The State of Virginity

The State of Virginity
I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided. The virgin - indeed, any unmarried woman - is concerned with things of the Lord, in pursuit of holiness in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has the cares of this world to absorb her and concerned with pleasing her husband. I am going into this with you for your own good. I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Guess who is the handsome lad in this photo? None other than our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. And who would ever think that such a handsome young man would choose to live a holy life and become the Pope one day? With his good looks all the girls in town would queue up for him and gladly do anything for him. But our Pope Benedict said "No" to the beautiful young ladies of his time and took up his cross to follow Christ. Today, Pope Benedict XVI is one of the greatest heroes of our time. A man with good looks and great intelligence who has attained perfection in life - Pope Benedict XVI is a living example of the beauty and importance of priestly celibacy.

Why does Pope Benedict XVI reinforce and defend celibacy? Our Pope is a wise man and he certainly has good reasons for that. According to him, "The true foundation of the priest's life, the ground of his existence, the ground of his life, is God himself. Celibacy is a great sign of faith, of the presence of God in this world. When God is no longer central to a priest's life, he loses his zeal. In a world where the 'now' of the present and tangible seems good enough, celibacy is a great scandal. Celibacy seems difficult to understand in an agnostic world in which God doesn't enter the picture," in which "we no longer think of a future with God, because the presence of this world seems sufficient. Celibacy is an anticipation. To live the celibate life is to acknowledge the presence of God, the certainty of the next life, and the value of both. A priest is drawn into the life of Christ, including Christ's condition after the resurrection, so celibacy is an anticipation of this new world ... in which we are beyond matrimony. Through the priestly life of celibacy, the future breaks into today. Celibacy opens the door to this great truth of faith by living the future as if it is already in the present." We certainly cannot deny the fact that there is truth in every word that he says. However, in this materialistic world not many could accept this great truth of faith.

On the first day of Chinese New Year, I saw someone giving an angpow (a red packet containing money) to a priest. Without even looking at its contents, this priest put the angpow into the donation box. What does this mean? Money and material things have no importance to this celibate priest. He does not have to go for expensive holidays with his wife nor does he need money to pay for his children's college fees. His whole life is filled with God and this we can see by the way he lives his life. As what Pope Benedict says, "With the eschatological life of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the realities of our time." A priest who is living in the future world of God as though it is already in the present is more interested in living a holy life than gathering earthly wealth and indulging in carnal pleasures. And of course this is the kind of priest that our Pope would like to have in the Catholic Church - a priest who makes us feel proud of the Catholic Church and makes us want to be Catholic.

On the other hand, there is a married Indian pastor who keeps saying to everyone that "Pastors serve God by serving people." Well, this sounds good but is it really as good as it sounds? You should have seen how he polishes the shoes of the rich men in his church. But lo and behold! When a poor lady came to him to seek help (albeit a very minor one) he ignored her and purposely did not take her calls. What do I mean by "purposely"? This lady told me she called him countless times but he did not answer her calls. Don't tell me that this pastor did not use his handphone for weeks. Why is it so? The rich businessmen can give him big angpows and provide good employment for his children in their companies whilst the poor lady has nothing to offer him. He needs money to give his family a comfortable life. With his children growing up, he needs money to send them to college. When his children have graduated from college, he needs to seek the help of the rich men in his church who can provide good job opportunities for his children. Who is this pastor serving? God or his family?

I know of a retired Chinese primary school headmaster who during his days as the headmaster of the school got to know many company directors in the Parents and Teachers Association. What kind of man is he? Well, it depends on whom he is dealing with. After his retirement he worked for one of the directors and bought the most luxurious car he ever had in his life. And of course his children had good job offers from these directors too after they graduated. We cannot blame the pastor and the headmaster though as what they are doing is to be expected of every married man . Family firstlah. This is human nature. In Malaysia, we have politicians who leap from one political party to another. Why is it so? Because the pasture on the other side is greener. Well, there is nothing wrong with that. It is only natural that people should think of themselves and their families first. A priest, however, should be different from all the Toms, Dicks and Harrys on the streets. If he is as selfish as the pastor, headmaster or politicians aforementioned then what is so special about him?

When the 'now' of the present seems good enough and the presence of this world seems sufficient and when people no longer think of a future with God, carnal pleasures and material things become very important to them. In fact, this is what the world is all about today. According to Pope Benedict, "The great problem of the West is the forgetfulness of God and this forgetfulness is spreading." In actual fact, not only the West but almost the whole world is infected with this forgetfulness disease. Those who have forgotten about God tend to live only for themselves and only for the present as there is no future without God. Sad to say, sex has become more important than God in the world of today. This clearly explains why not many men can become celibate priests today. That's why Pope Benedict is having a tough time defending celibacy!

People tend to create their own values and pass their own judgment to accommodate their own selfish purposes. Values change with time and in a way our world has changed a great deal since the time of Jesus. If that was too ancient, let's not talk about the time of Jesus but Father Damien's time instead. During those days, the priests did not pester the Pope to allow them to get married. They serve God and His people faithfully. Father Damien was ready to die for the lepers just as Jesus has died for us. But nowadays, we have priests who want the best of all worlds - a wife, children, and a respectable job. These are their conditions for joining the priesthood. They cannot take up the cross and follow Jesus as long as they cannot benefit from it. The cross is too heavy for them. Just because they cannot live the life of Christ, celibacy has become a scandal to them and they keep pestering our Pope to change the rules of the Church for them and allow them to get married. When they found that the Church couldn't satisfy their selfish desires, they left the Church to get married. Of course there are those ex-Catholic priests who go to the extreme of writing books trying to justify themselves portraying themselves as victims as though the Church has wronged them. But are they really victims? In actual fact, it is the Church that is being victimized by them for they have betrayed the Church by their hypocrisy. Why take the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience when they cannot keep them? No one forces them to do it. As what Pope Benedict XVI says, "Celibacy is not a matter of compulsion. Someone is accepted as a priest only when he does it of his own accord."

To say that they have to make a choice between faith and love is rubbish. If a priest really loves Jesus and intends to serve the Church faithfully just as Our Lord has done, this question does not arise. If he is determined to follow Christ and has sincerely chosen the way of the cross nothing could make him change his mind. To say that the woman that he has fallen in love with shares the same passion for Jesus as much as he does is also rubbish. If the woman has a strong passion for Jesus she would not tempt a priest to jump into bed with her. Just imagine how much time and money the Church has wasted on these ungrateful priests who later become traitors?

Father Damien has lived in my heart since I was a young child. I become Catholic because of him and I model every priest after him. Each time I look at a celibate priest, I feel so proud of him because his life is a reflection of the life of Christ. But then values change with time. We now have priests who enjoy premarital sex and behave like sexually obssessed teenagers on the beach whilst the paparazzis are busy taking photos.

Can anyone imagine a priest doing this with his girlfriend on the beach?  

