Alessandro de Franciscis

Président du Bureau des Constatations Médicales

Président de l’Association Médicale Internationale de Notre-Dame de Lourdes (AMIL)

Dear AMIL members, dear Readers,

First of all, please accept my most sincere thanks for all the close and affectionate bonds that unite us in our daily work, here in Lourdes. I realised this, the day after the last issue of the Bulletin, the special issue dedicated to my illustrious predecessor, Dr. Théodore Mangiapan. The number of letters, messages and testimonials of encouragement that we have received confirms that the great AMIL family is a true “family”.

By his letter of 31st May 2019, Pope Francis appointed Mgr. Antoine Hérouard, auxiliary bishop of Lille, Delegate ad nutum Sanctae Sedis for the Sanctuary of Lourdes. The Pope, among other things, writes: “…I want to understand what subsequent forms the Sanctuary of Lourdes can adopt, in addition to the multiple forms already existing, to become ever more a place of prayer and Christian witness corresponding to the needs of the People of God.

During the summer, Mgr. Hérouard appointed the new Rector of the Sanctuary, Mgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, of the diocese of Paris, who took office on 1st October. The Rector then appointed Vice-Rector Mgr. Xavier d’Arodes de Peyriague, of the Diocese of Toulouse, and Chaplain of the Sanctuary, and his Council. To the Bishop, Pontifical Delegate, to the new Rector and Vice-Rector of the Sanctuary, we offer our warmest greetings on behalf of the whole AMIL family and reiterate our willingness to actively collaborate with them.

The departure of Fr André Cabes, Rector since September 2015, priest of the Diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes, was amicable and smooth. I want to thank him here on behalf of all of you for what he did in a very accessible way, with true gospel spirit and a great sense of welcome in what was a very difficult time. I think that the presentation to Fr Cabes of the City’s medal of honour by the Mayor of Lourdes, Mrs. Josette Bourdeu, in December 2019, was entirely appropriate!

In October 2019, Monseigneur Hérouard co-chaired the annual meeting of CMIL – the Lourdes International Medical Committee – with the new co-chairman, Professor Olivier Jonquet from the Montpellier University Hospital. I wish to thank and give a big heartfelt hug to Prof. Marie-Christine Mouren the former co-chair of CMIL after Prof. François-Bernard Michel. Professor Mouren was both a rigorous academic, a surprising innovator with the invention of the self-teaching format led by CMIL members for their colleagues, but also above all, for me personally and for my small team, a real friend. I know that the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes will thank her for all the love she has put into her service. Our very best wishes to Olivier Jonquet for a fruitful collaboration.

At the start of this Bulletin, you will find a presentation on the Theme of our Pilgrimages this year – the Immaculate Conception – approved by Mgr. Hérouard, and texts by Fr Cabes and Mgr. Ribadeau Dumas.

Despite the dramatic news of epidemics of viral and infectious diseases, epidemiologists inform us that cancer will soon become the main cause of death in the world due to noncommunicable disease overtaking cardiovascular diseases. In an unprecedented prospective cohort study, Gilles R. Dagenais et al (Variations in common diseases, hospital admissions, and deaths in middle-aged adults in 21 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study – The Lancet, 3rd September 2019 – DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)32007-0) show how today cancer is the leading cause of death in adults between 35 and 70 years old in countries with a high standard of living and in some countries with an average standard of living.

It’s no coincidence that Harvard Public Health, the journal of the Harvard School of Public Health, chose the title “The cancer miracle isn’t a cure. It’s prevention” for the cover of their Autumn 2019 issue. Too many people around us however believe that the battle against oncological disease is almost won. Appointed in January 2020 by the Minister of Health, our colleague, Prof. Jean-Charles Soria, oncologist and member of the CMIL, is the new Director General of the Gustave Roussy Institute, one of the most important institutions in the world in the field of research, teaching and cancer therapies. I am pleased to publish the lecture that Professor Soria gave to colleagues at the CMIL in 2018 entitled “Is cancer cure around the corner?” I send Prof Soria our warmest wishes and the promise of our prayers.

