Lourdes is a town of about 18,000 inhabitants. Where does that leave it in comparison with Drogheda? Lourdes is about 1,200 feet above sea level at the foot of the Pyrenees. But wait for it! Lourdes has about 410 hotels – with sixteen and a half thousand bedrooms. That means that for many weeks of the years there are about 33,000 visitors to Lourdes, billions of visitors every year.

What takes them there?
· As tourists? – not really – although the scenery is breath-taking.
· To see the beautiful paintings and statues? I don’t think so – although there are many lovely churches.
· To see the candlelight processions or the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament? possibly – but not really.

In my opinion, people go there for another reason.

v They go there to keep an appointment with God – which Mary has made for them.
v They go to meet their brothers and sisters, especially those who are sick, and who share the same faith as Jesus Christ so that they can understand better what it means to be a sick Child of God.

v They go there to take care of the health of their spiritual life; to look into the spiritual mirror and spot the wrinkles and the grey hairs of the soul.
v They go to get a bit of rest and respite from the conflicts and trials and troubles of life.
v People go there to get some inner peace and quiet and to clear their head and to see what is life all about and to see where God fits in.

Why Lourdes?
Yes, it is a beautiful but backward enough sort of place. It all began in 1854 when Pope Pius IX declared that it was an article of our faith that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was conceived – untainted, untouched by sin, the sin of our first parents. He said that she was, in fact, the most highly favoured daughter of God – full of grace – unstained by sin. The short-hand for all of that is: she was conceived immaculately. Her feast, commemorating that event, is the 8 December – Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Then, four years later, on 11 February 1858 – 150 years ago on Monday next – Mary, the Mother of Jesus – appeared to Bernadette Soubirous at the Face of the Rock in Lourdes. She said: “I am the Immaculate Conception”.

Who is or who was Bernadette Soubirous?
Ø Bernadette was the daughter of a poverty-stricken miller.
Ø A simple peasant girl living with her foster mother because her parents were too poor to nourish and feed her.
Ø She became an unknown religious sister. Humble and obedient in a convent far away from Lourdes at Nevers.
Ø She was a woman who suffered a huge amount which she accepted with all humility and became a wonderful witness to the teaching of the immaculate conception.
Ø Her father was a miller but in 1856 he was bankrupt, ruined. Unable to feed his family and pay the rent of his mill they had to leave their house and go to live in a kind of dump.
Ø That winter, Bernadette contracted Cholera and later Asthma and Tuberculosis. That is what brought her to her grave at the age of 35 years.

Spiritually, she was little better off. She had not yet made her First Communion by the age of fourteen. She had a lot of difficulty learning the Catechism. The only prayer she knew was the Rosary. So, when the Blessed Virgin said: “I am the Immaculate Conception” Bernadette really didn’t have a clue what she was on about.

That is the girl to whom Our Lady appeared several time 150 years ago at various stages, with a very simple message of prayer for the salvation of the world and penance for the conversion of sinners and a special message for the clergy – to get up and build a church on the spot.

Eventually and gradually, the message got through. Not alone the churches but the hotels and the hospices were built to accommodate the millions of people who, over the last 150 years, have heeded the call of Mary to pray and to repent of our sins.

The song and message of Bernadette has certainly caught the imagination of Catholics, all over the world.