An alleluia occasion

Bl. Marianne Cope banner is raised at Lourdes
By connie cissell / sun editor

Approximately six million pilgrims travel to Lourdes, France every year. They worship in the basilicas and tour the place where the Blessed Mother appeared to little Bernadette Soubirous in the mid-1800s. One of the most impressive buildings there is the underground basilica which seats thousands. Banners hang from the many arches that support the building. The huge banners bear the likeness of saints from all over the world. Bl. Damien DeVeuster, SS.CC., is one of those depicted.

As of May 5, 2007, the Syracuse Diocese’s own Bl. Marianne Cope is one of the holy men and women whose likenesses decorate the basilica. Along with her banner there is a large plaque that explains who she was and her contributions to the sick, marginalized and oppressed.

A group of 22 pilgrims, including 10 Sisters of St. Francis from Syracuse and Hawaii, made the trip to Lourdes to see the banner raised. They were led by Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, an organization based in Syracuse dedicated to service at Lourdes. Members of Bl. Marianne’s family as well as Knights and Dames of Malta from this diocese were there. For many of them, it was the first time they had made the pilgrimage to Lourdes.

General Minister Sister Patricia Burkard, OSF, said she never dreamed that she would get to Lourdes, much less to see a banner of Bl. Marianne among the 80-plus displayed in the underground basilica.

“Blessed Marianne and St. Bernadette were contemporaries,” Sister Patricia said. “Both brought people to healing.”

Commonalities between the two women certainly include their strength and love of the Blessed Mother. Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, OSF, Bl. Marianne’s biographer and director of her cause for sainthood, was especially delighted to make the trip. “It was my first time at Lourdes,” Sister Mary Laurence said. “The feeling of deep reverence experienced when visiting the grotto where our Blessed Mother appeared so many times to St Bernadette cannot be justly described. I was struck by the thought that our Blessed Mother, the saint who receives more prayers than any other saint who ever lived, had really appeared there body and soul in person so many times. Surely she is aware of the visitors coming who reverence her and pray for intentions to take to her Son, Jesus.”

What a perfect place for Sister Mary Laurence to pray for her own special intention which was of course to obtain a verifiable miracle for Bl. Marianne so that she can be officially declared a saint of the church. The pilgrimage group from Syracuse was treated to a dinner at the maison des chaplains as special guests of the chaplains in residence at Lourdes. They also enjoyed a private reception at Bishop Jacques Perrier’s residence. He is bishop of Lourdes and Tarbes.

“He was very interested in Mother Marianne,” Sister Patricia said of the French bishop. “He had obviously learned about her and asked questions.”

The road to raise Bl. Marianne’s banner really began with the Lourdes Volunteers’ connection with the pilgrimage site. The leader of the organization, Marlene Watkins, inquired about having a banner representing the U.S. at the underground basilica. Bl. Marianne representing the U.S. at Lourdes seemed a perfect choice to Watkins, a lay Franciscan.  Bishop James Moynihan made the request to the proper representatives at Lourdes and Bishop Perrier approved the request.

The timing of the event is significant as well. Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes and the 125th anniversary of Bl. Marianne’s arrival in Hawaii. A commission has been set up in Hawaii by Bishop Larry Silva to promote the causes of Bl. Damien DeVeuster, SS.CC. and Bl. Marianne. Sister Alicia Damien Lau, OSF, serves on the commission and traveled to Lourdes to see the banner raised.

She said being in Lourdes brought her thoughts back to Mother Marianne.

“Mother Marianne had volunteered her life for the poor and vulnerable inhabitants of Kalaupapa. She did not seek self-glorification, but instead had ‘a hunger to do the work of God.’ As I looked into the faces of the many volunteers who were the caregivers of the frail and sick, whose faith had brought them to Lourdes, I saw the same motivation in their faces,” Sister Alicia wrote from Hawaii. “They were not looking for any recognition, but to do the work of God and to be there to serve.”

Having traveled to Lourdes with no expectations, Sister Alicia said she returned to Hawaii “grace filled.”

Sister Alicia carries the message and story of Bl. Marianne in Hawaii as the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse do in this diocese. Now the story of Bl. Marianne’s life is available for all the pilgrims who travel to Lourdes.

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