March 16, 2006

No healings rush seen with Lourdes “miracle lite”

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic pilgrimage shrine at
Lourdes will not start churning out cases of divine healings
with a new category of faith-based recoveries that do not
qualify as miracles, its local bishop said on Thursday.

Bishop Jacques Perrier said last week that Catholicism's
leading shrine was considering a new category of healings
because modern medicine no longer declares diseases incurable
-- a key requirement for a recovery to be declared miraculous.

The new category of "credible testimony" -- dubbed "miracle
lite" by critics skeptical about healings at the popular shrine
in southwestern France -- will still require doctors to certify
a recovery from serious illness was sudden and inexplicable.

Bishop Jacques Perrier said Lourdes, where dozens of people
claim to be cured each year after visiting a grotto where the
Virgin Mary was said to have appeared in 1858, would probably
recognize only a handful of certified healings annually.

"I'd say the average would be about five, something in that
order -- it won't be 50," he told journalists in Paris.

The Catholic Church teaches that God sometimes performs
miracles including cures doctors cannot explain. Skeptics
reject this as unscientific and explain sudden recoveries as
psychological phenomena or the delayed result of treatment.

The Church's 18th-century rules on miracles require doctors
to attest the ailment could not be remedied otherwise. A local
medical bureau and a 25-member medical commission receive many
applications for recognition and reject almost all of them.

Lourdes has declared only 67 healings as miraculous since
1858, despite thousands of declarations from pilgrims who left
Lourdes freed of their ailments, Perrier said.


Dr Francois-Bernard Michel, co-chairman with Perrier of the
Lourdes International Medical Committee that examines healing
claims, said medical progress had reduced the Lourdes
pilgrimage from a voyage of faith to a yes-or-no question.

"Medicine has progressed more in the past 30 years than in
the 300 years before that," said Michel, who is also a
professor at Montpellier University medical school.

"Because of the strict rules (for miracles), we have ended
up with a very simplistic alternative -- is it a miracle or
not? But we doctors are not hungry for miracles. We're not
trying to find miracles where there are none or offer discount

"We must respect both scientific rigor and the faith and
conviction of people who, at a precise point in their lives,
have experienced a radical change in their health," he said.

Perrier said the new category would not be a second-class
miracle but a new way of looking at unexplained recoveries.

"We want to redirect the spotlight," he said. "Now it is on
the medical case alone. We want to reorient it to the people
involved. Their lives were ruined and now they're well again.

"This takes the whole person into account, not just the
isolated medical aspect of the case."

Michel said the International Medical Committee concluded
last November that a French woman stricken by malignant
lymphoma and leukemia had experienced an "exceptional healing"
after visiting Catholicism's leading shrine.

The case of the woman, who has requested anonymity, has not
yet received approval as a miracle from the Church, he said.

Perrier said he would discuss his plan with the Vatican but
that it did not need approval from Rome to be introduced.