Pope Concludes Historic Visit to Lourdes

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Pope Benedict XVI has just concluded an historic visit to France where he spent the weekend in Lourdes in honor of the 150th anniversary of the world’s most beloved Marian shrine.

The Pope’s trip to France began in Paris on Sept. 12 with a private meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, followed by an address to numerous civil and religious authorities and the entire nation of France from Elysee Palace. In his speech, he called upon the nation to  recognize the “irreplaceable role” of religion in forming consciences and in creating a “basic ethical consensus within society.”

During his two day visit to Paris, he also met with the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, with Jewish leaders, and celebrated Vespers at the Cathedral of Notre Dame with clergy and seminarians. Upon leaving the Cathedral, he was greeted by a throng of 10,000 youth to whom he expressed his great confidence.

Afterward, he traveled to the apostolic nunciature where, having had dinner, he appeared at the balcony to greet another throng of faithful who had gathered below.

“Your warm welcome is most moving for the Pope!” he told them. “Thank you for waiting for me here with such enthusiasm, despite the lateness of the hour!”
He then expressed anticipation about heading off to Lourdes the following day. “I am counting on you and on your prayers for this visit to bear fruit. May the Virgin Mary keep you safe!”

His helicopter landed in Lourdes on Saturday evening, Sept. 14, where he joined thousands of pilgrims on the Jubilee Way, a path comprised of four places associated with the life of St. Bernadette Soubirous. Known as “the Way,” it encompasses the font where Bernadette was baptized; the “Cachot” which is the home where she lived; the Grotto of Massabielle which was the site of the apparitions; and the chapel in which she received First Communion.

Seated in the popemobile, the Pope visited the first three stages of the Jubilee Way and paused to pray at each place. When he arrived at the Grotto, Catholic News Agency reports that a child gave him a glass of water from the spring. The Pope then lit a candle and paused a moment to pray in silence.

After having dinner at St. Joseph’s Hermitage nearby, Benedict XVI appeared at the lower terrace of the basilica and watched the closing stages of the torchlight procession from the Grotto of the Apparitions to the basilica.

He then addressed the crowd and recounted the miraculous encounter of Bernadette of Soubirous with the Blessed Mother 150 years ago.

“On February 11, 1858, in this place known as the Grotto of Massabielle, away from the town, a simple young girl from Lourdes, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a light, and in this light she saw a young lady who was ‘beautiful, more beautiful than any other’. … It was in this conversation, in this dialogue marked by such delicacy, that the Lady instructed her to deliver certain very simple messages on prayer, penance and conversion,” the Pope said.

“Lourdes is one of the places chosen by God for His beauty to be reflected with particular brightness, hence the importance here of the symbol of light.”

The Pope found the grotto, which is continually awash with the light of hundreds of candles, an even more apparent sign of the glorious light of God. “Before the grotto, night and day, summer and winter, a burning bush shines out, aflame with the prayers of pilgrims and the sick, who bring their concerns and their needs, but above all their faith and their hope.”

He concluded by saying “In this shrine at Lourdes, to which Christians of the whole world have turned their gaze since the Virgin Mary caused hope and love to shine here by giving pride of place to the sick, the poor and the little ones, we are invited to discover the simplicity of our vocation: it is enough to love.”

The most moving moments of his visit to Lourdes took place when he presided over a Mass for thousands of sick patients which took place on Sept. 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  He personally administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to 10 people during the liturgy. Addressing each by name, he gently anointed their foreheads and hands with oil and invoked the mercy of the Lord.

During his homily, he recalled that during the first apparition of Mary to St. Bernadette, Our Lady “first taught Bernadette to know her smile, this being the most appropriate point of entry into the revelation of her mystery.”

“In the smile of the most eminent of all creatures,” he added, “is reflected our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope.”

He encouraged all who suffer and are tempted to “turn their backs on life” to turn toward  the smile of Mary.

“Within the smile of the Virgin lies the hidden strength to fight against sickness, in support of life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.”

After the Mass, the Pope traveled to the airport of Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees for his farewell ceremony.

“Before the Grotto of Massabielle, I prayed for all of you,” he told the crowd. “I prayed for the Church. I prayed for France and for the world.”

After invoking God’s blessing upon France, he said, “May harmony and human progress reign on her soil, and may the Church be the leaven in the dough that indicates with wisdom and without fear, according to her specific duty, who God is!”

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