Desperate for a cure, the couple carry their paraplegic five-year-old son to the Lourdes grotto. Suffering from meningo-encephalitis for two years already, the boy, Guy Leydet, has paralyzed arms and legs, a damaged brain, and frequent convulsions. The child can’t even recognize his parents who have tried all forms of treatment, to no avail. Until the nurses help dip Guy’s fragile body into the springs, and the mute boy opens his eyes and cries, “Mama!”.

Every year, six million people visit the shrine of Lourdes. Although crowded with patients, the place remains solemn and accomodating. Dotted with hanging crutches and numerous offerings from pilgrims who got healed, testimonies of healing from blindness, paralysis, bone fractures, heart and lung diseases, and skin ulcers, Lourdes continues to confound both believers and skeptics. “I’ve been to Lourdes for 15 times already and everytime I go there, I feel like finding home,” Dr. Belen Tangco, dean of Faculty of Arts and Letters said. “I have my own miraculous experiences there”.

In 1858, the Lourdes shrine was just a bare piece of land until St. Bernadette Soubirous, as instructed by the “Lady of the Immaculate Conception,” dug a stream that later turned into a spring. A church was then built on the spot upon the Lady’s request. Since then, the “fountain of life” of the Lourdes shrine has been a spiritual Disneyland.

Wonders of the modern age

To examine the authenticity of healing claims, the Lourdes International Medical Committee (LIMC) was formed in 1954. Composed of 20 permanent members and affiliated physicians from 75 countries, the committee meets once a year to discuss and analyze the reports they gather. Every year, about 50 claims of miracles are reported but only four to five cases are recognized. Through the years, 7000 testimonies of healing have been acknowledged by the committee as “inexplicable cures”. The Church has been more careful, recognizing only 66 of the cases as extraordinary “miracles.”

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Dr. Patrick Theillier, president of LIMC, accommodates doctors, dentists, and pharmacists to be part of the investigating team.

In the first step of verification, a doctor from the committee examines the individual and asks for medical records. Witnesses to the healing are also called for testimony. After the examination, the individual is requested to go back to Lourdes the following year for confirmation of permanent healing.

In order for LIMC to recognize the cure as “inexplicable” the case should pass four criteria—correct diagnosis, permanent or terminal illness, cure must be immediate and lasting, and prescribed medical treatment must not be the cause of or aid to the cure.

“The illness must be neither psychological nor psychosomatic but strictly physiological and unresponsive to treatment,” Theillier said in a press release. “The cure has to be instant and complete. We will not consider cases of remission or of a repression of the diseases.”

Once a case passes the tests, it is for the Lourdes Diocesan Canonical Committee to determine whether the cure can be attributed to “divine intervention.” Following the investigation is the declaration by the bishop of the diocese that the cure is a miracle “in the name of the Church.”

“There probably should have been more acknowledged cases,” Theillier told the media. “But many previously ill pilgrims don’t even report the disappearance of their sickness. And if you are a Protestant, you won’t have a Catholic bishop to concede that a miracle has happened to you.”

The most recent cure accepted by the Church was confirmed on Feb. 10, 1999. Twelve years before the proclamation as a “gift from above”, Jean-Pierre Bély had a severe form of multiple sclerosis. He was invalid and bed-ridden, but he did not let his illness prevent him from joining the French Rosary Pilgrimage in Lourdes—a journey that changed his life.

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On the last day of the pilgrimage, Bély felt a strong and painful chill followed by an extreme, warm sensation after receiving the Sacrament of the Sick. That night, he suddenly woke up only to find himself no longer paralyzed, that he could walk after 15 years of illness.

“I took my first steps like a baby who is learning to walk,” Bély told the media. Since then, he has submitted himself to the medical bureau as part of the verification process.

In sickness and health

Meanwhile, not all pilgrims who go to the shrine are there for bodily healing. Some go for intangible reasons like love, happiness, money, success and career. Some pilgrims’ requests for healing are not granted. In one way or another, these pilgrims are nevertheless touched with the cleansing power of the water.

Last August 2004, Pope John Paul II, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, celebrated the Holy Eucharist at the shrine of Lourdes and witnessed the intrinsic dignity of man even in suffering.

“With great emotion I wish to join the millions of pilgrims who come to Lourdes each year from every part of the world, in order to entrust to the Mother of the Lord the intentions which they bear in their hearts and to ask for Her help and intercession,” he said

Last Feb. 11, the annual World Day of the Sick, celebrated with the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, was held at the Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Apostles in Cameroon, Africa. After 10 years, the continent will once again host the principal activities of thecelebration. Last year, the events were commemorated at the shrine of Lourdes, France. Ruby Anne R. Pascua, with reports from www.geocities.com, www.ewtn.com, www.theworkofgod.com and www.lourdes-france.com.

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