Lourdes, more than any other Christian pilgrimage spot, is associated with miraculous cures. People come from around the world seeking healing.
Lourdes, more than any other pilgrimage spot, is connected in the popular imagination with miracles.
Seventy miracles have been officially documented by the Roman Catholic Church, which maintains a Medical Bureau at the shrine.Cures must meet a stringent set of criteria. Prior to coming to Lourdes, the person must have received a medical diagnosis of an illness regarded as incurable by any current means. The cure has to be complete and permanent. The bureau doesn’t certify such cures as a miracle—that determination is done by the church—but it does pronounce some cures as “inexplicable.”
But the official miracles are only a small subset of the healings that have happened at Lourdes. In order to understand the meaning of this shrine, one must reflect on the difference between curing and healing. A cure is a reversal or an abatement of physical symptoms. The tumor disappears, the paralyzed person stands up and walks.
Healing goes deeper. While it may include a physical cure, healing is a restoration of the spirit into wholeness, and that has happened countless times at Lourdes.
Those seeking physical healing are ever-present here. Officials estimate that more than 80,000 sick and disabled pilgrims come to Lourdes each year. More than 100,000 volunteers assist in caring for these people, transporting them from the train station and airport, caring for them in the special accommodations set aside for them near the shrine, and helping them as they make their way to services.
Whether that sickness is of the mind, body, or spirit, Lourdes belongs to everyone seeking healing, from the most devout Christian to those who struggle with belief.
Perhaps its most amazing miracle occurs daily and with little fanfare: it happens when the pilgrims who have come here from around the world stand together at the grotto, all differences of culture, status and wealth erased, all united in a kinship that goes deeper than words.
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.