Vatican News becomes the latest media outlet to cover the historic visit of the Relics of St Bernadette, follow the link to go to Vatican News to read the article and listen to the latest iterview given by Canon Mark O'Keeffe.
Plymouth's Catholic cathedral will host the relics on 9-10 September this year as they tour the UK.
When something is billed as “once in a lifetime” it makes people stop and look.
The 9-10 September is a red-letter day for us here in the south-west of England, when the relics of St Bernadette will come to the cathedral at Plymouth during their visit to the UK. We have been busily arranging a programme of events and liturgies which will reflect the unique occasion.
The relics of one of the world’s most famous saints, the girl chosen as the mouthpiece of Our Lady to herald the Immaculate Conception and the cure of the sick, has special resonance for us. Our Cathedral Church of St Mary and St Boniface opened its doors on the 25 March 1858, the very same day that Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette and said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Within the diocese there is also another connection to Lourdes – the church of Our Lady of Victories and St Bernadette located in Ensbury Park, Bournemouth, is the first church in England to be dedicated to her patronage.Over the years, tens of thousands of people from our diocese have made the pilgrimage to Lourdes, looking for healing, solace, peace, and faith. The pilgrimage to this most
visited Christian site is a blessing for those who have been able to make the journey. On my many visits to Lourdes, my experience has been such that the pilgrims I have journeyed with – able and disabled alike – have unknowingly led me into a deeper relationship of faith
I have listened to many pilgrim volunteers say that they have received far more from the sick pilgrims that they have accompanied than they have given as volunteers during the time they have spent together. The Lourdes experience is a microcosm of the Church, where the suffering bring healing to those who are physically well. At the heart of the Lourdes story is the saint to whom we owe so much and will venerate when she comes to visit us.
I was a seminarian when I first went to Lourdes with the Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust. I remember that I was very nervous and that my fear fell away as soon as I stepped on the coach to go to the airport because everyone was so friendly and inclusive. I was a volunteer helper to a young boy who have become paralysed after an accident; his life was a tremendous source of inspiration to me. We both received much from sitting in silence together, and from navigating the wheelchair around the crowds at the Grotto, the baths, the sacrament of the sick ceremony and the torchlight procession. And there was lots of laughter too.
Compare that to the time that I took soldiers as their army chaplain.
The Cathedral Church of St Mary and St Boniface in Plymouth, opened on 25 March 1858 - the same date that Our Lady told St Bernadette “I am the Immaculate Conception”. Commission Air/Alamy
These were men who were healthy and strong, who were unafraid to show their softer side in their care for the sick, the elderly and the lame. Military from across the world enjoyed spending time with Our Lady, reconciling with each other and marching together, and time dedicated to silence and prayer. These pilgrimages to Lourdes have enriched my priestly ministry, and shown me the way to serve.
One venerable priest within our Diocese of Plymouth who is particularly looking forward to the visit of St Bernadette happens to be a canon of Lourdes, made so by the Bishop of Lourdes and Tarbes. He describes the experience of Lourdes in a very simple and calming way: as the coming together of a global family where all are welcome and all are equal whatever their social status in life when they return to their own cities and towns.
I hope that this deep sense of calm and simplicity will be the experience of those coming to Plymouth Cathedral in the presence of St Bernadette. Our canon says that Lourdes is such a wonderful place because Our Blessed Lady is there waiting to listen to our petitions. In our own cathedral, the Marian altar is always adorned with
petitions and flowers placed by people from all over the world who come to Our Lady to be heard and to share their hopes and dreams, joys as well as sorrows.
The words of the saints teach us and help us to grow, none more so than the words of St Bernadette: “I shall spend every moment loving.
One who loves does not notice her trials; or perhaps more accurately, she is able to love them.”
When it comes to the cathedral, the mother church of the diocese, we are conscious that the people of God have been through so much since the day of the cathedral doors’ first opening – a story of the community of faith overcoming pestilence, war, the blitz and most recently, a pandemic, uncertainty, isolation and fear.
We hope to be inspired once again by the life of St Bernadette, who trusted. When asked whether her vision of the Virgin Mary as beautiful she replied:
“Oh! Oh! Yes indeed! And even more than that! So lovely that, when you have seen her once, you would willingly die to see her again!
St Bernadette met and knew the love, compassion and succour of Jesus Christ. We hope that we will take this experience as a privilege and a part of our story to take to the people of this delightful city by the sea and further afield, for generations to come.
Saint Bernadette – pray for us.
Canon Mark O'Keefe is the cathedral dean in the Diocese of Plymouth.
The relics of St Bernadette will visit the Cathedral of St Mary and St Boniface 9-10 September. Other dates of the relic tour are available at stbernadette.org.uk.
With thanks to the The Tablet for permission to share this article on our website.
St Bernadette was born in 1844 to a poor family in Lourdes, in France. She was baptised when she was 2 days old at her parish church in Lourdes. Bernadette was one of 9 children.
Bernadette was 13 years old when she started to learn French, and to read and write. She was the eldest daughter, so she was put in charge of her brothers and sisters while her parents worked. She couldn’t go to school because she had to help her family.
One day Bernadette went to collect firewood with her sister and a friend when something happened that completely changed her life and the place where she lived.
This was the first of 18 visions, when she described seeing ‘a small young lady’. She said that the beautiful lady had told her to go back, but Bernadette’s Mother didn’t want her to.
Bernadette’ described her as the lady, but it was really the Virgin Mary, the mother of God. Bernadette was the only person to see her.
The lady told Bernadette to drink from the spring that flowed under the rock. So, she tried digging into the mud, until eventually she found clear drinking water. But the onlookers, just saw mud on her face and didn’t believe her.
But in the next few days a spring flowed, and people thought the water had special healing powers. People still visit the spring today in the hope that it will heal and cure them. Bernadette always believed that faith and prayer cured the sick.
Bernadette decided that she wanted to devote her life to God. She went to a convent in Nevers. She spent the rest of her life there, helping others and creating beautiful, embroidered garments for church. She died on 16th April at the age of 35.
The feast day of St Bernadette is April 16th