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 CNS Story:

MASS-SICK Feb-11-2008 (580 words) With photos. xxxn

Mass for World Day of Sick stresses healing, ties to Lourdes shrine

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Some were in wheelchairs. Others hobbled on canes or were assisted by caregivers in white lab coats. Many were elderly but several were young. All suffered serious health problems.

They came together at a special Mass Feb. 11 at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to receive the anointing of the sick, one of the church's seven sacraments. The anointing is reserved for people whose health is seriously impaired by sickness or old age.

The Mass celebrated World Day of the Sick, which is tied to the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This year's observance also commemorated the 150th anniversary of the first Marian apparitions at Lourdes in southern France. The shrine at Lourdes is a major pilgrimage site for people seeking physical healing by drinking from the shrine's spring and bathing in its waters.

In Washington, Kathleen Bigelow was one of the more than 100 people who received the anointing of the sick. A priest made the sign of the cross with holy oil on each person's forehead and hands.

Afterward, Bigelow expressed hope that her trip to Lourdes last May helped her turn the corner in her battle against a rare type of cancer.

"I didn't have this hair several months ago," she said, pointing to her brown hair, which had once disappeared after a series of chemotherapy treatments. She was diagnosed in 2006 with leiomyosarcoma, a cancerous growth in the muscle or bone tissue.

Another sign that the cancer may be receding, she said, was a January test indicating that a cancerous spot in her abdomen had disappeared without any immediate explanation. Bigelow is scheduled for more testing in three months.

"Lourdes was a moving experience. You can feel the holiness," she told Catholic News Service about her one-week stay.

While there she bathed in the Lourdes water.

"Boy was it cold," said the parishioner of Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Dunkirk, Md., which is part of the Washington Archdiocese.

Bigelow also began drinking the water.

"I bought bottles of regular water, emptied them out and filled them with Lourdes water. I kept a gallon jug in my hotel room," she said.

Bigelow also brought bottles of water home.

"I have faith. You have to," said Bigelow. "I have nine kids. I want to be around for a long time."

Her trip to Lourdes was organized by the Knights of Malta, an organization that specializes in health care and provides assistance to sick people making pilgrimages to Lourdes. The Knights also helped organize the Washington Mass.

Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, principal celebrant at the Mass, said that the message of Lourdes goes beyond physical cures to encompass spiritual and moral healing.

It involves a "healing of the heart" and a "healing of a fallen world," he said.

"The acts of physical healing are a sign that God is with us," Archbishop Wuerl said.

Other concelebrants at the Mass included Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., and Auxiliary Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Baltimore.

Lourdes is associated with physical cures because one of the instructions Our Lady of Lourdes gave to St. Bernadette Soubirous during a series of apparitions that began Feb. 11, 1858, was to dig in a certain spot. The digging produced a spring whose waters have been said to produce miraculous cures.


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