Healing vs Cure: A Lesson From Lourdes

Patient Expert

Last night, I viewed a video stream from the PBS series, Sacred Journeys. This particular episode followed a group of "wounded warriors" from the US on a visit to Lourdes. The men and women had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and were dealing with a range of injuries and disabilities, from blindness to amputated limbs to intense physical pain to PTSD and depression.

These warriors were part of much larger annual worldwide military pilgrimage.

In 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl living in a remote mountain town, reported visions of the Virgin Mary in a nearby grotto. Soon, its waters came to be associated with miracle cures. In 1862, the Pope authorized the local Bishop to permit veneration of the Blessed Virgin in Lourdes. Today, five million people flock to Lourdes each year.

If any miracles occurred with our wounded warriors, it was in the nature of healings rather than cures. This was emphasized again and again - in commentary by host Bruce Feller, in his interviews with clergy and physicians, and in the testimony of the veterans and soldiers and their loved ones.

On a previous visit, one of the warriors had been seeking to emerge from the Lourdes waters with his sight restored. This time, he was simply looking to be made whole, to come to terms with himself and his condition and to reconnect emotionally with his wife, who accompanied him on his journey.

As we see individual stories unfold, we realize it is all about the journey rather than the destination. We see people like us facing their inner demons and telling their stories, often for the first time. We see them take comfort in each other, find companionship and inspiration, experience emotional release, connect with a sense of something greater than themselves, and nurture a growing confidence in their ability to face whatever else life may throw their way.

In this sense, a nineteenth-century peasant girl's vision is more of a scene-setter, the provision of a safe place for men and women to begin their own inner dialogue, ask their own questions and find their own answers.

There are a million-and-one lessons to draw from this. No doubt, you have already come up with a few of your own. Peace "