And this? A priest who has the guts to have sex with his girlfriend on the beach (or elsewhere) after taking the vows of chastity does not deserve our respect at all. This idea reduces men to animals as they cannot live without sex. 

A priest is supposed to set a good example to the world but what if he himself is not much better than a sexually obssessed teenager? What is he preaching then? What kind of example is he setting to the world? Is he trying to prove that premarital sex is fine and that caressing and kissing a woman vigorously on the beach is a good thing to do? What does the Bible say about premarital sex? Is it okay for a priest to do it? Maybe he has really "lost his zeal" as what Pope Benedict says and therefore the presence of this world seems sufficient to him. Be it rain or shine, sex must come first. But then, he must also have a good job or how is he going to survive? This is his 'dilemma'. He must be given the best of all worlds or he wouldn't become a priest. Pope Benedict XVI is right. This kind of priest is only living for the present thus forgetting about his future with God. That's why he is so concerned with carnal pleasures and tangible things and lives for the "now" of the present.

There is a malay "gurindam" which sounds something like this: "Jika guru kencing berdiri, anak murid kencing berlari. Jika guru kencing dalam keretapi, murid kencing dalam LRT." Let me translate it. It means that if the teacher pisses while standing, the students piss while running. If the teachers pisses in the train, the students piss in the Light Rail Transit." Priests are supposed to be more important than teachers as they have greater influences on our lives than the teachers. But what if the priest enjoys premarital sex on the beach (or perhaps elsewhere)? Of course many people would emulate him assuming that since a priest can do it then it's the right thing to do and this would only worsen the situation in our already morally decadent world. Can such a priest be a good Church leader? No, I cannot let him lead me. Better stay at home and preach to myself. I cannot tolerate the ugly things that he does. What a shame! It's a good thing Pope Benedict XVI doesn't allow this kind of priest to remain in the Church as he would only bring dishonour to the Church.

During the time of Jesus, premarital sex is almost unheard of. An unmarried woman found pregnant would be stoned to death. But values change with time and when everyone is doing something even though it is wrong, it becomes right. It seems that it is okay for a priest to have premarital sex today. Many people say that he is right and that Pope Benedict XVI is wrong and that the Pope should change the rules of the Church to accommodate his sexual desires. But our beloved Pope knows what is best for our Catholic Church. He doesn't want the priesthood to become an occupation and a money making channel for the family men priests. He doesn't want to have priests who are busy serving their wives and children at the expense of the Church. He doesn't want sexually obssessed priests who after enjoying premarital sex on the beach preach about Jesus and holiness in the Church. The Church is a holy place and not a sexual cult. A priest must walk his talk. He doesn't want priests who cannot live the life of Christ. He doesn't want materialistic priests who only believe in the present and who have forgotten about God. He doesn't want priests who treat the parishioners like their stepchildren because they have already had their own biological children.

What does our beloved Pope Benedict want? Holy priests like Father Damien, Father OC Lim and Father Slavko Barbaric just to mention three examples. Priests who can devote their entire lives selflessly serving God and His people. Priests who can set good examples to the world. Priests who are not keen in accumulating wealth for the sake of their families. Priests whose lives are filled with God and not carnal pleasures or material things. The Catholic priesthood is a vocation and not an occupation for the jobless men on the streets. Having a married priesthood would mean that every Tom, Dick and Harry on the streets can become a priest. What is so unique about the Catholic priesthood then? The fact that the Church only chooses bishops from among their celibate, unmarried priests clearly indicates that there is an inherent value in the nature of celibacy.  To those young men who can live holy lives and travel the path that Jesus has travelled more than 2000 years ago, why not join the priesthood and save our Catholic Church? Remember, a good priest does not ask himself what benefits he can get as a priest. He will ask himself what he can do for the Church.

If I were born a man I would have become a priest a long time ago. The celibate priesthood is a beautiful journey with the Lord. There are lots of things that I could have done for the Church if I were a priest! (Those who like this article may also want to read "Should Catholic Priests be Allowed to Marry" and "Taxi Driver Wanted to Become a Married Catholic Priest").

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I would like to begin with some quotations from the Bible:

Everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake will receive many times as much and inherit everlasting life (Matthew 19:29).

A man is better of having no relations with a woman (1 Corinthians 7:1).

I tell you brothers, the time is short. From now on, those with wives should live as though they had none ((1 Corinthians 7:29).

The unmarried man cares for the Lord's business; his aim is to please the Lord. But the married man cares for worldly things; his aim is to please his wife; and he has a divided mind (1 Corinthians 7:32-33).

There is a beautiful "Quote for Priests" from Father Anthony Ho's blog that I would like to share with my readers. Here it goes:

"It is true, one reason why the Church requires celibacy in her priests is that one who is free from the cares and responsibilities of family life can more completely and wholeheartedly devote himself to the work of the sacred ministry. But the deeper and more spiritual reason is that the soul which is free from the bonds of earthly love, however noble and pure it may be, is better disposed for an ardent and unselfish love of God."

Celibate priests can devote themselves completely and wholeheartedly to the Church since they are free from the burdens and responsibilities of family life. Truly these celibate priests are one of our greatest gifts from God - so rare, valuable and precious. I pray that we can have more celibate priests in the future. In this morally decadent world, those who can relinquish sex are not easy to find and that's why our celibate priests have become a rare treasure today.

I have never had sex before and I don't know how enjoyable or important it is. But I do know that it certainly has got nothing to do with holiness, purity and chastity. Here I would like to quote a real life story that my grandmother told me when I was still a little girl. This is how it goes: When my uncle got married, someone gave him a wooden crucifix. He hung it on the wall just above his marital bed. Both my uncle and his wife suddenly fell ill but they didn't know what was wrong. They just coudn't get well. When my grandmother visited them, she saw the crucifix in their bedroom and suggested that they remove it and put it elsewhere. After removing the crucifix from their bedroom, my uncle and his wife were immediately healed from their mysterious illness. Whether it is a coincidence or not, having sex in front of Jesus doesn't seem to be the right thing to do. If sex is something which is holy, pure and chaste then why not have sex in the Church?

Would the Church be served better if the priests were married? No doubt a celibate priest would devote all his time to God's work but a married priest will be unable to devote himself totally to God's work as he tends to get bogged down with earthly things. According to Patricia Dixon, the wife of a former Protestant pastor in her article entitled "Why a Married Priesthood Won't Remedy the Priest Shortage":

"The advocates of a married clergy need to give a little more thought to the real consequences of their blithe slogans. Perhaps they will listen to a wife who has been there. Let us consider a typical, moderately large parish in an affluent American community, in which three priests live in a rectory that also houses the parish office. What changes would have to be made if the priests of this parish were married? First, there would have to be many priests at the parish. A celibate man can give all his time to the parish; a married man must give priority to his family. So these three priests must become five or six, leaving the priest shortage right where it was, even if the removal of celibacy rules doubles the number of priests in America. The salary of a married priest would have to be three times the current stipend in order to keep a priest's family above the federal poverty line. And, of course, those six families can't all live in that rectory, and the parish offices can't be in the home of just one of them. So we now need six houses, and extra space somewhere else, to replace the one rectory. If the priests are expected to furnish their own housing, their salary will have to be increased even more. Thus supporting married priests will cost that three-priest parish more than six times what it now spends to support its priests. In all likelihood, the priests will have to work outside the priesthood to bring in income. Of course, their time for the parish and parishioners will decrease. So the parishioners, even if they could somehow support their six priests, will still find themselves short of priestly attention. Every married pastor faces, throughout his career, the tension between the needs of the church and the needs of his family. Both Church and family require half of the man's time and energy. A minister's wife who is pregnant may find that the church members are uncomfortable with her as a living symbol of the pastor's active sexuality."

