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French nun speaks of Lourdes ‘miracle’ that ended disability

French nun Bernadette Moriau, who suffered from acute sciatic nerve trouble and then suddenly recovered after a 2008 trip to the shrine in Lourdes, prays in a chapel in Beauvais

A nun whose recovery from decades of debilitating back pain was declared a “miracle” by the Catholic Church spoke on Tuesday of the day she stood up, removed a brace from her gnarled foot and walked normally.

For half her life Bernadette Moriau, 78, had suffered from acute sciatic nerve trouble that made it hard to walk, but she recovered suddenly after a trip in 2008 to the fabled cave and springwater shrine at Lourdes in south-west France.

The disappearance of the excruciating nerve pinch was described last weekend by her local bishop as the 70th miracle to occur at the shrine – a site that has attracted 200 million pilgrims since a peasant girl said she saw the Virgin Mary there in 1858.

Moriau recounted how a few days after her return from Lourdes in July 2008, she felt an overwhelming sense of well-being. She removed a brace and straightened her foot that had been twisted sideways for years and began to walk normally.

“I heard a voice saying ‘remove the apparatus’,” she told reporters. “In an act of faith I took it off. And to my great surprise when I took away the brace and splints, my foot was straightened out and I could move without feeling any pain,” she said, adding that she burst into tears.

“I cried a lot because sometimes we are overwhelmed by what happens to us. The following day I walked five kilometres in the forest with my sister-in-law.”

The frail, white-haired nun said she stopped taking the morphine she had been using in large doses for years and felt no pain and none of the nasty side-effects that often accompany the sudden withdrawal of the painkiller.

Some 200 million people, mostly Catholic pilgrims, have visited Lourdes, a small town at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains, since Bernadette Soubirou allegedly met the Virgin Mary while rummaging for bones and dead wood more than 150 years ago. Many go in the hope of being healed.

Around 7,000 visitors say they have overcome an illness after going there, though only one in a hundred of those cases has been inscribed in religious annals as an official miracle.

That’s a decision ultimately taken by the religious leader in the place where a cured person lives – in this case Jacques Benoit-Gonnin, Bishop of Beauvais, a town an hour north of Paris.

Benoit-Gonnin did so after being informed by the bishop of Lourdes that a lengthy investigation and panel reviews by doctors had concluded there was no scientific explanation for Moriau’s recovery.

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