that she is the Immaculate Conception.
The relics of St. Bernadette are in Rome today, playing a role in the festivities for the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.
Thousands of devotees have turned up to venerate the relics.
Tuesday and Wednesday, they were in the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Bernadette attracted thousand of pilgrims who filled the basilica, the largest church in the world dedicated to Mary.
Today, to commemorate the World Day of the Sick and the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a procession with the relics was held along the Via della Conciliazione, from Castel Sant’Angelo to St. Peter’s Square.
After the procession, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the Square.
Suffering without rebellion
However, Bishop Jacques Perrier of Lourdes affirmed that Bernadette is special not only because she was visited by Our Lady.
The prelate suggested the saint has much to say to health care ministry.
According to Bishop Perrier, Bernadette was the favorite patient of one of her doctors. She contracted cholera when she was a child and as a consequence suffered from asthma for the rest of her life. Moreover, while a religious, she suffered from a very painful tumor in her leg, which left her lame.
Bishop Perrier said the saint “assumed the condition of patient without complaint,” and added that humanly she “detested suffering,” but never rebelled. On the contrary, she “accepted suffering in union with Christ,” not with a sense of masochism but with a true vision of sacrifice.
In addition, Bernadette was an “exemplary nurse,” who took care of her community sisters in the convent of the Daughters of Charity of Nevers, France, where she entered in 1866, eight years after her visits from the Virgin Mary.
The Lourdes prelate highlighted the saint’s sense of humor as well as her charity with the sick sisters.
The phenomenon of Lourdes
Lourdes attracts thousands of ill people, who come to the spring of water that Our Lady showed to Bernadette.
The water has been analyzed by independent laboratories, which have verified its composition is normal. However, it has brought more than 2,500 reported cures inexplicable to science, 66 of which have been officially recognized as miracles by the Holy See.
Speaking of this, Bishop Perrier recalled how Jesus, before curing the paralytic, first said “Your sins are forgiven.” But he also cured him physically.
Bishop Perrier confirmed cures in Lourdes are “in communion with the evangelical perspective,” and with the faith that the sick have when approaching the springs. Even the patients who are not cured physically “do not return from Lourdes disappointed or desperate,” but accept the will of God, he said.
Popes in Lourdes
Bishop Perrier also noted the special devotion of the last two Pontiffs to the shrine of Lourdes.
He told ZENIT that when John Paul II spoke of Marian shrines, Lourdes was “always first on the list.”
The prelate encouraged those involved in health care ministry to reread the addresses John Paul II gave to the sick during his trip to Lourdes in 1983, two years after having suffered the assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square.
John Paul II spoke with experiential knowledge, not just saying idealistic words, the bishop reflected.
The Polish Pontiff would travel to Lourdes again in 2004. It was his last trip outside of Italy. This fact, said Bishop Perrier, “was a very great consolation for the handicapped and the sick.”
The prelate also recalled Benedict XVI’s trip in 2008 on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in Lourdes.
That Sept. 15, he administered anointing of the sick to 12 patients of different ages and conditions. Bishop Perrier observed that “Benedict will remain in history as the Pope who publicly anointed the sick.”