I used to visit a home for the ex-drug addicts and they told me that the pastor who was supposed to be in charge of them seldom came to see them after he got married. And after his first baby came, they saw even less of him. What does this suggest? That a married priest will put his family first and neglect his ministry duties. Like all married men, a married priest wants to finish his work fast and go home to his wife and children. Perhaps he shouldn't miss dinner. His wife doesn't like that. Thus the priesthood seems to be more like an occupation to him - a job that provides him with an income to support his wife and children. One of my friends told me that her pastor is exceptionally kind and friendly to all those who always buy presents for his wife and children. Can't blame him though. He certainly wants the best for his wife and children even if it is at the expense of the parishioners.

A married man is always busy thinking of ways to increase his income so as to give his wife and children a better life. With a family to support, money will never be enough. If a priest is only concerned with making money to give his wife and children a comfortable life, the priesthood is no longer a vocation but a kind of job or money making channel for a family man. Just imagine what will happen if we have priests who are always busy doing direct selling (such as Amway or Cosway products) in the Church together with their wives. Business would be good for sure because of the parishiones' support. But is this the kind of priests we can respect and love?

On the contrary, a celibate priest has all the time in the world to do God's work. He doesn't have to be on time for dinner with his wife and children. He doesn't have to keep thinking that he must finish his work fast so that he could go home early. He doesn't have to think of ways to increase his income. And most of all, he can devote all his time to the parish and the parishioners will never find themselves short of priestly attention. As such, the priesthood is only suitable for those men who are ready to live the life of Christ and willing to devote their entire lives to walk in the footsteps of Christ.

We call a priest Father. Can we marry our own father and have sex with him? Priests are suppose to live the life of Christ. But is the life of a married priest a reflection of Christ's life? Christ is celibate and he was ready to die on the cross for our sins because it was His Father's will. Had Jesus ever said, "Father, please spare me my life. I want to take care of my wife and see my children grow up. I can't die on the cross. Family firstlah." If these were His words, Christianity wouldn't have existed at all!

There is no such thing as the Church denying the priests the human rights to get married. Priesthood is a choice and the vows of chastity are to be taken freely. Those who feel that they cannot live the life of Christ can always get married and get a job elsewhere to support their wife and children. They don't have to keep eyeing the priesthood and pestering the Pope to change the rules of the Church for them. No doubt it is not easy to get a respectful and secure job that can provide well for their families during this period of recession but it should be remembered that the priesthood is a vocation and not an occupation. If they really love to help out in Church, they can always come to Church to lend a helping hand. Many lay preachers are doing that free of charge in Malaysia.

Should priests be allowed to get married then all the jobless men on the streets would be fighting for this job. Where on earth can they find such a respecful and secure job during this period of recession? Their wives and children would be well provided for by the Church and live a comfortable life. Who doesn't want that? Of course there would be no more shortage of priests when the Roman Catholic priesthood becomes an occupation!

Who says that celibate priests cannot give advice on family matters? The capability to give advice doesn't rely on the fact as to whether they are married or not. I give advice and help to single mothers and divorcees to help them live their lives again. I don't have to be a divorcee or a single mother to do that. I may never have been married before but this does not deter me from observing and analysing the world around me and learn from the experiences of others. I also give advice and help to rape victims (my students) but this does not mean that I have to be a rape victim myself! Celibate priests understand the sacrificial nature and sanctity of marriage in a way that few could do and are certainly better counsellors in the ways of keeping the marital vow of fidelity compared to married priests.

Who says that married men would not get involved in sex scandals? Maybe some of you would have read about the case of Ahmad Najib - a married man who raped, killed, burnt and chopped off the legs of the beautiful Canny Ong. He was sentenced to death. No doubt he is married but this does not deter him from raping another woman. Then there was Lily Chua's case back in 1993 where the pastor turned music teacher murdered her and cut her into eleven pieces before he dumped her body parts in a drain and a ravine about one km away. Fearing that his wife would discover his affair with Lily Chua, the pastor had no choice but to kill Lily Chua and then destroyed her body completely so that no one would discover his extra-marital affair. The pastor was sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released from prison after 8 years because of good behaviour. Extra-marital affairs are so common nowadays. When a man is married it doesn't mean that he wouldn't be interested in another woman. Most sexual abusers are not celibate. It's sexual license that breeds sexual abuse, not celibacy! Other protestant denominations have also admitted to having paedophile pastors. The case of the paedophile pastor, David Volmer (a married father-of-two), who has been jailed for more than 10 years for raping an underage girl and stupefying her with amyl nitrite vapour, as she lay naked and blindfolded on a bed, is a very clear example of this. And of course one cannot deny the fact that there have been many arrests involving pastors who were charged with sex crimes. Please read “25 MORE SHOCKING ARRESTS”: PASTORS CHARGED WITH SEX CRIMES to find out what the Protestant pastors could do to their sex victims. These include:
  • rape, sodomy, and incest of a nine year old
  • forcing "morning after" pill after raping teens
  • sexual abuse of mentally handicapped in custody
  • producing and distributing child pornography
  • installing hidden cameras in church bathrooms
  • father/son pastors tag-teaming member of youth group
  • drugs, sex, and yes - a dead body
These are amongst some of the sex crimes reported to the authorities and the media in May 2014. How come no one is making a fuss over the wicked things that Protestant pastors did to their sex victims? Is it because they are married and it is alright for married men to do such things? Please click on the photo below to find out more about these sexually obsessed pastors.

As indicated in the photo above, only one of the perpetrators was Catholic. What about the rest? Your average Protestant pastors that no one would have ever suspected! Celibacy is therefore not to blame for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church since married pastors are even more sexually obsessed than unmarried priests.

According to Pope Benedict XVI, "Celibacy seems difficult to understand in an agnostic world in which God doesn't enter the picture, in which we no longer think of a future with God, because the present of this world seems sufficient. To live the celibate life is to acknowledge the presence of God, the certainty of the next life, and the value of both. With the eschatological life of celibacy, the future world of God enters into the realities of our time. Celibacy is allowing ourselves to be taken in hand by God, giving ourselves into the hands of the Lord and therefore is an act of fidelity and trust. Celibacy is a great sign of faith." How right he is! Thank you Pope Benedict XVI for defending and reinforcing celibacy. Really, our marriage minded priests should emulate our Holy Father who is living a holy life!

