As part of a pilgrimage tour of the UK in September and October, Plymouth Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Boniface will welcome a relic of St Bernadette, which the Cathedral Administrator, Canon Mark O’Keeffe, describes as a “once in a lifetime event.”
The story of St Bernadette is a remarkable one. A young girl who grew up in a poor family, Bernadette Soubirous received apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary when she was 14 years old.
Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, she witnessed 18 visions at the grotto of Massabielle, near the River Gave in the village of Lourdes.
When St. Bernadette asked the lady who she was on the 25 March 1858, she replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception”- revealing herself to be the Virgin-Mother of God.
Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonised by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1933, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Since then, her life and legacy has touched millions of lives.
During her life, Bernadette never travelled outside of her home country of France, yet millions of people over generations have come to the Sanctuary at Lourdes, which has a long tradition of welcoming the sick.
As a Saint, her relics have travelled beyond the borders of France to countries such as the United States, and now for the very first time, a relic of St Bernadette will tour England, Scotland, and Wales this September and October.
The journey will begin from the Upper Basilica in Lourdes, stopping at every Catholic Cathedral in Great Britain.
For the diocese of Plymouth in the south-west of England, this visit is a “once in a lifetime event”, and a full programme is in place for the relic’s arrival at the cathedral there on 9 September.
In fact, the 25 March 1858 has extra-special importance for Catholics in England’s south-west; for it was on that day that Plymouth Cathedral opened its doors for worship.
Welcoming the beautiful reliquary will be Plymouth Cathedral Administrator, Canon Mark O’Keeffe, who described the visit as a “red letter day.”
So, just why do people have such an affinity with this Saint today? According to Canon O’Keeffe, St Bernadette is a figure people can relate to because she was chosen to be the instrument of conveying an important revelation about the Immaculate Conception, and she knew what it was like to experience trials here on earth.
“People can relate to the innocence of that sort of suffering. And I think that a lot of people’s lives revolve around that. But they’re attracted to something beautiful, but they also understand that sufferings are part of life. And she encapsulates that.”
Canon O’Keeffe also agreed that it is Bernadette’s simplicity that makes her a popular and venerated Saint.
“It’s the whole thing of God choosing the simple and being able to choose one of us, somebody who is ordinary, but also that simplicity. I think that’s a reflection of Mary in there. You know, that if you think about God choosing Mary, he chose somebody who was, essentially, from the background, which is humble. And I think that’s what people relate to in Bernadette, the peasant child literally going out to collect firewood because they were so poor.”
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, people had little or no opportunity to visit pilgrimage sites, such as the Shrine at Lourdes, to pray for healing, and to enrich and renew themselves. The Canon pointed out that by coming to the UK, this visit affords people the chance to feel the “Bernadette effect” in their lives by participating in ceremonies such as a Mass with the anointing of the sick.
“It’s that need for healing, and that desire to find some healing in our lives,” he said. “One pilgrim said to me that what they loved about it was that, when they went there, [Lourdes] everyone was equal. There was no judging or complaining. Everyone helped each other and smiled and laughed because of the order of the day. And they said, ‘If only we could live like that all the time.’”
On Friday afternoon, 9 September, the holy relic, in its beautiful reliquary, will arrive at Plymouth Cathedral from Portsmouth to be greeted by the singing of pupils from Catholic schools in the area. Afterwards, visitors and pilgrims from all over Devon, Cornwall and Dorset will be able to process past the shrine and spend time in private prayer.
“We have the privilege of having Bernadette with us, but actually it works out just less than 24 hours that she’s actually physically with us. So, what we’re hoping to do is to involve the children because she’s arriving on a Friday. So, we’ve got several schools in the city and we’re going to ask them to do a welcoming liturgy for her which will probably be rather beautiful,” Canon O’Keeffe said, speaking about the itinerary of events.
Over the course of the 9 and 10 September, there will also be a special service in the Cathedral, with a candlelit procession in the evening starting at 6pm. Before the departure of the relic, the faithful will be able to attend Mass with the Anointing of the Sick.
Asked what it is like for him to be part of this unique visit, Canon O’Keeffe said: “In life you’re sort of given opportunities and you don’t quite know why you’re given them. But, you know, when you hear something like this, it’s such a privilege. And so, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I’m hoping that people will be able to respond. And I know certainly in terms of how I look at it, it’s like, wow, what a privilege on my watch that, something so, so, so stupendous will be happening for us. And to be a part of that and a facilitator, it’s such an honour for me. It’s about saying a thanks to Saint Bernadette. And it’s also about saying to people that they are welcome.”
Source: Vatican News