Lady in white and stories of miracles at Lourdes

Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Lourdes was a sleepy little mountain town in southern France, lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees swept by the wind and bathed by the River Gave. Until one day, in the 1800s, the whole town of only 4,000 inhabitants, was all agog and nothing was the same again. On a chilly Feb. 11, 1858, three young girls — Bernadette, her sister Toinette and their friend Jeanne — went to gather firewood on the meadows, in front of the Grotto of Massabielle.  Suddenly, Bernadette heard a noise, like a gust of wind, but not a tree was moving. Looking up, she saw, in a little hollow of a rock, a small young lady smiling at her. The unspeakably lovely lady was dressed in immaculate white with a white veil and a blue sash and had a yellow rose on each foot. It was the first of 18 apparitions of the Immaculate Conception to the 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous who was born in one of the mills that dotted the town and lived a life of poverty after her family went bankrupt. Bernadette was a sickly child, her frail body wracked by cholera and asthma.

In one of those apparitions, the Lady gave Bernadette this message which rings true to this day: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other.”

Read: “We know a world of violence, sensuality, life, war, profit. But we also know a world of charity, solidarity and justice. These two worlds exist on our earth. Jesus invites us to discover the Kingdom of Heaven — another world where love exists, where God is present.”

The first miracle at Lourdes was witnessed by 1,000 people when Bernadette’s friend Catherine Latapie plunged her dislocated arm into the water of the spring that Our Lady asked Bernadette to scrape out of the ground, and her arm and hand suddenly regained movement.

Since then, Lourdes had seen about 7,000 cases of unexplained cures happening from 1862 to 2013. Of these, 69 have been recognized as miraculous by the Church. There’s the story of Danila Castelli, wife and mother born in 1946. In 1982, her ultrasound tests detected a uterine mass for which she had hysterectomy. The following year, a tumor was found in her rectal, bladder region. She had more surgeries in 1988 but she did not get any better. Then, in 1989, Danila went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and got herself submerged in the Baths and came out instantaneously cured. She reported her alleged cure to the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations which certified the cure with a unanimous vote. The Bureau declared: Mrs. Castelli was cured in a complete and lasting way, from the date of her pilgrimage to Lourdes — 21 years ago — of the syndrome she suffered with no relation to the treatments and surgeries she had.

Even as Danila has gone back to normal life, her cure remains unexplained, defying scientific knowledge. In June, 2013, the Bishop of Pavia, the diocese where Danila lives, took note of the prodigious, miraculous character and the value of Danila’s cure.

Needless to say, stories of the miraculous cures at Lourdes spread far and wide by word of mouth.

“We do not know exactly how many people come to Lourdes every year, maybe around three million,” says Corine Laussu, promotion executive, Office de Tourisme de Lourdes ( “In 2008, at the 150th anniversary of the apparitions, Pope Benedict XVI came to Lourdes and nine million visitors came throughout the year.”

She elaborates, “People from all walks of life come to Lourdes for various reasons. Some come hoping for a recovery, others come for a spiritual retreat. There are pilgrims but also visitors who simply want to discover a famous place. There are Catholic believers but also persons who want to ‘experience’ Lourdes, like, for instance, the candlelight procession, which is a very special, energy-giving, and moving moment.”

The charming French lady tells us that she was not born in Lourdes and does not go every day to the Sanctuary, “but each time, it is a great pleasure as the atmosphere is always different, even the people present, too.”

They come for healing — of the body and the spirit. They come to see the face of Bernadette that looked 18 times at the Virgin Mary and the lips that shared the words of the Immaculate Virgin and the message of Lourdes. (Even if it has been exhumed many times, Bernadette’s body remains intact to this day.) They come to touch the rock of the Grotto and draw strength to face their daily earthly battles.

Indeed, Lourdes has become a place of refuge and comfort.

Aside from the pilgrims, some 100,000 volunteers, men and women of all ages from all countries, come every year to extend their help, especially to the sick and the disabled.  Official records say that 80,000 sick or diabled persons from all over the world come to Lourdes every year.

The beautiful story of Lourdes is replicated in the Grotto that Horacio and Anita Guanzon built in the 1960s on a 20-hectare lot in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan after Anita was cured of terminal cancer of the uterus following her pilgrimage to Lourdes. The Guanzons commissioned a French sculptor to carve the image of the Immaculate Conception in Carrara marble. Despite the wear and tear of the long travel from Marseilles, the image arrived in Manila unscathed, with nary a chip. Moving it inside the cave of the Grotto was yet another story. Anita begged the rather humongous image to cooperate and it did — what would have taken 20 men to lift it took only seven to bring it to the Grotto and take its place there.

This Grotto has its own stories of healing to share: of those in crutches who were able to walk, of a pregnant woman who was entirely cured of hemorrhoids, of a university professor whose cyst disappeared after drinking the water from the Grotto, among many others.

In October, 1984, an old family friend of the Guanzons, Kate Asturias, visited them and handed pieces of paper presumably containing a message from Our Lady of the Basilica for Anita and Horacio. Geronimo Sicam writes in the book Grotto: “Relates Tessie (Guanzon): “Kate told us that on October 9, 1984, she was drawing up a list of people she intended to call on, when she noticed that she had lost control over her pen and was writing automatically.

“The message, which stated among other things, that Anita would live a long life and succeed in completing the basilica she and her spouse had begun, also contained an assurance that if the Filipino people would rid themselves of envy, hatred and injustice, and replace these with love, brotherhood, and, above all, prayer and faith in the Lord, peace and prosperity would reign in the land once again and their country would be spared from any nuclear war.”

Hail, Mary, full of grace and love!



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