(Those of you who like this article may also want to read Why Pope Benedict XVI Clarifies, Reaffirms, Reinforces and Defends Celibacy and Taxi Driver Wanted to Become a Married Catholic Priest).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


In French, the future tenses include the simple future (le futur simple), the future perfect (le futur anterieur) and the near future (le futur proche). According to Eliane Kurbegov (French Grammar Drills, 2007:179), "The near future is used to talk about what is going to happen. Similarly the simple future talks about what will happen. Both tenses refer to future events. However, the near future is more frequently used in familiar conversation while the simple future is more formal. The future perfect, found less frequently in familiar conversation, is used to say that something will be done by the time something else happens."

The Simple Future (le futur simple)
The simple future expresses an action or a state that will take place after we speak. As the action or state has not happened yet, it is only more or less probable. To distinguish the simple future from the near future, let's say the near future expresses a fact that will take place more probably than the simple future (Jean Severy, Essential French Grammar, 2008:174).

In English, the simple future consists of will or shall + verb. In French, the simple future has no auxiliary, it consists of one word only. The future stem of regular -er and -ir verbs is the entire infinitive. Regular -re verbs drop the final -e of the infinitive before adding on the endings. The future endings are -ai, -as, -a, -ons, -ez, -ont. For example:

travailler (to work)
je travaillerai (I will work), tu travailleras, il/elle/on travaillera, nous travaillerons, vous travaillerez, ils/elles travailleront

finir (to finish)
je finirai (I will finish), tu finiras, il/elle/on finira, nous finirons, vous finirez, ils/elles finiront

perdre (to lose)
je perdrai (I will lose), tu perdras, il/elle/on perdra, nous perdrons, vous perdrez, ils/elles perdront

Where the irregular verbs are concerned, many have regular stems, that is, the entire infinitive or (with -re ending verbs) the infinitive minus final -e. For example:

boire (to drink) ------ je boirai
croire (to believe) ------ je croirai
dormir (to sleep) ------ je dormirai
lire (to read) ------ je lirai
ouvrir (to open) ------ j'ouvrirai
partir (to leave) ------ je partirai

However, there are also irregular verbs with irregular stems:

aller (to go) ------ j'irai
envoyer (to send) ------ j'enverrai
falloir (to be necessary) ------ il faudra
recevoir (to receive) ------ je recevrai
venir (to come) ------ je viendrai
vouloir (to want) ------ je voudrai

The Future Perfect (le futur anterieur)
Whereas the simple future describes an action or situation which will be taking place at some time in the future, the future perfect refers to an action which is seen as completed by or at a specific time in the future. In English, the future perfect consists of will have or shall have + past participle. In French, the future perfect consists of the simple future of avoir or etre + past participle. For example:

aller (to go)
je serai alle(e), (I will have gone), tu seras alle(e), il/on sera alle, elle sera allee, nous serons alle(e)s, vous serez alle(e)(s), ils seront alles, elles seront allees

devenir (to become)
je serai devenu(e), (I'll have become), tu seras devenu(e), il/elle/on sera devenu(e), nous serons devenu(e)s, vous serez devenu(e)(s), ils/elles seront devenu(e)s

It should be noted that the past participle of verbs conjugated with etre should agree in gender and number with the subject.

The Near Future
The futur proche implies the action will be completed soon, while the simple future is open-ended as to completion of the action. Thus, if you ask for a book at the library desk, the librarian's response would normally be in the futur proche as follows: Je vais chercher votre livre (I'll get your book). Were the librarian to respond with the simple future tense, Je chercherai votre livre, you would be left wondering how long you might have to wait.

In English, the near future consists of to be going to + infinitive. In French, the near future consists of the present tense of aller + infinitive. For example:

Je vais essayer (I am going to try)
Il va faire froid dehors (It's going to be cold outside)

Monday, December 20, 2010


In French, the past tenses include the passe compose, the imperfect tense, the pluperfect tense and the passe simple.

The Formation of the Passe Compose
The passe compose is generally translated into English by the simple past (I lived, she wrote), the present perfect (I have lived, she has written) and the emphatic past (I did live, she did write). The passe compose is used when one knows how long a past action lasted, how many times it occurred, and at what precise moment it happened.

Like the English present perfect, the passe compose is a compound tense. It consists of an auxiliary and the past participle of the verb in question. In English, the auxiliary is always the verb 'to have'. In French, it can be either avoir or etre. Most French use avoir to build the passe compose. The second element of the passe compose is the past participle.

The past participle of regular verbs can be formed in the following ways. With -er verbs, the -er ending is dropped and is replaced with -e: (parler - parle)
j'ai parle (I spoke, I have spoken, I did speak), tu as parle, il/elle/on a parle, nous avons parle, vous avez parle, ils/elles ont parle.

With -ir verbs, the -ir ending is dropped and is replaced with -i: (finir - fini)
j'ai fini (I finished, I have finished, I did finish), tu as fini, il/elle/on a fini, nous avons fini, vous avez fini, ils/elles ont fini.

With -re verbs the -re ending is dropped and is replaced with -u: (repondre -repondu)
j'ai repondu (I answered, I have answered, I did answer), tu as repondu, il/elle/on a repondu, nous avons repondu, vous avez repondu, ils/elles ont repondu.

Irregular verbs, however, have irregular past participles which must be memorized. Below is a list of some of these verbs.

Infinitive ----------------English Meaning --------------Past Participle
avoir -------------------------to have --------------------------eu
boire------------------------- to drink -------------------------bu
construire --------------------to build ---------------------construit
connaitre ---------------------to know ----------------------connu
disparaitre -----------------to disappear -------------------disparu
faire ------------------------ to make, do ---------------------fait
lire ---------------------------- to read -------------------------lu
ouvrir -------------------------to open -----------------------ouvert
apprendre --------------------to learn -----------------------appris

The past participle using avoir to form the passe compose may change under certain circumstances. It should be noted that the past participle of verbs using avoir as auxiliary to form the passe compose agrees in gender and number with a preceding direct object. If the object is feminine singular, -e is added to the past participle, if it is masculine plural, -s is added (except when the participle ends in -s): if it is feminine plural, -es is added. For example:

  1. Quels livres avez-vous lus? (Which books did you read?)
  2. Il nous a reconnus. (He recognized us)
  3. Quelle imprimante ont-ils achetee? (Which printer did they buy?)
  4. Quelle chance elle a eue! (How lucky she was!)
  5. Combien de photos avez-vous prises? (How many pictures did you take?)
  6. La lettre que j'ai ecrite est longue. (The letter that I wrote is long)

However, the past participle remains unchanged if there is no preceding direct object, if the direct object follows the past participle eg Elle a vu la generale (She saw the dress rehearsal) or if the preceding object is indirect eg Ils leur ont repondu (They answered them).

