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Copy of the statue of the Virgin of Lujan at the General Audience of 2 October 2019 Copy of the statue of the Virgin of Lujan at the General Audience of 2 October 2019  (Vatican Media)

Healing on a summer night: When prayer opened heaven

L'Osservatore Romano shares the testimony that reveals the details of the story told by Pope Francis at the Angelus on 24 October: the determination of a father in asking for his daughter to be healed.

By Virginia Bonard*

A dying girl who is saved by her father's prayers: this is the episode recounted by Pope Francis at the Angelus on Sunday 24 October. The Pope spoke about the Gospel passage of Bartimaeus, the blind man who recognised the Messiah, cried out to Him for His mercy, and asked Him to have pity on him, for his whole “self”. The blind man pleaded loudly, shouting out of his faith. Pope Francis travelled into the interiority of the blind beggar of whom Mark speaks, and reflected:

“Bartimaeus does not use many words. He says what is essential and entrusts himself to God’s love which can make his life flourish again by doing what is humanly impossible. This is why he does not ask the Lord for alms, but makes everything be seen – his blindness and his suffering which was far more than not being able to see. His blindness was the tip of the iceberg; but there must have been wounds, humiliations, broken dreams, mistakes, remorse in his heart. He prayed with his heart. And what about us? When we ask for God’s grace, in our prayer do we also include our own history, our wounds, our humiliations, our broken dreams, our mistakes, and our regrets?”

But the Pope went further on his journey, turning to his own store of memories and reaching back to a summer night in 2005 or 2006, to the gates of the Basilica of Our Lady of Luján, patron saint of Argentina, in his beloved homeland:

“So many of us, when we pray, do not believe that the Lord can work miracles. I am reminded of the story - which I have seen - of the father who was told by the doctors that his nine-year-old daughter would not spend the night; she was in hospital. And he took a bus and travelled seventy kilometres to the Shrine of Our Lady. It was closed and, clinging to the gate, spent the whole night praying: “Lord, save her! Lord, give her life!” He prayed to Our Lady, all night long, crying out to God, crying from his heart. Then in the morning, when he returned to the hospital, he found his wife weeping. And he thought: “She is dead”. And his wife said: “No-one understands, no-one understands, the doctors say it’s a strange thing, she seems to have healed”. The cry of that man who asked for everything was heard by the Lord who had given him everything. This is not a story: I saw this myself, in the other diocese. Do we have this courage in prayer?”

What happened that night in Luján? We want to savour that grace and to know it, to relish it in order to continue to experience the Goodness of God and of His Mother, of His presence and action in our lives and in history. An Argentinean priest — who chooses to minimise himself before the miracle and therefore to remain anonymous — told us the details of what happened that summer night:

“I was a witness to that miracle. When I talked about it with the Pope, when he was bishop in Buenos Aires, I told him to always recount it in the first person, to please not name me. He was amazed by this miracle because I told him so much about it.

“One summer night, I was coming from my relatives' house in Luján, I think we had had a party, and crossing the square at midnight I met a young man holding on to the railings, holding a bunch of roses. I approached him and asked him what was wrong. The man told me that his little daughter was in hospital. He had walked from the capital to Luján, and the bouquet of roses had been given to him by friends who had accompanied him in the car; he was leaving it with the Blessed Virgin.

“I told him, ‘Let's go into the basilica.’ It would have been twelve o’clock at night. ‘Just you, your friends can’t go in, I’ll take responsibility for you alone.’ We entered through the back of the basilica, through the house; I told the guard that I was responsible for that man, that if anything happened, I was responsible. This father left the bouquet of flowers in the vase that we [the priests and custodians of the sanctuary] always put there, and knelt in front of the sanctuary, while I sat in the first pew and began to pray. He knelt silently and I sat down, praying the Holy Rosary for his little daughter. After I had finished praying, twenty minutes later, the man came out, I blessed him and we said goodbye. That happened on a Sunday.

“The following Saturday I was hearing confessions, this man came up to me — I didn't recognise him... with all the people who pass through the basilica and in the summer, even more — it was him and his little blonde daughter, about 8 or 9 years old. He said to me, ‘Father, do you know me?’ I answered: ‘Who are you?’

“[He answered] ‘I am the man who was praying with you the other day. This is my little girl! Our Lady performed the miracle for me! When we were praying with you at twelve o’clock at night for my little girl, my little girl sat up and asked to eat. I arrived later, after the trip, at dawn, to check on her. I asked at the intensive care unit and they told me that my daughter was no longer there. I thought she had died, but no, she was with her mother in a ward.’

“Let us look at the Gospel: when Jesus Christ heals the centurion’s servant it was from a distance. The Gospel is still alive, it repeats itself and [does so] through Mary. This is what I want to recount. This is the true story, and there are others that I told to Francis when I was in Buenos Aires. He asked me to write these things down, and that is what I am doing, but very, very slowly.”

In this narrative, there are no names, but there are facts. The priest, who chooses to remain, has heard no more from this family that was blessed with the health of their daughter. We have clearly before us a tremendous witness of humble commitment to the faith. The Gospel realized in these repeated marvels brings us face to face with the mystery of God and His works in every age. Our priest friend reiterates with these words that in the sanctuary, “the miracles Our Lady granted were like turning from one page of the Gospel to the other. I never took the names of those who received miracles; I only thanked and praised God. With the Virgin Mary, the experience I have is to live the Gospel point by point.”

* Virginia Bonard is an Argentinian journalist and author.

28 October 2021, 13:24