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 CNS Story:

LOURDES-CURES Feb-15-2008 (440 words) With photo posted Feb. 14. xxxi

Oncologist: Medicine makes Lourdes' cures hard to prove miraculous

By Regina Linskey
Catholic News Service

LOURDES, France (CNS) -- A 9-year-old girl shivered as her stiff arm air-dried. She had just run it under holy water from the spigots near the Massabielle grotto at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Her grandmother said she was hoping the girl, who had a stroke last year, would recover totally after visiting Lourdes in mid-February.

Approximately 15,000 people known to be sick come to Lourdes every year, said Dr. Marco Tampellini, an Italian oncologist who collaborates with the Lourdes Medical Bureau, which reviews medical documentation for cases of potentially miraculous cures resulting from a visit. Tampellini helps gather medical information on cases for the bureau's French doctor, who is appointed by the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes.

Since 1883, the bureau has examined the records of more than 7,000 people claiming they were cured after visiting the sanctuaries, Tampellini told Catholic News Service. Only 67 such cures have been considered miracles.

The 1952 cure of Anna Santaniello's heart disease was recognized in 2005 as the 67th official miracle of Lourdes.

It is "not so simple to say a cure is a miracle," and the medically based evaluation process is difficult, Tampellini told CNS.

Strict criteria govern the evaluation process, he said. People must prove the illness, which cannot be psychological in nature. They must voluntarily notify the medical bureau of the cure, which must be sudden, complete and durable for more than five years, without medical intervention, Tampellini said.

The case is reviewed by the bureau and its collaborators and sent to the International Medical Committee of Lourdes. This committee of 20 doctors, experts in their fields from around the world, decides if the cure is extraordinary.

All the clinical records are then passed to the bishop of the person making the claim, and that bishop decides if the cure is a miracle.

Today, because medication almost always is administered to treat an illness, it is becoming difficult to pass the no-medical-intervention rule, Tampellini said. However, Vatican officials have been discussing how to address this issue, he said.

When Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous 150 years ago, "she didn't say, 'St. Bernadette please ask for the sick to come here because I want to heal them,'" said Tampellini, who is also vice president of the Italian Catholic organization UNITALSI, which brings the sick to Lourdes and other international sanctuaries.

Most sick people come to Lourdes "not to be cured, but to try to find some hope for life," he said.

"Maybe they die. That happens, because that belongs to life," he said.


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