St. Josemaria Escriva: A Pilgrim at Lourdes
In 1907, Pope Pius X extended to the Church the observance of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 11th. It is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary founded on her apparitions to St. Bernadette Soubiroux in Lourdes, France. Our Lady appeared eighteen times to the young Bernadette at the grotto of Massabielle. The first apparition occurred on February 11, 1858 and the last on July 16, 1858.
During one of the apparitions, Our Lady asked Bernadette to go to the parish priests and tell them that she wished a chapel to be built there at the grotto-the site of her apparitions. In 1862, when the bishop of the diocese declared the faithful “justified in believing the reality of the apparition,” they began construction of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which was completed in 1871 and consecrated in 1876.
By 1883, because of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and visitors arriving each year, they began construction of another church near the first basilica, which was consecrated in 1901 and called the Basilica of the Holy Rosary.
“Millions have made the pilgrimage to Lourdes. But more remarkable still than the crowd of pilgrims is the series of wonderful occurrences which take place under the protection of the celebrated sanctuary. The estimate that about 4000 cures have been obtained at Lourdes within the first fifty years of the pilgrimage is undoubtedly considerably less than the actual number. As a matter of fact, no natural cause, known or unknown, is sufficient to account for the marvellous cures witnessed at the foot of the celebrated rock where the Virgin Immaculate deigned to appear. They can only be from the intervention of God” (Catholic Encyclopedia).
A PILGRIM AT LOURDES
St. Josemaria Escriva was a pilgrim at Lourdes many times during his life, remarking that: “It would be bad manners to pass by there without dropping in on her.” Among his notable visits were:
- In 1954: St. Josemaria was suffering severely from diabetes. “Nearly blind and his body a complete disaster, he made a pilgrimage to Lourdes. He asked a great many things of the Virgin there; but regarding his illness, all he asked was that nothing would happen that would prevent him from ‘being able to continue working with souls.'” (Vázquez de Prada: The Founder of Opus Dei, Volume III)
- In 1957: On his way to Paris, St. Josemaria made a visit to Lourdes to pray for a cure for his sister, Carmen, who was suffering from terminal cancer.
- In 1966: Saddened by the current situation of the Church, St. Josemaria went on pilgrimage to several Marian shrines in Europe, including Lourdes. These were pilgrimages of reparation and prayer for the Church, the Pope, and Opus Dei.
And, in the biography At God’s Pace, François Gondrand shares a brief account of St. Josemaria’s last visit to Lourdes on October 3, 1972:
“Saint Josemaria had just landed at Tarbes airport, not far from Lourdes. A few of his French and Spanish sons had come to meet him there before he went on to Hendaye and from there into Spain. He intended to spend several weeks in the Iberian peninsula and meet a large number of people. First, on October 7th, he would preside at a ceremony during which he was to award honorary doctorates of the University of Navarre to a German professor of medicine, Erich Letterer, a Spanish art historian, the Marquis of Lozoya, and a French legal historian, Professor Ourliac, a member of the Institute of France.
Soon, as they passed in front of the basilica of Lourdes, the Father spoke of the miracles that were starting to happen at Torreciudad, on the other side of the Pyrenees, even before the shrine and the other buildings were finished: confessions, conversions, decisions to give more to Our Lord… all the miracles of grace he had thought of when he gave the word for the construction work to begin.
The Father walked briskly to the grotto. As always when in Lourdes, he stopped to drink the spring water. Then he went towards the site of the apparitions, where a ceremony was about to start. As soon as he saw the statue of the Virgin of the Rosary, he knelt on the ground; after a short and intense time of prayer, he rose and returned across the esplanade.
The Father said farewell to his French sons and got back into the car.
Before drinking the miraculous water, he had remarked to those around him that he was asking nothing of the Blessed Virgin for himself, not even for his health. But his sons were not surprised, for they were well aware of the motive for this detour to the place where on 11 December 1937 he had said Mass after his memorable crossing of the Pyrenees. It was the same motive as on the previous pilgrimages he had made to Lourdes, to Sonsoles in Avila, Spain, to El Pilar in Saragossa, to the Basilica of Our Lady of Ransom in Barcelona, to Our Lady of Willesden in London, to Einsiedeln in Switzerland and to Loreto in Italy. And to Torreciudad in 1970, to Fatima in Portugal, to Guadalupe in Mexico…
Praying in these famous places of pilgrimage, he had asked Our Lady for peace for the Church, peace for the world, for the perseverance of his sons and daughters and the fruitfulness of the apostolates of the Work.
Now, more than ever, the Church was his first concern, urging him as it did towards further plans for making reparation and for strengthening the faith of his children, both when they visited him in Rome and when he met them on his journeys. Previously, he had customarily avoided talking to very large groups, but now he felt a burning desire to speak about God directly to the largest possible number of people, to set them on the way to deepening their Christian lives. But for him the apostolate would always be, as he had written long ago in The Way, the fruit of prayer, which grows in value with sacrifice. He frequently repeated the words of a liturgical prayer he had often used when he was young: Ure igne Sancti Spiritus… ‘Lord, burn us with the fire of your Holy Spirit; burn our hearts and our innermost being…’
This plea to the Holy Spirit was prompted by his desire to be constantly close to the Holy Family of Nazareth, the trinity on earth, as he called it.
If we want to become intimate friends with Our Lord and our heavenly Mother, we must listen to Joseph.
At Saint Joseph’s side his soul came close to Mary, and through her to Jesus, God made Man. And Jesus introduced him into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. This was how, according to his own words, he went from the trinity on earth to the Trinity of heaven, by the way of childhood of which the great mystics have spoken. It is a path whose difficult easiness demands that the soul start and continue led by the hand of God, and which demands the submission of the understanding, more difficult than the submission of the will.”
Photo: St. Josemaria Escriva at the Grotto of Lourdes, 1960.