Replica of the grotto of Lourdes next to the church in Penha Hill
Miguel Augusto (*)
Last Monday, February 11, the Catholic community around the world woke up with messages of the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and the desire to share the anniversary. In Macau, it could not be different, and the day was filled with Mary Most Holy. In addition to the meetings and moments of prayer – given that a large part of the local community is immigrant – exchanges of electronic messages with illustrations and prayers, travelled the world, to greet friends and family, in a sharing of love and union with the Blessed Mother.
Marian devotion is very present in Macau, in part by the communion of the Catholic faith of the Portuguese people, caressed in 1917 with an apparition of Our Lady at the Cova da Iria in Fatima. In some churches in the territory, the faithful met in common practices of devotion to the Mother of God. They follow the counsels of Our Lady such as the prayer of the rosary, which the Celestial Mother has asked us over and over again, as she did in Lourdes praying it with Saint Bernadette in her first appearance on the 11th of February 1858.
We recall that in the church of the Sé Cathedral, the faithful are invited to pray the rosary together. In the Portuguese language, the Rosary is recited every day (except on Sundays), at 5:30 p.m. The rosary is usually prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, which is exposed during the day, on a side altar of the central nave of the Cathedral, annexed to the sacristy. Here, together with the sacramental Jesus, the Chinese-speaking community also prays the Rosary at 8:00 p.m.
In Macau, we have at least two replicas of the Lourdes grotto in public spaces. Certainly, there will be others in the private domain. One of these replicas of the grotto of Lourdes is in the church of Penha Hill and another in the patio of the Seminary of St Joseph.
In the book Toponímia de Macau, by Monsignor Father Manuel Teixeira, we find a story that tells us about the Penha Chapel, a place of Catholic worship for almost four centuries. The original chapel was built there in 1622. Regarding the grotto replica of Our Lady of Lourdes – next to the church built in 1934-1935 – the book says: “The grotto was built in 1908, on the initiative of D. João Paulino de Azevedo e Castro, bishop of Macau (1903-1918).”
The miracle of Lourdes
On February 11, 1858, Our Lady appeared in a grotto in Lourdes (France), to a fourteen-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, simple, humble and poor, who could barely read and write. She, together with a sister and a neighbor, collected firewood near the Grotto of Massabielle. They had to walk barefoot through a stream, and Bernadette, who suffered from asthma, did not want to stand in the cold water and stayed on the bank. At this moment, she heard a noise in the trees, and a draft of wind enveloped her, and saw a beautiful, radiant young lady, dressed in white, with a blue band, smiling at her. Then she prayed the Rosary with Bernadette.
Bernadette’s family was very poor, and when the community learned of this, there were pressures and sometimes unpleasant reactions from the people, for many doubted the young girl. Even the police took Bernadette for questioning without her parents’ consent. Bernadette, after so much crying and impelled inwardly to return to the grotto, would finally obtain the permission of the parents to return to the place. In the third apparition that took place on February 18 of that same year, the Lady appeared and smiled. For the first time, the Lady spoke. Bernadette held out a pen and paper asking her to write her name. She replied; “It is not necessary” and she added: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other. Would you be kind enough to come here for a fortnight?”. During the apparitions, the Lady asked to pray for sinners and invited the faithful to prayer and penance.
On the 9th apparition, February 25th, three hundred people were present. At the request of Our Lady, Bernadette dug with her hands on the ground next to the grotto, and there Our Lady caused a spring of water to appear and invited Bernadette to drink from it, which turned out to be miraculous. The pilgrims who come from all continents, bathe and drink from this water, and many have been healed because of their faith.
Our Lady asked Bernadette that she wanted a church in this to distribute her blessings. Bernadette took the message to the parish priest of Lourdes, but he could not believe it and asked the young lady to ask the name of the lady who appeared to her. He needed a proof that would make him believe.
In the 16th apparition, March 25, Our Lady told Bernadette in her dialect: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Four years earlier, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma). Our Lady confirmed the dogma in Lourdes. Bernadette did not understand; she thought she would hear: “I am Mary.” So as not to forget, she went all the way to the parish priest repeating the phrase: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This one took a fright when Bernadette said the lady’s name because he knew that this poor girl, could not “create” or perceive this name. Reflecting on the events and the announcement of the dogma, the bishop believed and thus, in this region, one of the most beautiful Marian Shrines in the world grew, with many miracles and conversions, welcoming people from all over.
The apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes in 1858, ran from 11 February (Thursday) to 16 July (Friday), the day of the last apparition, in a total of eighteen apparitions.
Science proves Lourdes
The late Father René Laurentin, theologian, academic, exegete and historian, is a world authority in Mariology and in the phenomenon of private revelations. His numerous studies on Lourdes have made him a leading historian of these Marian apparitions. His work and study on Lourdes are gathered in several books, to which are added several volumes of documents. Many of these are scientific and certified evidence, with documentation of reports of cures whose doctors attest to these records, with no scientific means to explain the healing of incurable and terminal diseases, among many other physical and mental disabilities.
We recall an episode of a doctor who would become Nobel of medicine in 1912. Alexis Carrel who converted to Catholicism thanks to the miracles he witnessed in Lourdes since 1903 when he was still a young atheist physician.
At the time, a colleague who would accompany a group of pilgrims to Lourdes, asked him by force majeure to replace him. Carrel accepted and thought that he could prove the falsity of the supposed miracles, but he witnessed one and was converted.
The doctor followed, observed and analyzed all the symptoms of a woman with tuberculosis on her deathbed who was taken to Lourdes. He did not doubt that she would die at any moment. However, when the woman, before his unbelieving eyes, was brought into contact with the miraculous water, the disease faded from the body that miraculously showed signs of healing.
In this place of grace, every year countless physical and spiritual healings transcend the human capacity for response – placing man in his limited dimension before God. For the Lord, yes, nothing is impossible, as the angel Gabriel said to the Blessed Virgin in the announcing of the incarnation of the Word (Luke 1:37).
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
Note: Precisely on the same day, on February 11, 2013; the world received a news that shook the planet. The now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, in the celebration of the memory of Our Lady of Lourdes, renounced the ”Throne of Peter”.
The last resignation of a Pope was in the year 1415, and it was Pope Gregory XII, that is, almost 600 years ago.
(*) with Aleteia and Felipe Aquino