A small number of French verbs form the passe compose with etre rather than avoir. Most of these express motion or a change of state. If the past participle of verbs is conjugated with etre, they must agree in gender and number with the subject. If the subject is feminine singular, -e is added to the past participle, if the subject is masculine plural, -s is added, and if the subject is feminie plural, -es is added. Here is a model conjugation:

aller (to go):
je suis alle(e), tu es alle(e), il est alle, elle est allee, nous sommes alle(e)s, vous etes alle(e)s, ils sont alles, elle sont allees.

To form the passe compose correctly, it is necessary to choose the correct form of the auxiliary verb as well as the correct form of the past participle.

The Imperfect Tense
The imperfect tense expresses actions and situations that lasted an indeterminate amount of time (he had a lot of money), occurred an unspecified number of times (she went to church every Sunday), or were in progress often when something else happened (it was raining when they arrived).

The stem of the imperfect tense of all verbs (except etre) is found by dropping the -ons ending of the nous form of the present tense. The imperfect endings are -ais, ais, -ait, -ions, -iez, -aient. For instance, here is the conjugation of the regular verb, parler, in the imperfect tense:

parler (to speak)
(nous parlons)
je parlais (I spoke, I was speaking, I used to speak)
tu parlais (you spoke, you were speaking, you used to speak)
il/elle/on parlait (he/she/one spoke/was speaking/used to speak)
nous parlions (we spoke, we were speaking, we used to speak)
vous parliez (you spoke, you were speaking, you used to speak)
ils/elles parlaient (they spoke, they were speaking, they used to speak)

Below is the conjugation of the irregular verbs boire, craindre and dormir:

Infinitive --------- Nous Form of Present Tense ----------- Imperfect
boire (to drink) ----------- nous buvons -------------------- je buyais
craindre (to fear) ---------nous craignons ------------------je craignais
dormir (to sleep) ----------nous dormons ------------------ je dormais

It should be noted that "It is in distinguishing between passe compose (used to represent finished actions) vs imperfect (used to describe actions that were going on in the past) that speakers of English have the most trouble (Didier Bertrand, Test Yourself French Grammar 1996:42).

The Pluperfect Tense
The pluperfect (also called the past perfect) is a compound tense consisting of an auxiliary and the past participle. In French as in English, the pluperfect describes what had happened before another action in the past. In the formation of the pluperfect, the imperfect tense of the auxiliary (avoir or etre) is added to the past participle of the verb in question. For instance here is the conjugation of the regular verb partir in the pluperfect tense.

partir (to leave)
j'etais parti(e) --------------- I had left
tu etais parti(e) --------------you had left
il/on etait parti -------------- he/it/one had left
elle etait partie -------------- she/it had left
nous etions parti(e)s --------- we had left
vous etiez parti(e)s ---------- you had left
ils etaient partis ------------- they had left
elles etaient parties ---------- they had left

The Passe Simple
The passe simple is often called the literary or historical past and it replaces the passe compose in formal speeches and writing. The passe simple is not used in conversations or everyday writing but one can see its usage in very formal speeches, newspaper articles, historical texts, and French Literature.

The passe simple of regular -er ending verbs is formed by adding the endings -ai, -as, -a, -ames, -ates, -erent to the stem of the infinitive. For instance:
donner (to give)
je donnai (I gave)
tu donnas (you gave)
il/elle/on donna (he/she/it/one gave)
nous donnames (we gave)
vous donnates (you gave)
ils/elles donnerent (they gave)

The passe simple of both -ir and -re ending verbs is formed by adding the endings -is, -is, -it, -imes, -ites, -irent to the stem of the infinitive. Eg:

choisir (to choose)
je choisis (I chose), tu choisis (you chose), il/elle/on choisit (he/she/it/one chose), nous choisimes (we chose), vous choisites (you chose), ils/elles choisirent (they chose).

entendre (to hear)
j'entendis (I heard), tu entendis (you heard), il/elle/on entendit (he/she/it/one heard), nous entendimes (we heard), vous entendites (you heard), ils/elles entendirent (they heard).

For -cer ending verbs a cedille is added to the c before a (except the third person plural)

For -ger ending verbs, e is added after g before a (except the third person plural). Eg:
manger (to eat)
je mangeai (I ate), tu mangeas. il/elle/on mangea, nous mangeames, vous mangeates, ils/elles mangerent.

Where irregular verbs are concerned some take the ending -is, -is, -it, -imes, -ites, -irent whilst others take the endings -us, -us, -ut, -umes, -utes, -urent.

The passe simple of irregular verbs can be derived from their past participle. If the past participle of the verb ends in -i, -is, or -it, the first series of the above endings would be used to form its passe simple. If the past participle of the verb ends in -u, then the second series of endings would be used instead. Eg:

dire (to say)
past participle: dit
je dis, tu dis, il/elle/on dit, nous dimes, vous dites, ils/elles dirent

courir (to run)
past participle: couru
je courus, tu courus, il/elle/on courut, nous courumes, vous courutes, ils/elles coururent

However, it should be noted that the passe simple of certain irregular verbs cannot be derived from their past participle. Eg:

ecrire (to write)
past participle: ecrit
j'ecrivis, tu ecrivis, il/elle/on ecrivit, nous ecrivimes, vous ecrivites, ils/elles ecrivirent

venir (to come)
past participle: venu
je vins, tu vins, il/elle/on vint, nous vinmes, vous vintes, ils/elles vinrent

How can we identify the passe simple? According to Trudie Maria Booth (French Verb Tenses, 2008:147), "If one is familiar with the endings, the verbs in the passe simple are easy to identify, even if the forms are not derived from the past participle. It is evident for example, that mourut comes from mourir and ouvrit comes from ouvrir. Only a few verbs may be difficult to recognize and should therefore be memorized."

Saturday, December 18, 2010


According to Trudie Maria Booth (French Verb Tenses, 2008), "The verb is the most important part of the sentence. It expresses an action or state of the subject and indicates the time and mood of an occurrence. In order to be able to to communicate in a language, you must know how its verb tenses and moods are formed and how they are used." Veronique Mazet (Correct Your French Blunders, 2007:137) is of the opinion that, "The verb is crucial in determining the construction of a sentence and the placement of all its components. When you write a French sentence, focus on the verb." In order to master the French verbs, one would, first of all, need to master the art of conjugation. This is crucial if one wants to communicate effectively in French. Here I would like to share what I know about French Grammar with my readers. I hope that they will find this article useful.

In French, the subject must agree with the verb. Verbs are said to have three persons: the speaker, the person spoken to, and the third person, referring neither to the speaker nor the person spoken to. The subject pronouns in French are therefore as follows:

First person ------je (singular), nous (plural)
Second person ------ tu, vous (singular), vous (plural)
Third person ------il/elle/on (singular), ils/elles (plural)

There are two ways of saying you in French. Use tu to talk to friends, family members, children and animals. Use vous when you are addressing a stranger, someone you don't know well, or to maintain a certain degree of distance or respect. The pronoun on takes on different meanings. It may mean one, we or they depending on how it is used.

