Lourdes 2009 - Homepage

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The Prairie Stations of the Cross

The Story of Lourdes

Pilgrimage Itinerary

The Path of Bernadette

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The Calvary Stations of the Cross

Prayers of Saint Bernadette

Southwark's Daily Prayer Intentions

Southwark Lourdes Diary



Bishop Jacques Perrier,
Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes
has outlined the pastoral theme
for 2009 as

The Path



2008 was the Jubilee Year - the 150th Anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes. Of course, we did not forget Bernadette - the Jubilee Way led us to significant places in her life. But the path to the Jubilee stopped on 16th July 1858 - the date of the final apparition.

This year we consider The Path of Bernadette who lived for twenty-one years after the apparitions: eight years in Lourdes and thirteen years at Nevers. The Church declared her a saint not by virtue of the apparitions (not all visionaries have been canonised), but because of the holiness of her entire life.

To end the story of Bernadette in 1858 would be as absurd as stopping the story of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. As Mary continued her journey of faith, Bernadette continued her journey with courage.

We consider four themes of her Christian journey which will be familiar to every Christian.

I - Discerning her vocation
Symbolic Place: the Hospice

Bernadette knew from an early age that she would be a religious. She never wanted to settle in the world as she knew it. She refused offers of money and gifts and turned away the suitors.

She had eight years to discern where the Lord was calling her. When the Lady asked her to wash in the water and to drink it, she went towards the river Gave. The Lady stopped her and guided her to the spring at the back of the cave. This scene of 25th February, includes trial and error before the discovery of the spring. It was the same for the discernment of her vocation.

Having seen the Holy Virgin, it might have been expected that Bernadette would have chosen to follow a contemplative vocation. She considered the Carmel at Bagnères, but her health would have made it impossible for her to undertake the rigours of their rule. A number of congregations tried to attract her, but eventually she chose the congregation of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction at Nevers. She had been drawn by their service of the poor and by the fact that the sisters did not seek to influence her decision.

The many books that have been written about Bernadette will tell us of:
- the attempts by various Congregations to attract her;
- the meeting with Bishop Forcade, Bishop of Nevers in 1863 after which she considered seriously what they had discussed;
- obstacles she had to overcome (no dowry, bad health, commitment to her family);
- the patience of her confessor, Father Pomain, Chaplain at the Hospice;
- how she learnt to serve the sick.

We may wish to consider:
- how to discern God's will
- what 'Thy will be done' means
- how to discern a priestly or religious vocation
- how we are encouraged

II - Life in the Church
Symbolic Places: the Rectory and the Church

Bernadette's young life was rooted in the Church. She had been baptised at the age of two days. She attended Mass not only on Sundays, but on some weekdays. She also went to Vespers. Her family was also her 'domestic church'. They would recite the rosary together and support each other in the faith.

During the apparitions, Bernadette approached Father Pomain on several occasions for advice, above all because she was entrusted with a mission to the priests: 'Go and tell the priests to build a chapel here and to have people come in procession.'  This request was given a poor reception by Father Peyramale, who asked Bernadette to ask the Lady what her name was. The Lady replied: 'I am the Immaculate Conception'. She did not understand what this meant, but it corresponds with the dogma proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

Bernadette felt responsible for transmitting a message, but did not feel superior to the priests, for instance she refused to bless objects.

Bernadette enjoyed extraordinary graces, but continued to prepare for her First Holy Communion and was pleased when she joined the Children of Mary.

Her place within the Church took a particular form when she became a religious. Her vow of obedience meant a very different way of living and caused tensions with her superior, but every day she shared with the other sisters the same desire to love Christ and neighbour, helping the other sisters when they were in pain or trouble.

Her vision of the Church went beyond the confines of her religious community. Bernadette had a keen sense of the communion of saints - or rather communion with sinners. She implemented throughout her life the request of the Lady 'Pray to God for sinners', offering all her sacrifice and sufferings for all sinners. In her sleepless nights, she felt united to the Masses celebrated in the early hours of the morning in other lands.

We may wish to consider:
- our experiences, positive and negative of Church life
- we speak of 'parish community' - can a parish be a community?
- what do the words 'Adhere to the Church' mean to you?

III - The Eucharist
Symbolic Place: the Tent of Adoration

The Eucharist is linked to the apparitions at least chronologically. Bernadette returned form Bartrès in January 1858 to prepare, at last, for her First Holy Communion. It took place on 3rd June, the Feast of Corpus Christi, in the Oratory of the Hospice.

