Travelling To Lourdes

Many Believe That Lourdes Water Cures

Can a miracle site cure an incurable disease? Correspondent Harold Dow reports on one desperate family that is not ruling anything out.

Six years ago, Sean Henderson was diagnosed with a rare, incurable disease called Proteus Syndrome, which causes tumors to grow throughout his body. When they are removed, they seem to come back. With only 120 known cases across the world, the disease is often fatal.

The tumors have spread to his windpipe, his vocal chords and onto his aorta. This last tumor is inoperable. Sean, who is 13, also suffers from emphysema.

Find out more about Proteus Syndrome, the disease afflicting Sean Henderson.
Sean, who lives with his mother in San Francisco, is too sick to go to school. His mother Lindsay quit her job to help take care of him at home. More than anything, she wishes he would get better. "He doesn't ride a bike anymore," she says. "I grieve for that."

Since there's no medical cure for Sean, he, his mother, and his pastor, Father Charles Gagan, decided to try a miracle cure.

Father Gagan contacted the Knights of Malta, a Catholic service organization, which paid for Sean to go Lourdes, a small town in southwestern France. Many people believe that visitors to Lourdes can be healed by faith.

Sean was hopeful but realistic: "I'm hoping for a miracle but I'm not expecting one."

He spent a week there, attending services and prayer vigils - and most importantly, bathing in the waters, said to have healing powers.

The belief began on Feb. 11, 1858: Fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous was searching for firewood, when she claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary.

Bernadette claimed she saw the Virgin Mary 17 more times over the years and uncovered a spring. In time people came to believe its waters had miraculous healing powers. Now every year, millions of visitors go there, hoping to be cured.


In 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes; this was the beginning of the spot's purported healing powers.
As Sean waited to enter the waters for the first time, he was nervous. "I know it's going to be very moving," he said then. "It's already an overwhelming experienceÂ….I just hope that something will happen to get better or other people will get better." Afterward, he was cold - the water is very chilly - and hopeful.

More than 5 million people visit Lordes each year. Since 1858, the church has documented 66 cures; some call them miracles. "I'm glad we did it. I think that Mary heard our prayers," Sean says.

During his week-long stay in Lourdes, Sean visited with Frenchman Jean-Pierre Bely. In 1987 Bely was dying of multiple sclerosis, and went to Lourdes hoping to be cured.

Want to find out more about Lourdes? Check out the town's Web site, which has more information on Bely's case.
"My entire right side was paralyzed," he remembers. "Then it became very, very difficult for me to walk. I made a prayer to God saying, 'You know who I am. I'm here in front of you. And I'm asking for your help.'"

Later that night, something happened. Says Bely: "All of a sudden, this twinkly warm feeling started to go up my body, throughout my body. I started hearing this voice, this calling, someone telling me to stand up to get up - to walk."

"I got up, stood up, and I felt like a child. I was walking like a little, little child, who was learning to walk," he says.

He says he is cured of mulitple sclerosis. the doctors and officials at the Lourdes Medical Board agreed.

After studying Bely's case for 12 years, The Lourdes Medical Board concluded there was no reasonable or medical explanation for his recovery. Bely became the 66th cure.

"You need not be afraid," Bely told Sean when they met. "BelieveÂ… Always remember that God loves you and God cares. And he shows it in many different ways."

Now back in San Francisco, Sean does not seem to have been cured. Doctors say that his condition is deteriorating. But Sean and his mom say that the visit renewed their faith and their hope.

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Produced by David Kohn;