Interview With Bishop Jacques Perrier
By Isabelle Cousturié
LOURDES, France, 20 FEB. 2008 (ZENIT)
The bishop of Lourdes says the
pilgrimage site in his diocese is like a promise that never betrays.
That's how Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes et Lourdes described the
spot on Feb. 10, eve of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, during his
homily at Mass celebrated in the grotto. "The apparitions in Lourdes,"
the bishop said, "like Lent, propose to us the same question, that of
hope, to which our Pope has dedicated his second encyclical. In what do
we place our hope? What are we ready to do to enter into the great
At the beginning of this jubilee year marking the 150th anniversary of
Our Lady's apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous, the prelate spoke with
ZENIT about the current relevance of the message left by the "beautiful
Q: In this year of special importance for your diocese, what message
would you live to give to the faithful and pilgrims?
Bishop Perrier: If they come to Lourdes, they will be welcomed with
warmth, and something very simple will be proposed to them: to follow
the path of the jubilee, made up of four stages
the baptistery, where Bernadette was baptized; the ancient prison, which
is a place typically evangelical; and naturally the sanctuaries; and the
oratory where Bernadette received her First Communion.
Therefore, the message is to demonstrate that the phenomenon of the
apparitions are framed within a Christian life, which is the Christian
life of Bernadette and the Christian life of the parish of Lourdes. It
is necessary to try to propose again the itinerary of a pilgrimage,
which is a methodology currently in vogue, in the framework of an
ordinary Christian life, in the Eucharist, even though today the number
of priests has gone down a lot compared to other eras.
Those who come can trace this path. The message of Lourdes is not
essentially in words, but rather in actions, words, gestures all taken
together, to enter into the spirit of the apparitions, through this
itinerary by means of the four points of the city and the sanctuaries.
And for all those who cannot come, there are ways to unite yourselves
from afar. [The Web site (http://www.lourdes2008.com) is in six
languages, including English.] A retreat, or more precisely a novena,
has been made, to associate oneself with the path of the jubilee,
because for us, it is important that these people too can live the
spirit of the jubilee, given that they don't have the possibility of
being physically present, because of a lack of time or due to financial
Q: This jubilee year is an occasion to follow the footsteps of
Bernadette Soubirous and rediscover the message the Virgin Mary gave us
through her. Could you remind us of this message and tell us what is the
Bishop Perrier: There are various elements to the message. There is a
strictly evangelical and constant aspect, which [is] that God chooses
the humble and the little ones, because Bernadette was, moreover,
uneducated. She was intelligent but she was not educated. She did not
know how to read or write. She didn't go to catechesis and she belonged
to a bankrupt family.
There is also the aspect of prayer: All of the episodes of the
apparitions take place entirely in a climate of prayer. And there is, as
well, the aspect of trust, that is, that the Virgin and Bernadette speak
to each other, and sometimes don't even say anything. The encounter
takes place in silence on 18 occasions. There is, thus, this type of
cooperation, of reciprocal familiarity between Bernadette and the Lady.
And something of this remains. In Lourdes, people are not afraid. And
that's why there are so many people. She presents herself as someone who
can understand everything and can welcome everything.
And there's an aspect of penance that can't be forgotten. This aspect
does not appear at the beginning nor at the end of the apparitions, but
rather in the middle. Five of the apparitions are very focused on
penance and during a time of penance is when the fountain is discovered,
which today is very associated with Lourdes, because immediately Lourdes
was spread around the world.
And then, there is the name. Finally the Virgin wanted to say her name.
She ended saying "I am the Immaculate Conception." Thus, there is total
purity, there is complete innocence, this perfect integrity of liberty.
As you can see, there are many aspects in this message. And precisely
because there are a lot, everyone can find something. In any case, this
is not a message that can be summarized only in the few words that have
been repeated. The message includes as well the gestures, the attitudes,
the time that has passed. All of this is the message. It is like in the
Gospel: There are not just the words of the Gospel that Christ
proclaimed; it is the whole of the life of Christ to which the Gospels
Q: Compared to the past, what are the expectations of the faithful and
the pilgrims who come to Lourdes?
