Did you know that the World Day of the Sick and Ferrero Rocher chocolate have something in common?
They do! They are both connected to the Blessed Mother under her title “Our Lady of Lourdes.”
On February 11th, 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to an illiterate, sickly girl named Bernadette for the first time.
The Blessed Mother would appear seventeen more times that year.
She spoke to Bernadette in the humblest of places, a grotto that was often a haven for pigs.
She asked her to pray for sinners and make reparation for them.
At one point, she asked Bernadette to dig in the mud of the grotto. While it was still just muddy water, Our Lady said to her: “Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there.”
Bernadette obeyed. In an act of great faith, she “bathed” in and drank the muddy puddle of water, which soon began to flow as a pure spring.
This spring of pure water continued to flow and still flows today.
Our Lady of Lourdes and Ferrero Rocher Chocolate
As Our Blessed Mother requested, a chapel was built on the site of the grotto. Today, it draws thousands of pilgrims who come to pray at the grotto as Bernadette did and to bathe in the chilly waters of the spring.
Fast forward 120 years.
It’s 1979 and Italian chocolate manufacturer Michele Ferrero has created a new sweet. You may have seen these famous gold-foil wrapped chocolates around Christmas or St. Valentine’s Day.
The chocolate is called Ferrero Rocher—rocher being French for rock.
Michele Ferrero had a particular rock in mind when he created this chocolate-hazelnut delight that looks very rock-like in appearance: Rocher de Massabielle is the very same rocky grotto in which Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to Bernadette.
Ferrero was devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes and reportedly visited the pilgrimage site every year, even taking along some of his factory employees.
Our Mother in Physical AND Spiritual Suffering
While some have experienced miracles of physical healing at this site, many pilgrims to Lourdes attest to the spiritual or mental renewal of their visits.
After all, the message of Lourdes is one of mercy. Mary came to Bernadette and left for the world a place in which suffering is not seen as the end but as possibility.
We aren’t promised to be free of suffering in this life. But we are promised that we will not be alone in it.
Mary is a tender, yet powerful guide through our suffering, always leading us into the arms of her Son.
No matter our needs, we can ALL turn to the Blessed Mother under her title “Our Lady of Lourdes.” As broken people in a broken world, we are all in need of the care of the Divine Physician.
Here is a beautiful prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes:
Prayer For Healing to Our Lady of Lourdes
O ever-Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Mercy,
health of the sick, refuge of sinners,
comforter of the afflicted,
you know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings;
look with mercy on me.
By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes,
you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary,
whence you dispense your favours;
and already many sufferers have obtained
the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and corporal.
I come, therefore, with complete confidence
to implore your maternal intercession.
Obtain, O loving Mother, the grant of my requests.
[mention your petition]
Through gratitude for your favours,
I will endeavour to imitate your virtues,
that I may one day share your glory,
and bless you in eternity.
Pope John Paul II Tells Us of Our Lady’s Love For Us
Another man who had a deep devotion to Our Lady was Pope John Paul II. In a 1992 address, he announced the first World Day of the Sick, which from that year forward would be celebrated annually on the commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes: February 11th.
The Pope shared that this day seeks to be “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind” (Message For the First Annual World Day of the Sick).
Pope John Paul II himself was no stranger to bodily suffering.
At the end of his life, he developed Parkinson’s disease. Though his plans to visit Lourdes in 1981 were put on hold due to an assassination attempt—he attributed to Mary’s protection the fact that one of the bullets stopped short of his heart—he finally made it there in 2004, less than a year before his death.
In his homily during his Lourdes visit, Pope John Paul II reflected on Mary’s words to Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” and the Gospel account of Mary going “with haste” to help her cousin Elizabeth, calls us to ponder Our Lady and her love for us:
What strikes us about Mary is above all her loving concern…Hers is a practical love, one which is not limited to words of understanding but is deeply and personally involved in giving help…Mary understood perfectly that the gift she received from God is more than a privilege; it is a duty which obliges her to serve others with the selflessness proper to love…
By her words and her silence the Virgin Mary stands before us as a model for our pilgrim way. It is not an easy way: as a result of the fall of our first parents, humanity is marked by the wounds of sin, whose consequences continue to be felt also among the redeemed.
But evil and death will not have the last word! Mary confirms this by her whole life, for she is a living witness of the victory of Christ, our Passover.
The faithful have understood this. That is why they throng to this grotto in order to hear the maternal counsels of the Blessed Virgin. In her they acknowledge “the woman clothed in the sun” (Rev 12:1), the Queen resplendent before the throne of God (cf. Responsorial Psalm), ever interceding on their behalf.
Be Generous to the Sick—And Share the Message of Lourdes
It might sound odd to “celebrate” the sick, but that indeed is what we’re called to do, especially in a society that struggles to see the “productivity” of the sick person or that anything good could come from sickness.
In a world that has been racked by fear of illness, sickness may feel like a looming threat—one that provokes fear and repulsion in us. It’s comforting to look to Christ, who sought out the sick, who came to set them free from physical ailments as well as the interior wound of sin.
Consider especially praying for—and reaching out to—those who are sick, not only on February 11th, but throughout the liturgical year.
One of the corporal works of mercy is visiting the sick, who, because of their illness, are often in great need of community. Consider bringing Holy Communion to the homebound in your parish, visiting, when possible, those in the hospital or in nursing homes, or checking on a neighbor who has recently suffered an injury.
Those who are sick may, to use Mother Teresa’s words, appear in “distressing disguise,” but, as our Lady of Lourdes teaches us, each person, no matter how sickly, young or old, and however seemingly unproductive, is precious not only to God but to the salvation of the world.
Also, let Michele Ferrero’s candy be a starting point for evangelization. Consider sharing some Ferrero Rocher chocolates with those around you…and tell them the story of Lourdes.
Do you want to learn more?
Many Catholics are familiar with Lourdes. But they haven’t heard the full story.
The digital series Lourdes: The True Story gives the astonishing details you’ve never heard before. Learn more and sign up for this powerful spiritual journey.