Thousands of people have venerated the relics of St. Bernadette of Lourdes in London at the start of their two-month tour of Britain.
Long queues formed outside Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of Catholics in England and Wales, on Sept. 3 as the visionary’s relics arrived from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.
A spokesman for the St. Bernadette Relic Tour 2022 told The Pillar on Sept. 6 that, although organizers did not have a final attendance figure, “it is estimated that over 50,000 came through the doors” of Westminster Cathedral.
Preaching at a Solemn Mass of Welcome on Saturday morning, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “From here, this great tour of the relics of St Bernadette sets off, around England, Scotland and Wales.”
“We pray that all who gather to greet her, to reach out to her in whatever need, will learn the great lessons of her life and witness: that in God’s eyes we are precious, no matter our condition; that in the eyes of Mary, we are beloved sons and daughters, whom she gathers under her mantle of consolation and healing; that Mary never abandons us but is with us every step of our pilgrim way through this life; that Mary will always lead us to her Son, Jesus, in whom alone is our fullness and redemption.”
The website Independent Catholic News reported that pilgrims streamed into the cathedral in the afternoon and throughout the night, attending Masses early on Sunday morning.
The relics will travel about 11,500 miles to every diocese in the U.K in September and October. The tour will end on Nov. 1 following stops at London’s Wormwood Scrubbs Prison and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic cathedral.
The event follows the visit of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s relics to Britain in 2009, which drew vast crowds. In 2012, the relic of the heart of St. John Vianney toured dioceses in northern England.
Pilgrims venerating St. Bernadette’s relics — which include rib fragments, kneecaps, and thigh muscle, housed in a decorated reliquary — have the opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.” The indulgence can be obtained by visiting the relics, being fully detached from sin, going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion, and praying for the pope’s intentions.
Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844 in Lourdes, a market town in southwestern France. She experienced 18 visions of the Virgin Mary, beginning on Feb. 11, 1858, and ending on July 16 that year.
She later joined the Sisters of Charity in the city of Nevers, more than 400 miles away from Lourdes. When asked about the Marian apparitions, she is said to have replied: “The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.” She died in 1879, aged 35.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was consecrated in Lourdes three years before her death. The shrine draws millions of pilgrims each year seeking healing at the baths near the Grotto where the apparitions took place. A 70th miracle was officially recognized at the shrine in 2018.
Cardinal Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, issued a statement on Sept. 5 welcoming the election of Liz Truss as Britain’s new prime minister, succeeding Boris Johnson.
He urged Truss — who has said that she shares “the values of the Christian faith and the Church of England, but I’m not a regular practicing religious person” — to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. He suggested that the principles of Catholic social teaching could help people in “urgent and dire need.”
He ended his message: “St. Thomas More, pray for all who serve in political and public life. St. Bernadette, pray for the poor.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Sept. 6 with an attendance estimate.