Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes on 7th. January 1844 to François Soubirous and Louise Castérot. Francois, a miller, was handicapped by an eye injury ten years later and was then accussed of stealing bread from a local baker, causing him to be jailed for eight days in “the Cachot”. A drought left the surrounding areas with no wheat harvest and a cholera epidemic took many lives. Bernadette was infected and it left its mark on her. In 1857 extreme poverty left the family depending on a relative for accommodation, a small room of just 16 square metres. She experienced the deep love her parents had for each other and all the children but was isolated by the locals because of their circumstances and her simplicity. Her sickness affected her schooling and despite being 14 years of age she was not allowed to receive her First Holy Communion and was unable to read or write.
In November of 1857 she was sent to Bartrès, the little village close to Lourdes to work on the farm. However, her desire to receive First Holy Communion brought her back to the village in January of 1858. While out walking with her sister and a friend near Massabielle Bernadette was unable to keep up with them and had removed her socks and shoes to cross the stream and follow when she heard a gust of wind and looking up saw the ‘lady dressed in white with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot’. This was the first of the apparitions, she was to receive 18 apparitions until the last one on July 16th. During the apparitions she prayed the Rosary with ‘the lady’ and conversed with her. On Feb 19th Bernadette lit a candle at the grotto, a tradition that continues to this days with many millions of candles lit each year.
By Sunday Feb. 21st crowds were beginning to follow her and Bernadette’s fist of many official questionings started by Police Commissioner, Jacomet. Her eight visit with the lady on Wednesday 24th.February saw the first of the messages being given: The message of the Lady was: “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!” The following day the lady told her to drink from the spring, pointing out a spot, which to Bernadette was only a muddy area. Bernadette did as she was told and the crowd was appalled to see her digging up the mud and placing it at her mouth. Her repsonse to the questioning crowd was ‘It is for sinners’. The small spring begins to flow from the spot and a local girl, a friend of Bernadette’s, plunges her dislocated arm into the spring. It is miraculously healed, the first of many to take place in those early days and so many since.
On Tuesday 2nd. March the lady gives Bernadette a message for the Parish Priest, Abbé Peyramale, to build a chapel at the grotto. The Priest, still not believing, only wanted to know the name of the lady. On Thursday 25th. March, the Feast of the Annunciation, the lady tells Bernadette “QUE SOY ERA IMMACULADA CONCEPCIOU.” – “I am the Immaculate Conception”. This theological expression had been assigned to the Blessed Virgin.just four years earlier, in 1854, as Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma). Bernadette could not have known this and her words left the Parish Priest puzzled.
Bishop of Tarbes, the local Bishop, started a Church enquiry almost immediately and four years later declared the Apparitions as authentic in the name of the Church. The investigations showed many who were sick being cured by means not able to be explained by traditional medical methods. The Bishop, in his declaration concluded: “There is thus a direct link between the cures and the Apparitions, the Apparitions are of divine origin, since the cures carry a divine stamp. But what comes from God is the truth! As a result, the Apparition, calling herself the Immaculate Conception, that Bernadette saw and heard, is the Most Holy Virgin Mary! Thus we write: the finger of God is here.”
In 1866 Bernadette joined Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers and received the name Sister Marie-Bernard. She died in the convent at 55 years of age on April 16th 1879. On 2nd June 1925, in the Consistory Hall, Pope Pius XI declared that Bernadette could be declared Blessed. On 8th. December 1933, Pope Pius XI solemnly read the declaration of the Canonization of Bernadette.
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