Since French has no subject pronoun for 'it', all nouns, whether animate or inanimate are referred to as either il or elle whilst ils refers to masculine plural nouns and elles refers to feminine plural nouns.

The following is the present tense conjugation of the verb, demander (meaning to ask). It is formed by dropping the -er ending of the infinitive and adding -e, -es, -e, -ons, -ez, and -ent to the stem of the verb. This is the rule for the formation of regular -er verbs.

demander (to ask)
je demande ------I ask, I am asking, I do ask
tu demandes ------you (familiar singular) ask, you are asking, you do ask
il demande ------he asks, he is asking, he does ask
elle demande ------she asks, she is asking, she does ask
on demande ------one asks, one is asking, one does ask
nous demandons ------we ask, we are asking, we do ask
vous demandez ------you (formal singular and plural, familiar plural) ask, you are asking, you do ask
ils demandent ------they ask, they are asking, they do ask
elles demandent ------they ask, they are asking, they do ask

French verb endings change depending on who you are talking about. In English, it is necessary to add -ing to the verb. In French, both the present tense and present continuous tense of the infinitive 'demander' are the same.

It should be noted that there are also a number of regular -er ending verbs that show slight spelling changes in their present tense forms. For instance, the verb 'appeler' (to call) doubles the last consonant of its stem in all persons except nous and vous. The following is the present tense conjugation of the verb appeler (to call):
j'appelle, tu appelles, il/elle/on appelle, nous appelons, vous appelez and ils/elles appellent.

For verbs ending in -yer, the y is changed into i in all persons except nous and vous. They can also keep the y throughout the conjugation. For isntance, let's look at the present tense conjugation of the verb payer (to pay):
je paie (je paye), tu paies (tu payes), il/elle/on paie (il paye), nous payons, vous payez, and ils/elles paient (ils payent).

Verbs ending in -oyer or in -uyer must change the y into an i in all persons except nous and vous. For example:
nettoyer (to clean)
je nettoie, tu nettoies, il/elle/on nettoie, nous nettoyons, vous nettoyez, ils/elles nettoient.
ennuyer (to bore)
j'ennuie, tu ennuies, il/elle/on ennuie, nous ennuyons, vous ennuyez and ils/elles ennuient.

Verbs ending in -ger and -cer show spelling changes only in the nous form.
For verbs ending in -ger e is added after the letter g in the nous form of the present tense.
manger (to eat)
je mange, tu manges, il/elle/on mange, nous mangeons, vous mangez, ils/elles mangent

For verbs ending in -cer a cedille is added to the c in the nous form of the present tense.

In the conjugation of regular -ir verbs, we have to add the following endings to the stem:
-is, -is, -it, -issons, -issez, -issent. Here is a model conjugation:
finir (to finish)
je finis, tu finis, il/elle/on finit, nous finissons, vous finissez, ils/elles finissent

In the conjugation of regular -re verbs, we have to add the following endings to the stem:
-s, -s, - (no ending), -ons, -ez, -ent. Here is a model conjugation:
attendre (to wait)
j'attends, tu attends, il/elle/on attend, nous attendons, vous attendez, ils/elles attendent

As for the present tense of the irregular verbs, they are even harder to conjugate because they don't have a consistent stem throughout their conjugation but luckily most of them have similar endings, making them a little easier to remember. The following is the present tense conjugation of three of these irregular verbs:

aller (to go)
je vais, tu vas, il/elle/on va, nous allons, vous allez, ils/elles vont
avoir (to have)
j'ai, tu as, il/elle/on a, nous avons, vous avez, ils/elles ont
etre (to be)
je suis, tu es, il/elle/on est, nous sommes, vous etes, ils/elles sont

But how are we going to remember all those verbs without a consistent stem and ending? According to Zoe Erotopoulos (French Verbs for Dummies, 2006:43), "The only suggestion I can make is that you study each one and practice using it; I'm sure each will become second nature to you in no time. A good way to make these verbs your own is to practice saying them out loud and to try to build up a certain rhythm. You may even try making a song out of the conjugations, using your favourite melody."

French verbs show a great multiplicity of forms. Learning French is therefore very challenging. Difficult though it may be, mastery of this language is a great accomplishment. I have always assumed that French speakers are clever people because French is a language which is not easy to learn due to its complex nature.

Monday, December 13, 2010


French is the most beautiful language in the world. My love for this beautiful language actually began at the Grotto of Massabielle. It was at this holy place that I developed an intense love for this language. Learning a foreign language is no easy task and there must be a very special reason behind it. This is what gives meaning to learning. Without a specific purpose, learning a foreign language becomes almost impossible. Why do I want to master French when I can't even master my own language (Chinese)? The answer is simple. Because of my love for Our Lady and hence for Lourdes.

Come to think of it, the teaching and learning of maths and science in English in Malaysia is a failure despite the millions of ringgit spent on this project by the Malaysian Government because our Malaysian teachers and students do not have a special purpose for learning English. Learning English therefore becomes meaningless to them. One day, when they have found their purpose they will learn. The acquisition of a foreign language cannot be attained by force. The willingness to learn must come from the heart and soul.