You will then find two speeches that Pope Francis recently gave to medical colleagues on the subject of cancer.

And finally, as always, our traditional News section. However, I would like to mention especially here, in my editorial, the news of the deaths of two people who are part of the history of Lourdes.

  1. The parish priest of Beaucaire (of the Diocese of Aix and Arles, in the department of Gard, in Occitania) told me of the death on 7th November 2019, of Francis Pascal, 45th miraculee in Lourdes. Born on 2nd October 1934, at the age of 3, he was struck by a very serious form of meningitis which caused complete blindness and paralysis of the lower limbs. At the end of August 1938, he was taken on a pilgrimage to Lourdes where he received an unexplained healing. After a long investigation by the Bureau des Constatations Médicales, on 31st May 1949, the healing was recognised as miraculous by Mgr. Charles de Provencheres, Bishop of Aix, Arles and Embrun. He led a simple life in Beaucaire, his hometown, where he worked with his brother in agriculture. He regularly and generously witnessed to the miracle he had received, as a service to others, in pilgrimages to Lourdes and at the local Saint Vincent de Paul conference.

  2. The great HCPT pilgrimage – Handicapped Children Pilgrimage Trust – announced the death, on 27th December 2019, of Dr. Michael Strode, paediatrician, founder of the HCPT and member of AMIL, who became a Cistercian Oblate under the name of Brother Michael. Born on 5th June 1932, he was attracted to the Catholic faith during his university studies and on 15th September 1945 he was welcomed into the Church. In 1946, Michael Strode obtained his medical degree from the University of London. In 1949, he left for military service as an officer in the Navy, but because of pulmonary tuberculosis he did not complete his specialisation in paediatrics until 1953. During this year, he began working at the Chailey Heritage Foundation, whose mission is to help children and young people with complex neuromotor disorders develop their full potential. He worked in this institution until December 1988. His first pilgrimage to Lourdes took place in 1951 with the Birmingham diocesan pilgrimage. In 1954 – with his friend Peter Keevney – he decided to accompany a group of disabled children from the Chailey Foundation to Lourdes as part of the Birmingham pilgrimage. In 1955, they brought two groups to Lourdes. The HCPT was founded in 1956 and its first pilgrimage took place in 1957. In 1991, Dr. Strode became a member of a Cistercian monastic community in which he made his perpetual vows as an Oblate on 7th June 1998. Brother Michael was actively involved with the HCPT until the end. I had the pleasure of welcoming him to the Bureau towards the start of my mandate. The last time he signed in at the Bureau was in 2013, and our final meeting, which was warm and convivial, took place in his beloved Hosanna House, in Bartres.

My invitation to participate, in January, in a very successful Colloquium at the Catholic Institute of Paris entitled “God, does he still heal? Liturgical resources, ecumenical discernment”, the large number of participants and the quality of the Conference of Clergy and Pilgrimage Leaders in Lourdes held at the Sanctuary in February, the quality of our Ordinary Assembly of AMIL on 10th February and the increase in the number of health professionals belonging to the medical and paramedical bodies that I meet in Lourdes all confirm to me that our “vocation” in the service of the sick and our love for Lourdes is a real privilege.

In the previously quoted letter of 31st May 2019 to Mgr. Hérouard, his Delegate, Pope Francis writes: “The Sanctuary of Lourdes, built around the Grotto of Massabielle, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 with the title of Immaculate Conception, is a place where faith, testimony of charity and popular piety commendably merge. For more than a century, it has been the focal point of continuous pilgrimage, and countless faithful from all parts of the world flock there, faithful who entrust themselves to the special mediation of Our Lady of Lourdes so as to obtain the gift of healing in body and spirit. Devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, moreover, is admirably present throughout the Church and her message remains alive in the People of God.

And it is in Lourdes that I hope to see you, in great numbers, this year!