Furthermore, it is possible to see a logical connection between the apparitions and the Eucharist: On 18th February, the Lady said that Bernadette would be happy, not in this world, but in the other. The Eucharist is the foretaste of that other world.

At a time when the reception of Communion was infrequent, Bernadette received from her confessor permission to receive Communion three times a week. At Nevers, she was a frequent communicant. The sisters in her community have spoken of the beauty of her face during the lengthy thanksgiving she made after receiving Communion.

The Eucharist nourished Bernadette far more than her memories of the grotto. Through the Eucharist she remained united with the Virgin Mary, receiving the risen body of the One who was born of her: Ave verum corpus natum de Maria Virgine.

Those who would like to meditate on the link between Mary and the Eucharist might read the encyclical of Pope John Paul II 'ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA', where, in chapter six, he describes Mary as 'Woman of the Eucharist'.

When Bernadette was well enough to attend Mass, she participated with all her heart, uniting the offering of her life and suffering to the offering of Christ. But she often had to spend long periods in the infirmary at Nevers where she was unable to attend Mass. Her bed there was surrounded by white curtains and she called this place her 'white chapel'.

At the time of her death in 1879, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception had already been built and plans for the larger Rosary Basilica had been unveiled. But it is the Christian heart that is the real temple where prayer is grounded in Christ and built on the Holy Spirit.

We may wish to consider:
- Holy Communion has become 'frequent' since the time of St Pope Pius X: for this reason the underground basilica was dedicated in his name
- how can we guard against frequent reception of Holy Communion being considered a right or becoming something that is automatic?

do we still value and treasure the Eucharistic Prayer?
- what can we do in practice to help the younger generations to discover Eucharistic adoration?
- in Lourdes, how can we best spend the afternoons of Eucharistic devotion: procession, worship and blessing?

IV - Service
Symbolic Places: the Acceuils, the City Saint-Pierre

On Holy Thursday Jesus instituted the Eucharist and washed the feet of his disciples. In both cases he told them to do likewise. 'Do this in memory of me' and 'I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you'.

At the Hospice of the Sisters of Nevers, Bernadette engaged in both a Eucharistic spirituality and service of the sick. Her care of the sheep during the time she lived at Bartrès conjures up an attractive image, but the reality of caring for the sick, aged and bedridden in the mid-nineteenth century was far less attractive. It was in her own family at Lourdes and among her relatives and neighbours that she had first been introduced to a life of service.

Bernadette had an inner strength within her fragile body. She had experienced much of the underside of life. But her love of the poor did not flow solely from her own experiences, nor just from her natural qualities. Along with all the saints, she loved Christ suffering in his members. Even when care for the sick was not part of their charism, those like St Ignatius of Loyola and Frederic Ozanam showed a tender love and effective care for those in need. In the Gospels we read that the most numerous of those who gathered around Jesus were sick or disabled.

For the love of Christ, Bernadette had to overcome her natural revulsion to certain illnesses. This gave other Sisters the courage to overcome their fear and hesitation in the face of sickness. From starting in the infirmary as no more than a helper who served the tea, she became the head of the infirmary. The doctor who visited the convent spoke of his esteem for her and his confidence in her abilities.

By her inner joy, her common sense, her spiritual insight, her humility and the example of her prayer, Bernadette was serving the whole community without even realising it. In fact, she likened herself to a broom: "Our Lady used me. They have put me back in my corner. I am happy there, and stop there . . ."

The hardest part for Bernadette was to surrender. She remained in the Congregation House in Nevers treating the poorest; her superiors thought it imprudent to allow her to leave Nevers. Illness forced her to give up serving her sisters as a nurse and forced her to accept being cared for herself. Bernadette was humble - but a certain pride made it difficult for her to learn to be dependent on others.

It is difficult not to draw a parallel with Pope John Paul II, who, in the last days of his pontificate, thought that the greatest service he could render to the Church was to offer his suffering in union with Christ our Saviour.

We may wish to consider:
- what kind of service we can render - to our community, to the Church, to society
- what kind of service can we render within our parishes - what service does the Lord expect of us?
- Christ is present in our brothers and sisters who are sick or in distress - suffering is something that at times we all have to bear
- is our service of others itself a prayer?

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