Below is a list of some basic French expressions that may come in handy for the Lourdes pilgrims. In the brackets are the pronunciations of these words.
  1. yes ------------oui(wee)
  2. no ------------non(nawng)
  3. okay ------------d'accord (dakor)
  4. good morning/ afternoon ------------bonjour (bawngzhoor)
  5. good evening ------------bonsoir (bawngswar)
  6. good night ------------bonne nuit (bon nwee)
  7. goodbye ------------au revoir (oa rervwar)
  8. excuse me ------------excusez-moi (exkewzay mwa)
  9. very good ------------tres bien (treh byang)
  10. please ------------ s'il vous plait (seel voo pleh)
  11. thank you (very much) ------------merci (beaucoup) mehrsee (boakoo)
  12. you're welcome ------------de rien (de reang)
  13. sometimes ------------quelquefois (kelkefwa)
  14. someone ------------quelqu'un (kelkang)
  15. something ------------quelque chose (kelker shoaz)
  16. fortunately ------------heureusement (urrurzmahng)
  17. of course ------------bien sur (byang sewr)
  18. none ------------aucun (oakang)
  19. never ------------jamais (zhameh)
  20. now------------maintenant (mangtnahng)
  21. immediately ------------tout de suite (too der sweet)
  22. often ------------souvent (soovahng)
  23. always ------------toujours (toozhoor)
  24. probably ------------probablement (probablurmahng)
  25. perhaps ------------peut-etre (pur tetr)
  26. on the left/right ------------a gauche/a droite (a goash/a drwat)
  27. Turn left ... ------------Tournez a gauche
  28. a little ------------un peu (ang pur)
  29. too much ------------trop (tro)
  30. Why not? ------------Pourquoi pas? (poorkwa pa)
  31. totally ------------totalement (totalmahng)
  32. on foot ------------a pied (a pyay)
  33. extremely ------------extremement (extremmahng)
  34. equally ------------egalement (aygalmahng)
  35. slowly ------------lentement (lahngtmahng)
  36. a few days ------------quelques jours (kelker zhoor)
  37. a week ------------une semaine (ewn sermayn)
  38. every week ------------chaque semaine (shak sermayn)
  39. today ------------ aujourd'hui (oh zhoor dwee)
  40. tonight ----------- ce soir (suh swar)
  41. tomorrow ------------ demain (dermang)
  42. yesterday ------------ hier (ee yehr)
  43. per day ------------par jour (par zhoor)
  44. every day ------------ tous les jours (too lay zhoor)
  45. breakfast ------------le petit dejeuner (ler pertee dayzhurnay)
  46. lunch ----------- le dejeuner (ler dayzhurnay)
  47. dinner ---------- le diner (ler deenay)
  48. Help! ------------ Au secours! (oh skoor!)
  49. black ------------noir (nwar)
  50. blue ------------bleu (blur)
  51. brown ------------marron (marawng)
  52. green ------------vert (vehr)
  53. gray ------------gris (gree)
  54. orange ------------orange (orahngzh)
  55. pink ------------rose (roz)
  56. purple ------------violet (veeoleh)
  57. red ------------rouge (roozh)
  58. white ------------blanc (blahng)
  59. yellow ------------jaune (zhoan)
  60. air conditioning ------------la climatisation (la kleemateezassyawng)
  61. light ------------la lumiere (la lewmyehr)
  62. elevator ------------l'ascenseur (lassahngsurr)
  63. swimming pool ------------la piscine (la peesseen)
  64. bathroom ------------la salle de bains (la sal der bang)
  65. kitchen ------------la cuisine (la kweezeen)
  66. bedroom ------------la chambre (la shahngbr)
  67. dining room ------------la salle a manger (la sa la mahngzhay)
  68. botanical garden ------------le jardin botanique (ler zhardang botahneek)
  69. castle ------------le chateau (ler shatoa)
  70. church ------------l'eglise
  71. fountain ------------la fontaine (la fawngtayn)
  72. market ------------le marche (ler marshay)
  73. museum ------------le musee (ler mewzay)
  74. library ------------la bibliotheque (la beebleeotek)
  75. bookshop ------------ la librairie (la lee breh ree)
  76. car park ------------ le parking (ler par keeng)
  77. police station ------------le commissariat de police (ler komeessarya der poleess)
  78. post office ------------la poste (la posst)
  79. hospital -----------l'hopital (lo pee tal)
  80. travel agency ------------l'agence de voyages (lazhahngss der vwahyazh)
  81. supermarket ------------ le supermarche (ler sewpehrmarshay)
  82. pharmacy ------------ la pharmacie (la farmassee)
  83. bridge ------------le pont (ler pawng)
  84. pond ------------l'etang (laytahng)
  85. river ------------la riviere (la reevyehr)
  86. sea ------------la mer (la mehr)
  87. waterfall ------------la cascade (la kaskad)
  88. lake ------------le lac (ler lak)
  89. mountain ------------la montagne (la mawngtan)
  90. hill ------------la colline (la koleen)
  91. beautiful ------------beau (boa)
  92. boring ------------ennuyeux (ahngnweeyur)
  93. ugly ------------laid (lay)
  94. doctor ------------le medecin (ler maydsang)
  95. hairdresser ------------le coiffeur (ler kwafurr)
  96. without a passport ------------sans passeport (sahng passpor)
  97. That's true ------------C'est vrai (seh vreh)
  98. Not bad ------------Pas mal (pa mal)
  99. I'd like a/an.... ------------Je voudrais... (zher voodray)
  100. belt ------------une ceinture (ewn sangtewr)
  101. blouse ------------un chemisier (ang shermeezyay)
  102. hat ------------un chapeau (ang shapoa)
  103. pants ------------un pantalons (ang pahngtalawng)
  104. shirt ------------une chemise (ewn shermeez)
  105. skirt ------------une jupe (ewn zhewp)
  106. book ------------un livre (ang leevr)
  107. dictionary ------------un dictionnaire (ang deeksyonehr)
  108. pack of cigarettes ------------un paquet de cigarettes (ang pakeh der seegarett)
  109. chocolate ice-cream ------------une glace au chocolat (ewn glass oa shokola)
  110. hot chocolate ------------un chocolat chaud (ang shokolah shoa)
  111. coke/ lemonade ------------un coca / une limonade (ang koka/ewn leemonad)
  112. bottle of wine ------------ une bouteille de vin (ewn bootayy der vang)
  113. calendar ------------ un calendrier (ang kalahngdreeay)
  114. postcard ------------ une carte postale (ewn kart postal)
  115. piece of cake ---------- un morceau de gateau (ang morsoa der gatoa)
  116. liter of milk ------------ un litre de lait (ang leetr der leh)
  117. jar of jam ------------ un pot de confiture (ang po dekawngfeetewr)
  118. I'd like some... ------------ Je voudrais ... (zher voodreh)
  119. bread ------------ du pain (dew pang)
  120. butter ------------ du beurre (dew burr)
  121. eggs ------------ des oeufs (day zur)
  122. beef ------------ du boeuf (dew burf)
  123. chicken ------------ du poulet (dew pooleh)
  124. ham ------------ du jambon (dew zhahngbawng)
  125. pork ------------ du porc (dew por)
  126. sausages ------------ des saucisses (day soasseess)
  127. pepper ------------ du poivre (dew pwavr)
  128. salt ------------ du sel (dew sel)
  129. sugar ------------- du sucre (dew sewkr)
  130. honey ------------- du miel (dew myel)
  131. milk ------------ du lait (dew lay)
  132. It's raining ------------Il pleut (eel plur)
  133. It's snowing ------------Il neige (eel nayzh)
  134. It's sunny ------------Il fait du soleil (eel feh dew solayy)
  135. a single room for one person ------------une chambre pour une personne
  136. a double room for two persons ------------une chambre pour deux personnes
  137. Where do I pay? ------------Ou dois-je payer? (oo dwazh payay)
  138. How much is that? ------------C'est combien? (seh kawnbyang)
  139. How are you? ------------Comment allez-vous? (kommahng ta lay voo?)
  140. What's your name? ------------ Comment tu t'appelles? (kommahng tew ta-pel?)
  141. How old are you? ------------ Quel age as-tu? (kel azh a tew?)
  142. Where do you live? ------------ Ou est-ce que tu habites? (oo es kuh tew a beet?)
  143. Can you help me? ------------ Pouvez-vous m'aider? (poo vay voo meh day?)
  144. What time is it? ------------Quelle heure est-il? (kel ur ay teel?)
  145. It's... ----------Il est... (eel ay...)
  146. six o'clock ------------ six heures (see zur)
  147. midday ------------ midi (mee dee)
  148. midnight ------------ minuit (mee nwee)
  149. What a lovely day! ------------Quelle belle journee! (kel bel zhoor nay!)
  150. Merry Christmas! ------------Joyeux Noel! (zhwa yuh noh el!)
  151. Happy New Year! ------------ Bonne Annee (bon a nay!)
  152. Happy Easter! ------------ Joyeuses Paques! (zhwa yuz pak!)
  153. I'll pay ... ------------Je paie ... (zher payy)
  154. by cash ------------en liquide (ahng leekeed)
  155. by credit card ------------avec une carte de credit (avek ewn kart der kraydee)
  156. See you soon. ------------ A bientot (a byangtoa)
  157. Do you speak English? ------------ Parlez-vous anglais? (parlay voo ahnggleh?)
  158. Where is the hotel? ------------ Ou est l'hotel? (oo ay loh tel?)
  159. I'd like to buy ... ------------ Je voudrais acheter ... (zher voodray ashtay)
  160. That's all, thanks ------------ C'est tout, merci (seh too mehrsee)

