One of my favourite books is Miracles by C. S. Lewis, originally published in 1947 and revised in 1960. Lewis argued that before one can learn from the study of history whether or not any miracles have ever occurred, one must first settle the philosophical question of whether it is logically possible that miracles can occur in principle before moving on to the historical question of whether any have ever, in fact, happened. He accused modern historians and scientific thinkers, particularly secular Bible scholars, of begging the question against miracles, insisting that modern disbelief in miracles is a cultural bias thrust upon the historical record and is not derivable from it.
In 1965, an important year in my life, when,on the invitation of my sister Isabel and her husband Earl, I travelled throughout the USA, Canada and Mexico, and in August of that year first met Lakota Sioux. Earl and Isabel, with their sons Ryan and Kevin, then lived in Elkhart, Indiana. At this time also my friend Wotiyemnasni was born. I then went on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadaloupe. Thus it was that I accepted an invitation by the Falls parish to act as the medical officer for their group. I was greatly impressed by Lourdes, which I thought was a special place, halfway to heaven. I had my medical bag blessed at the Grotto and have carried it with me for the rest of my life. [Ed: Ian is the personal physician to Lord Bannside, formerly Northern Ireland’s First Minister when he was known as Ian Paisley. Ian tells me that this is the bag he uses when going to visit Lord Bannside!]
To ensure claims of cures were examined properly and to protect the town from fraudulent claims of miracles, the Lourdes Medical Bureau (Bureau Medical) was established at the request of Pope Pius X. It is completely under medical and not ecclesiastical supervision. Approximately 7000 people have sought to have their case confirmed as a miracle, of which only 68 have been declared a scientifically inexplicable miracle by both the Bureau and the Catholic Church. The officially recognized miracle cures in Lourdes are among the least controversial in the Catholic world, because Lourdes from the very beginning was subject to intense medical investigation from sceptical doctors around the world.
All medical doctors, including myself, with the appropriate specialization in the area of the cure, have unlimited access to the files and documents of the Lourdes Medical Bureau (Bureau Medical), which also contains all approved and disapproved miracles. Most officially recognized cures in Lourdes were openly discussed and reported on in the media at the time. Nevertheless, there were a few instances where medically ascertained incomprehension turned out not to be miracles, because the illness reappeared in later years. In the vast number of cases however, the judgement of the medical and ecclesiastical authorities was upheld as beyond medical explanation in later on critical investigations.
One case I particularly studied was that of Elisa Aloi. Born on 26.11.1931 in Patti (Sicily), she was cured on 5.6.1958, in her 27th year. The Miracle was declared on 26.5.1965, by Mgr Francesco Fasola, Archbishop of Messine, one month before I left for America. This was the last cure involving multiple tuberculous lesions. Elisa Aloi was nearly 17 years old when her illness began with a white swelling” of the right knee (tuberculous arthritis). In the following 10 years, up to 1958, she developed numerous tuberculous infections in bones and joints. At these sites, fistulae usually occured, requiring in-patient treatment in hospitals and sanatoria. Despite more or less immediate treatment, relapses and recurrences were for ever happening.
In June 1957, in desperation, she went to Lourdes with the Unitalsi Pilgrimage from Sicily.She did not seem to benefit from the visit really. But in 1958, she went to Lourdes again in a much worse condition, encased in a pelvis-to-foot plaster cast, with four fistulae drained through it. The dressings were soaked in Lourdes' water during the pilgrimage. Just ten days after she had left Sicily, her surgeon observed and wrote “Elisa Aloi returned from Lourdes completely cured”. The Medical Bureau in Lourdes recognised her cure, and handed her dossier to the International Medical Committee in 1960. There, Professor Salmon, the recorder, had his report of a medically inexplicable cure adopted by the Committee.
Finally, after the Canonical Commission had given a favourable report, Mgr Fasola, Archbishop of Messine, declared “that the cure from multiple fistulous tuberculosis, which happened to Elisa Aloi, is miraculous” on 26.5.1965. Some months later she married. Between 1966 and 1974, she gave birth safely to four children, which without any doubt was “the best evidence of her complete cure”.