Today marks the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858 to fourteen-year-old Marie Bernade (St. Bernadette) Soubirous. Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, the Blessed Virgin appeared eighteen times, and showed herself to St. Bernadette in the hollow of the rock at Lourdes. On March 25th she said to the little shepherdess who was only fourteen years of age: «I am the Immaculate Conception.» Since then Lourdes has become a place of pilgrimage and many cures and conversions have taken place. The message of Lourdes is a call to personal conversion, prayer, and charity.

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Since 1992, the Catholic Church has celebrated World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11th — the day on which the church commemorates the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes — under the sponsorship of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. World Day of the Sick has three consistent themes. First, it reminds the faithful to pray intensely and sincerely for those who are sick. Second, the celebration invites Christians to reflect on and respond to human suffering. And third, this day recognizes and honors all persons who work in health care and serve as caregivers.

In a message for the 2013 World Day of the Sick, Pope Benedict XVI calls on everyone to be a good Samaritan and concretely help those in need. Thanking those who care for the sick and elderly, the pope underlines the church’s fundamental role in «lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick.»