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How a Thief in Lourdes Taught Me a Lesson on Repentance

I try to visit Lourdes once a year to spend time in prayer with Jesus and Mary. During my week-long visits, I concelebrate the English Mass. The Mass tends to be for “orphan” pilgrims, because most pilgrims come with a group and a priest. I always enjoy speaking with people after Mass, outside the chapel, learning who they are, where they are from, and what they are praying for. One couple that caught my eye were quite young, in their early twenties. The opportunity to speak with them never presented itself; they always left the chapel hurriedly after Mass. But I ruminate on the questions in my mind: Who are they? Where are they from? What are they praying for?

As I was walking the streets on my final night in Lourdes, I happened upon the couple. I introduced myself to them and remarked on how moving it was to see them at Mass each day. It was dinnertime, so I asked them, “I’m going to get dinner. Would you like to get something to eat together?” They said yes, and we set off to find a restaurant that none of us had tried.

After we sat down at the table, I asked a question that I shouldn’t have: “What do you do for a living?” The young man prefaced the question quite strangely: “Father, I can’t lie to you. You are a priest after all.” I wasn’t prepared for the words that followed next. “I’m a thief.”

I immediately said, “You are joking, right?” He wasn’t.

“I’m a thief. I break into cars, steal things, and then sell them.” Things became a little awkward. We placed our order, and I continued to press him.

Many people, when they visit the site of a Marian apparition, make it a point to go to Confession. For some people, celebrat­ing the sacrament in this place facilitates strong conversions in their lives. I asked the young man, “Did you go to Confession while you were here?” He had. I asked him, “Did you tell the priest that you steal things?” He had. I then asked, “What was your penance?” He was told to offer his next Communion for his family.

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