On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma through the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. This proclamation was followed, a little over three years later, by a remarkable event. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a young girl of modest means and fragile health, reported seeing visions of a lady. This series of apparitions culminated on March 25, when the lady identified herself as “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Bernadette, the daughter of impoverished parents with a tepid engagement in their Catholic faith, was familiar only with basic prayers like the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Creed, and the prayer of the Miraculous Medal. When describing her visions, she spoke of encountering “aquero,” a term from her dialect meaning “this thing,” which appeared to her as a young girl clad in white, with a blue girdle, a white veil, and a rosary draped over her arm. The vision was distinguished by the presence of yellow roses at her feet and the respectful use of the formal “vous” in address, a sign of dignity from the vision to the young Bernadette.

This event not only transformed Bernadette’s life but also had a profound impact on the Catholic faith globally. Lourdes, the site of the apparitions, soon became a beacon for pilgrims from France and beyond, seeking healing and spiritual renewal. In 1862, the Church formally recognized the apparitions, allowing for the veneration of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was extended worldwide by 1907.

Lourdes is now synonymous with faith, healing, and pilgrimage. The Church has officially acknowledged over 60 miracles at Lourdes, attributing them to the intercession of Mary, though the true number may be higher. For believers, these miracles are a continuation of the healing works of Jesus, manifesting through His mother. The stories of physical and spiritual transformation among visitors to Lourdes are numerous, often leading to a deepened faith and a commitment to service.

While skepticism about the apparitions persists, the message of Lourdes resonates with many: faith’s power needs no explanation for believers, while for skeptics, perhaps no explanation will suffice. The story of Bernadette and the apparitions at Lourdes remains a testament to the enduring impact of faith and the mysterious ways through which it manifests.

Photo credit: THOMAS KURIAN / Shutterstock.com

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