Bishop Perrier: There are two answers to your question. The first is
that no one can know precisely because the people who come here are not
questioned. They are not pressed with questions; they aren't submitted
to surveys. They don't have to fill out questionnaires. They are not
told: If you want "x" or "y," stand in the line on the left; if you want
"a" or "b," the line on the right. Each one is left a great spiritual
liberty. Thus, from this point of view, we do not have an opinion
survey. We don't have objectives like those who do marketing.
Regarding the motivations of the people, one could note a certain
constancy, rather than a great renewal. Both theses could be maintained.
I'm not so sure that the motivations of today are that different from
those of a century ago, as could be thought. The world has changed, but
I'm not sure that in the depths of his heart, man has changed in this
regard, because in the end, it's notable that the same signs attract
people: the rock, the grotto, the water, the light. One hundred and
fifty years ago, it was like it is now. What that means is that all of
this goes to the depths of the human being.
Q: The fact that the figure of the believer has changed today, that his
way of acting has become an interior, more personal obligation
does that influence the behavior of the pilgrims or the faithful in
their way of showing today their love for Lourdes?
Bishop Perrier: Pilgrimages in Christianity have never been obligatory
so they are not despised by our generation as a duty. I think that they
have always been the object of a truly volunteer spirit. So I think that
corresponds very well with today: All of the pilgrimage spots, the
sanctuaries, in all religions, get along well with current times.
This is both good and not so good. It's good because it allows this
spiritual dimension of the human being to manifest itself, to not be
totally repressed. The totalitarian regimes have always tried to impede
pilgrimage spots. Under the Polish communist regime, it was impossible
to find a sign showing the way to Czestochowa. Thus, it's true that this
[dimension] exists, but it's not enough, because a Christian life cannot
be built, not to mention a militant or committed life, only with the
fact of going infrequently to a pilgrimage spot every few years. But
it's better than nothing. Thus, pilgrimages and sanctuaries have a
recognized place today in evangelization.
Q: For many years, a pilgrimage has been seen from the outside as a
request for a miraculous cure. Is that still true?
Bishop Perrier: I don’t think anyone comes for starters because of that.
Certainly in the history of Lourdes, this has had an important place.
But I think that today, healing is spoken of in all senses of the word.
It can be the healing of a relationship, a more psychological healing, a
physical healing, an interior healing. Then there's reconciliation. So
it's something very open. The word healing now has a greater
connotation, not just a physical sense.
Q: Last year, you saw a necessity to take a position on the question of
the healings and miracles linked to Lourdes, defining new focuses,
before the healings. Why did you see that as necessary?
Bishop Perrier: Because medicine has changed so much that applying
traditional criteria has become very difficult. We have entered into an
era of probabilities. They tell us that there are great probabilities
that this person has had such-and-such disease and that effectively he
had very little opportunity of being healed of it. But rarely will they
tell us that it is absolutely, 100% certain that this person had
such-and-such a disease and that it is absolutely certain that he would
have died three days later.
The doctor of today talks of prognoses of life. Now then, the criteria
normally oblige speaking in a formal and absolute way: "Yes, she had
such-and-such sickness and it was totally incurable." Today, you don't
talk like that. So, it's not that theology has changed, but rather that
medicine has changed.
Q: Do you still receive a lot of petitions to recognize miraculous
Bishop Perrier: Every year, about 40 cases are presented to the medical
offices, but it is known that this is a low percentage of those people
who, in fact, have benefited from a cure, from a grace. Many people
don't realize this process exists. And among those who know, many are
not interested in presenting their case. To get into the process of
recognizing [the cure] is a maze, so it's obvious people don't want to
It has to be recognized that it's very complicated as a process. […] On
the other hand, countless very old testimonies are received, of things
that happened 50 years ago.
Lourdes has had a worldwide projection almost since the beginning. This
continues, so we take advantage of the means offered today so that
people can unite themselves to our thanksgiving.