Sunday, October 3, 2010
LOURDES MIRACLE - GABRIEL GARGAM, The Corpse That Walked
IN MY OWN STRUGGLE to believe in Christ and the Church and even in "the good God" when I was in
my early twenties, I was especially impressed by a Lourdes miracle cure written up at length in a number of books, including , by Martin Scott, S.J., and After Bernadette, by Don Sharkey. I still have the notes I made at the time, a half century ago!
Gabriel Gargam, a postal clerk in his thirties, was sorting mail on the Bordeaux-to-Paris express, , 1899. About midnight it slowed to a halt around a sloping bend near . Then there was a
horrific crash as another train, traveling at least fifty rnilers per hour, smashed into it. A fellow mail sorter was killed instantly. Gabriel Gargam was found at 7 A.M. the next morning lying unconscious in the thick snow. They rushed him to Angouleme City Hospital, where doctors worked desperately to save his life. Twenty
months later he was still in that hospital, paralyzed from the waist down, weighing only seventy-seven pounds, unable to eat. He could take nourishment only with difficulty through an esophageal tube. Gangrene was invading his sensationless feet.
The family had rejected the Orleans Railroad offer of an annual pension of 3,000 francs a year. In the ensuing court case, Dr. Decrassac, head of the Angouleme Hospital, issued a detailed medical statement: Gabriel Gargam was a cripple for life and a physical wreck, unable to do anything, requiring constant nursing care-"hardly susceptible of improvement; more likely to terminate fatally". The court ordered the company to pay Gargam the then-huge sum of 660,000 francs, plus 6,000 francs yearly. Orleans Railroad went to the
appellate court but lost. The original damages were upheld.
Gabriel's condition worsened, and he was told he must have a spinal operation or he would die. He
refused.and asked his family to take him home, which they did. Gabriel had not been to church for eight years and declared he was an unbeliever. His mother doubled her prayers for this son whom the doctors said would soon be dead. She begged him to let her take him to Lourdes. Soon, in the last week of August, the French national pilgrimage would take place. He refused point-blank. She persisted. His father urged him, too. The hospital contacted him again, begging him to have the operation before it was too late. Maybe just to shut them all up, Gabriel agreed to go to Lourdes. They got him to the station on a stretcher, where he
fainted. The authorities urged his mother to take him home. She refused. When Gabriel awoke, a priest gave him the sacrament of reconciliation and a tiny piece of Holy Communion. Gabriel showed little faith.
The train pulled into at 7 A.M., August 20, 1901. Gabriel was sick and in pain and refrained from demanding an end to the whole business only for his devoted mother's sake. She, a nurse and a family friend walked beside him as stretcher bearers carried him to the Grotto, where Mass was said and he received a tiny particle of Host. Suddenly, he said, he knew God was real and loving. He began to pray with all his heart, laid his life at our Lady's feet and was filled with happiness. Said Gabriel, "It was the greatest moment of my life."
At 2 P.M. he was carried to the baths. His skeletal frame was lowered into the cold spring water, and the shock seemed too great. Gabriel lost consciousness. Outside, the distraught mother felt his lifeless face: It was cold. "He's gone", she murmured. Quite some time had elapsed when the sorrowing group,accompanied by the brancardiers carrying Gabriel's stretcher, headed back to the hospital. On the way they came across the procession of the and stopped.
The bishop carrying the monstrance saw them, paused and blessed Gabriel, who was lying with a cloth over his apparently lifeless face. Gabriel stirred and gripped the sides of the stretcher with hands so thin they
looked like claws. He struggled to rise. "Help me, I can walk, I feel I. can walk." His mother sobbed out, "Hear him, Blessed Virgin, hear him! He has not spoken out loud for twenty months! " People helped him to his feet, and he took his first steps. The colorless face, the wasted body and the long nightshirt that looked like a shroud made him appear like a corpse walking. A crowd from the procession surged around him excitedly. He was taken back to the hospital and his mother and nurse were stunned to see another phenomenon often witnessed at Lourdes-a person who has not eaten normally for a long time has a hearty meal with no ill consequences. Gabriel calmly polished off soup, oysters, chicken and a bunch of grapes! After he had eaten, streams of visitors came, and he patiently told and retold his story.
When Gabriel reported to the Medical Bureau the next morning, he wore a new suit he had just bought and walked without difficulty. The word had got around. More than sixty doctors and a number of journalists were there-some remembered the newspaper reports of the court case that pitted the skeleton of a man dying in Angouleme Hospital against an apparently unfeeling, avaricious railroad company. People had cheered when the railroad lost both cases. Dr. Boissarie was there when Gabriel reported to the doctors. Dr. Boissarie was to work at Lourdes for thirty years, was second president of the Medical Bureau and published The Medical History of Lourdes in 1901-in which he challenged : and Professor Jean Charcot (who claimed Lourdes "miracles" were through autosuggestion) to explain Gabriel Gargam 's cure.
Dr. Boissarie describes Gabriel's eerie appearance. He "looked like a specter". There were sixty-three doctors present for the thorough medical examination. Among other phenomena Dr. Boissarie commented on was the absence of leg muscles after twenty months of total paralysis of both legs and no solid food. "Gentlemen;' Dr. Boissarie remarked, "we must first certify that from a medical point of view M. Gargam cannot walk because he has no muscles." Gabriel again stood up and walked in front of them without difficulty.
One doctor argued over the precise medical description of what was healed. Another replied, "What's the point of naming the malady. ...The organism was destroyed. Now, without a period of convalescence, the man stands erect!" The doctors' examination took two hours. That was August 21, 1901.
Gabriel returned home. People had read about his cure in the papers and waited at stations along the way to see him. For the next fifty years he went annually to Lourdes, doing the heavy lifting work of a stretcher bearer. When the writer Georges Bartrim was collecting material for his book on Lourdes, he sent an urgent message. He was in Lourdes, had little time and wished to interview Gabriel that morning. A fellow brancardier found Gabriel working in the baths. Gabriel replied he was too busy with the sick to meet then. Bartrim would have to wait until evening---the sick have first priority.
They are the important ones at Lourdes.
Gabriel married a woman who shared his faith and love for Lourdes. She accompanied him each year when he took a vacation from his business to go on pilgrimage. He served as a brancardier and she as a "handmaid", one of the volunteer women who wait on sick pilgrims. Gabriel Gargam went to Lourdes on pilgrimage for the last time in August 1952, fifty- one years after his miracle. He died the , in his
eighties. I saw a touching photo of him taken in 1951 at Lourdes. He was walking in the Blessed Sacrament procession, quite erect despite his eighty-plus years, wearing the leather shoulder straps that are the badge of a brancardier. On his face was the serenity of a man who had met great tragedy and within it met God-and spent the next half century in compassionate service to the sick.