Friday, December 3, 2010


Here the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to Saint Bernadette between 18 February and 16 July 1858.

On 25 February 1858 Our Lady told Bernadette to "go to the spring, drink, and wash in it." The spring now feeds the water taps on the left of the grotto and the baths on the right. Nowadays there are 34 drinking fountains - actually simple taps - where the pilgrims can wash their faces in the water of the Massabielle Spring according to the wishes of Our Lady.

The Massabielle rock. Often we can see pilgrims queueing up just to wait for their turns to touch this rock. There is always a long queue in summer.

Pilgrims come from all over the world to pray at the place where Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous.

The grotto is the true heart of the Lourdes shrine. Pilgrims from all over the world flock to Lourdes basically to pray at the spot where Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette more than 150 years ago. The name Massabielle comes from "Massevielle" which means "old rock" in the local dialect. The rock where we find the grotto is about 20 metres high and is covered with shrubs and ivy. It seems to be supported by an enormous natural vault, which is nothing more than the grotto itself. It is blackened by plumes of smoke from the candles which burn constantly in a big cone-shaped candelabra (at the foot of the statue) in memory of that first candle lit in front of the grotto by Bernadette. Since 1858, following Bernadette's example, pilgrims come to the grotto bearing candles - the symbol of their faith in Christ whose own words recorded in the Gospel declare, "I am the light of the world." In a way, these candles also express the faith, anxieties and vows of the pilgrims who lay down the burden of all their human and spiritual miseries in front of the grotto.

Every year, more than three million candles are burnt in front of the grotto. Candles of different sizes are to be found to the left of the drinking fountains. The profits of their sale go mainly towards the upkeep of the shrine. So great is the number of candles bought during the season that it is impossible to burn them all at the same time. Consequently, pilgrims are asked to hold their candles while they are praying, and then hand them to the staff in charge of the burners (to the right of the grotto, near the bath-houses). Some of the candles will be kept in a special store and then lit again during the winter months, thus prolonging the pilgrims' prayers well after they have gone.

This cave is made up of three irregular apertures - the largest one is 5 metres high, 7 metres wide and 8 metres deep. On the roof of the vault is a plume of ivy. A white carrara marble statue representing Our Lady of Lourdes was blessed and placed in this spot on 4 April 1864. The statue is the gift of two sisters from Lyon, the Misses Lacour - sisters of the speaker in the French Senate. It is the work of the Lyonnaise sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch who sculpted the statue according to Bernadette's suggestion. On the pedestal are engraved the words spoken by Mary in local dialect, "Que Soy era Immaculada Councepciou" which means "I am the Immaculate Conception." These are the words the Madonna said to Bernadette during the sixteenth apparition on 25 March 1858.

At the time of the apparitions the floor of the grotto was covered with a mixture of earth, sand and gravel left behind by the River Gave during flooding. Scattered arond were dead branches, pieces of wood and the bones of animals that had been dumped there by flood tides. In front of the entrance to the grotto runs a canal bringing water down from the Savy mill and the adjacent sawmill. The canal runs into the River Gave further down. The grotto was used as a natural shelter by the fishermen and hunters of the area during bad weather. Since the apparitions, the grotto has been cleaned and restored on several occassions. In 1955 its interior was lowered by more than a metre and grey marble slabs were used to pave it. An altar for the celebration of masses and other religious cereemonies were placed in the centre. Masses are celebrated daily at the plain stone altar at the grotto. Behind the altar one can find the box where people place their prayer petitions.

Inside the grotto, to the right, the rosebush planted in the rock is a reminder of the "sign" required by Father Peyramale who said, "And have Her make the rosebush in the grotto blossom." At the back of the grotto, to the left of the altar (see picture above), you can see the flowing spring that Bernadette discovered on 25 February 1858 during the ninth apparition. It is covered by an illuminated glass pane. This spring water, in order to be made available to everyone, is now channelled towards the taps and the baths. The work was carried out in February 1949 by Father Joseph Mailhet, a renowned hydro-geologist.

In front of the grotto a large open square covering a surface area of 27 square metres has been built for the pilgrims to provide space for them to reflect quietly or to attend religious ceremonies. To obtain the space needed for the square, the River Gave de Pau had to be diverted twice. The Gave was diverted by about 30 metres with a strong protective embankment being built and the canal that Bernadette crossed was rerouted upstream. Two paving stones mark the original location of the Savy Mill canal and the place where Bernadette stood when Our Lady appeared to her for the first time. Despite the various changes, the grotto has maintained its original, simple and austere appearance.

The silent, private joy of personal prayer that Bernadette experienced during the first apparitions is today shared by millions of believers who come to pray at the grotto. Massabielle Grotto is a place for silent contemplation. Just as Bernadette used to meet Our Lady at this Grotto of Apparitions, pilgrims today come face to face with her statue - placed on the exact spot where She habitually appeared to Bernadette.

"I want people to come here," said Our Lady. Here, the first masses of the day follow one another in all languages in the quiet contemplation of the morning. Here, Pope John Paul II prayed in silence for a long time from the moment of his arrival in Lourdes in 1983. Here, before the rock. we remember Bernadette's "young lady", the Immaculate Virgin who came smiling as She appeared to the poor girl from the Cachot. It is thus God who reaches out to us, the poor beings that we are. How good it is to pray here! And it was here that my French story began. I vow to devote the rest of my life to improve on my French after I have completed my PhD thesis. To me, French is the most beautiful language in the world. Why French? Because it makes me feel close to the Grotto of Massabielle and hence close to Our Lady. Each time I take out a French book to read, my mind drifts to the Grotto of Massabielle - to the exact spot where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette and I couldn't help feeling that I am already there - at the Grotto of Massabielle with Our Lady.