By Barry Vaughn | Contributing writer
During May, the month of Our Lady, the Syracuse Diocese will experience an extraordinary event — the visit of the relics of St. Bernadette of Lourdes. This visit will occur on Memorial Day weekend at Holy Family Parish in Fairmount, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse and Sacred Heart Church in Cicero. A full schedule of events can be found in the link at the end of this article and in the Catholic Sun. The Vatican has granted a Plenary Indulgence to souls who venerate these relics during the U.S. tour and who meet the usual conditions.*
This is the first time that these relics, fragments from one of St. Bernadette’s ribs, will visit the United States. Bernadette died at the age of 35 on April 16, 1879. Her body remains incorrupt to this day and is kept within a sealed glass case in Nevers, France, in the convent where she lived out her vocation after encountering Our Lady in the Grotto. Young students that see her body think that she is sleeping and request that she be woken up so that she can tell us about Our Lady. The Feast Day of St. Bernadette is April 16, the first day she experienced the “happiness of the other world.”
So who was St. Bernadette and why is she so relevant today? In 1858, the Mother of God appeared to a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, a small town nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France. The Lady appeared on 18 different occasions to young Bernadette. At first, Bernadette did not know who the Lady was, just that she was the most beautiful person she had ever seen and that she treated humble and poor Bernadette with a deep respect that she had never experienced. On one visit, at the direction of her parish priest, Bernadette asked the Lady her name. After repeated kind requests the Lady quietly and reverently said to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette ran to the priest and repeated these words. Upon hearing them, the priest knew immediately that there is only one person who has ever lived who could make that statement.
Our Lady directed young Bernadette to dig in the ground and a spring began to flow which continues to produce over 25,000 gallons of water daily. Our Lady directed Bernadette to drink and wash of the spring — miracles began to happen. Thousands of “inexplicable cures” have been documented by the Lourdes Medical Bureau, an international group of volunteer doctors formed to scientifically examine the claims of those who report being cured through Lourdes.
A shrine exists in Lourdes where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette in the Grotto that, prior to the pandemic, was visited by millions of people each year. With restrictions loosening, pilgrimages to the shrine are beginning to increase again.
Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, Rector of the Sanctuary at Lourdes, tells us, “When we welcome the relics of St. Bernadette, we also therefore welcome the Virgin Mary, and hear her invitation to go to the Spring! Mary always leads us to Christ, the Risen One. Today, being close to the relics of Bernadette is a way to draw from the Spring! It is a way of refocusing our life on Christ, the unique mediator between God and humanity. By our closeness to the saints in the Communion of Saints, it is the grace of Christ, the grace of Salvation, that we receive.”
And why is Syracuse blessed with such an honor? Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, more informally known as Lourdes Volunteers (see lourdesvolunteers.org), is based in Syracuse and has been bringing the sick and suffering to Lourdes for 20 years under the leadership of local foundress Marlene Watkins. Several years ago, Marlene requested from the Sanctuary of Lourdes that the relics of St. Bernadette travel to the United States during the Association’s 20th anniversary. That vision and request has come to fruition with a 30-site U.S. tour, starting in early April in Miami, Fla., and ending in Los Angeles in early August. Two locations in New York State are on the tour — New York City and Syracuse. The tour is made possible with the partnership of Lourdes Volunteers, the Sovereign Order of Malta and Hospitality of Miami.
In addition to bringing people to Lourdes, Lourdes Volunteers also bring Lourdes to the people. Since 2004 the Association has offered Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experiences throughout the United States and world. This personally guided experience is designed to immerse attendees in the spirituality of Lourdes, as if they actually traveled to Lourdes. The experience teaches about Bernadette and the beautiful Lady who appeared to her in the grotto. “Pilgrims” are able to touch actual pieces of the Lourdes Grotto entrusted to Lourdes Volunteers by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes. As if in Lourdes, they experience Lourdes Water and learn about the miracles of Lourdes and how the sacraments, prayer and uniting our suffering to Christ’s are central to the spirituality of Lourdes. The Vatican under both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis has granted a Plenary Indulgence to those attending a Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experience offered by this apostolate and meeting the usual conditions.*
Lourdes Virtual Pilgrimage Experiences will be offered each day at the parishes hosting the relics this Memorial Day weekend along with Healing Masses, veneration of the relics of St. Bernadette, Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction and Rosary processions. Members of the Sovereign Order of Malta and a representative from the Sanctuary of Lourdes, France, will be present to support the relic visit in Syracuse. All are welcome to attend to learn about and pray with one of the Church’s most beloved saints.
For a full schedule of events, visit https://lourdesvolunteers.org/syracuse-relic-tour/.
For more information on the official national relic tour, visit https://stbernadetteusa.org.
For more information about Lourdes Volunteers: www.LourdesVolunteers.org.
* Plenary indulgence conditions are found here https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/devotions/conditions-13362
To extend the invitation of the Immaculate Conception as given to Bernadette in the Grotto at Lourdes; to serve the sick and suffering at Lourdes and at home following the loving example of St. Bernadette in simplicity, humility and obedience.
Located at 107 Michaels Ave., Syracuse, NY 13208
To learn more: www.LourdesVolunteers.org