Bernadette Soubirous was born of a very poor family in Lourdes, a small village at the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south of France.  It was on the 11th of February 1858, whilst she and her sisters went to collect brush wood for the house fire, that 14 year-old Bernadette saw the first of 18 visions of a lady.  As time went on, Bernadette was to learn that the mysterious lady was the Blessed Virgin Mary and to hear from her lips “I am the Immaculate Conception“.  During one of the visions, the Mother of Jesus told Bernadette to scrape some earth from the ground.  A steady stream of water then flowed.  Many of the thoudsands of people who now visit Lourdes each year bathe in the running water.

In the convent that she joined, Bernadette said “I am getting on with my job.”  She was asked: “What is your job?”  She replied in a positive way, saying “Living as somebody who is ill.”  Bernadette prayed: “Lord, I do not ask that I never be afflicted, but only that you never abandon me in affliction.”

In 1992 Pope John Paul II instituted the World Day of the Sick to be held on the 11th February, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, as a way for believers to offer prayers for those who suffer from illness and their carers.  Saturday 11th February 2017 is the 25th World Day of the Sick.  Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have continued this special World Day – an occasion during which the whole Church bears witness with special concern to the tender mercy and love of God towards all who suffer. It is a time to pause and be prayerfully in solidarity with those who are sick and with all who care for the sick.