Possibly the most amazing place that I have ever visited, for a variety of reasons, is Lourdes. Looking at the town as it is now, it would be completely unrecognisable to the rural village of the late 1850s. To say that this is down to a 14-year-old girl would be a gross simplification. Bernadette Soubirous said that she saw a “lady”; the lady later identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception” which the young Bernadette did not understand; she was after all, sickly and slow at school. It was this combination of simplicity and complexity that created the Lourdes that we know today.
As a result of Bernadette Soubirous’, the“lady” and the Church, people have processed to Lourdes and queued for hours to experience the Grotto – not forgetting the baths! The “lady” asked that people would come to this place, bathe and that a church be built there.
The wonderful 1943 film – The Song of Bernadette – captured the simplicity of Lourdes perfectly. The complexity came much later when the significance of the lady’s identification as “The immaculate Conception” was investigated. At the end of the film the following statement is shown: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, no explanation is possible.”
Lourdes, as a town, is in three parts: the Grotto area, the commercial area based on the needs and wants of pilgrims and the old town where ‘ordinary’ folk live. I have often wondered what these people think of their town and we pilgrims. Do they visit the Grotto? Do they believe in the message? Or do they just put up with it for the greater good of the community? No matter what they think or feel, they just let us all process and queue to pour our hearts out to the miraculous events of 1858.
Much closer to home we have our own little Lourdes – Knock. Although nowhere nearly as dramatic in its history, it too invites us to process and queue. Once again, I ask what do the locals actually think of us pilgrims? Does anyone object to the processions and queueing? The answer is a definite, No.
Even closer to home we have been called to process and queue. This gathering of like-minded people is quiet and peaceful – almost a pilgrimage! Just like Lourdes and Knock no one asks why we are there – it’s taken for granted that we all want the same thing for the good of all. Why, I ask then, has a group of other-minded people decided that it is their right, not only to object to the purpose of our processing, but to actively try to oppose us? Why?
For those who want to believe, no explanation is necessary
For those who do not want to believe, no explanation is possible
Mark 7:15 “Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that make that person unclean.”
John O Flaherty is a retired teacher, husband, father, grandfather and a volunteer in the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, Steelstown, Derry.
Image © John O’ Flaherty