Hollywood actor Zac Efron has said there is “no denying the sacred feeling” of Lourdes.
The actor, perhaps best known for his lead roles in High School Musical and The Greatest Showman, made his comments as he paid a visit to the major Catholic pilgrimage site as part of his new Netflix documentary series, Down to Earth.
The series follows Efron as he travels around the world with wellness expert Darin Olien to find healthy, sustainable ways to live.
The second episode of the series, which focuses on water, has a major section of the programme dedicated to Efron and Olien’s trip to Lourdes, where they hear the process for confirming miracles alleged to have occurred at the site.
Describing Lourdes as “an incredibly special and holy place”, Efron gives viewers a brief history of the “most famous healing shrine in the whole world”.
“As the story goes in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old peasant girl here in Lourdes. The young girl, Bernadette, was instructed by the apparition to uncover a natural spring and to drink and bathe from the water. Bernadette’s furious digging into the mud led townspeople to think she was mad. Yet when water eventually began to flow her vision was determined to be real and thus a miracle,” he says.
“To this day that water continues to flow from the spring and thousands have claimed miraculous healing as a result of drinking and bathing in it.”
As part of their visit, Efron and Olien speak with Dr Alessandro de Franciscis, president of the Lourdes Office of Medical Observations.
“Since 1883 there’s been a residing physician at the sanctuary. We have the duty of welcoming anyone that wants to report an alleged cure,” Dr Franciscis tells them.
Revealing that he sees about 100 people per year, the doctor says he has to judge, as a medical expert, whether a true unexplained miracle has occurred.
“All we do here is to study thoroughly an alleged cure to make absolutely sure that we are in front of a person that was sick of a severe disease that has been cured and there’s no explanation,” he says.
Once this has been confirmed, the cured person’s bishop will then recognise the cure that scientists are unable to explain as an intervention from God and therefore a miracle.
Dr Franciscis talks Efron and Olien through the case of a 23-year-old man whose cancer had eroded the bone around his hip so badly that his leg was only attached to his body by skin and muscles.
However, after bathing at Lourdes in 1963 the young man walked out without any pain and was able to cast side his crutch. X-rays taken following this, as well as an MRI scan carried out in 2013 – 50 years after the cure, showed the man once again had bones in the effected area.
The programme informs viewers that since the 1700s, the Catholic Church has had seven strict and clear criteria for a health event or healing to be determined a miracle:
- The presence of the illness is confirmed in a full diagnosis verified by doctors.
- The ailment is severe, not a headache or the flu.
- The illness unexpectedly disappears.
- The cure happens instantly.
- The cure is complete.
- The illness does not return.
- No medical explanations that can be found.
Efron explains that cases are not considered until the healing is over a decade old due to one of the criteria stating that the illness must not return.
“In the last case considered a miracle in 2018, over 300 doctors studied the case looking for a medical explanation but none could be found,” he adds.
He also points out that over the past 135 years, out of 7,400 claims submitted to the Lourdes Medical Bureau, only 70 have been substantiated and verified by a bishop as miracles.
“There is no denying the sacred feeling that you get just by being here and when people walk away from this experience, real or imagined, there’s a change,” Efron says.
During their visit, Efron and Olien also meet Fr Jim Phalan CSC, chaplain at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, who points out that the miracles aren’t down to magic.
“Let’s make it clear, Lourdes is not about magic, it’s not about any kind of superstition, it’s symbols, through water, through light. It’s a way of making your prayer concrete,” he says.
Speaking about prayer, Efron acknowledges that prayer can mean different things to different people but admits that he has found that taking time to pray can help bring peace.
After taking part in an evening torchlight procession, Efron says: “Whether or not you believe in the power of prayer, when you witness thousands of people at a candle light vigil like this there’s no denying the energy. My thoughts are almost in a pure meditative state and I feel like I’m a part of something much greater than myself.
“I definitely believe that there’s some kind of power in group prayer. All of these people coming together for prayer, creating one massive force.”
Season one of Down to Earth with Zac Efron is available now on Netflix.
Picture: (left-to-right) Darin Olien, Fr Jim Phalan CSC and Zac Efron. (Netflix screengrab).