LAUS, France, MAY 15, 2008 (Zenit.org).- As pilgrims celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Marian shrine at Lourdes, the Church has officially recognized a new pilgrimage site in France.
On May 4th, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco of the Diocese of Gap, officially recognized the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Benoite Rencurel at the sanctuary of Laus in the area of Hautes-Alpes, France.
The pronouncement was made during a Mass in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Laus. Among those present were the apostolic nuncio to France, Bishop Fortunato Baldelli, and 30 cardinals and bishops from around the world.
Rencurel, a poor shepherdess, was born in 1647. The Virgin Mary started appearing to her in 1664 and continued visiting her throughout the rest of her life. Rencurel died in 1718.
During the apparitions, the Blessed Mother asked for a church and a house for priests to be built, with the intension of drawing people to greater conversion, especially through the sacrament of penance. The holy site now draws 120,000 pilgrims annually. Numerous physical healings have also been associated with the site, especially when oil from a lamp is applied on the wounds according to the directives the Virgin Mary gave to Rencural.
Bishop di Falco, in his homily at the Mass broadcast throughout the country by France-2 Television, said, “344 year ago, Our Lady chose to address a simple shepherdess to open the way of penitence and conversion, to invite pilgrims to reconcile themselves with the world and with God.”
Bishop di Falco explained that after researching the apparitions, he “became profoundly convinced that Benoite Rencurel spoke the truth. That the message she delivered to us merits all of our attention. That it merits that we open our hearts to welcome and to continue to carry the numerous fruits as has been the case for many centuries.
“Benoite, an uncultured country girl, received her mission from Our Lady: For 54 years, she guided pilgrims, and called for conversion and mercy. To the poor and the small, God reveals himself. And Benoite, a laywoman, was the messenger of God. How can we not see in her the very example of the responsible layman?”
The humble shepherdess, the French prelate continued, “was a modern example of the engaged laity in the life of one’s community, as called for by the Second Vatican Council. She speaks to men of our time, she guides those who search, those who dig into this interior source for true life.”
The very modern message of Benoite, Bishop di Falco concluded, is “to live heart to heart with God in prayer, enter deeper into conversion where we are reconciled with ourselves, with others and with God, and live your mission where your life is, in everyday community and joy.”
Father Salvatore Perrella, from the Pontifical Marianum Theological Faculty, explained in L’Osservatore Romano how the Church determines the legitimacy of apparition claims.
He noted that the local bishop, the episcopal conference and the Pope are all involved in the process.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has established that to proceed with verifying a supposed apparition, a report must compile, among other things, information on the observed facts of the case; an examination of the message, which cannot be against Christian faith; a medical-psychological diagnosis to guarantee the health and normalcy of the visionary and also to eliminate the possibility of hallucinations; the visionary’s communion with the Church; spiritual fruits such as a return to the faith of those who have left, the morality and ecclesial nature of the message and its cooperation in the evangelization of the world; and possible miraculous cures.
The priest said that after meticulous examination of the facts surrounding alleged apparitions, the Church has “approved during the course of history 11 apparitions out of 295 proposals for review, among them, the 12th is that referring to Our Lady of Laus.”
Once verified and authenticated by ecclesiastical authority, these extraordinary manifestations are considered worthy of belief, but the faithful are free to choose if they adhere to them or not, “because faith is given only to the public revelation of God that concluded with the death of the last Apostle,” Father Perrella explained.
Noting that apparitions are a grace “given freely from heaven,” the priest added that though they may help increase people’s faith, they “add nothing to Revelation given with sacred Scripture to the Church, but rather help to make it current in a determined time.”