Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 22, 2008
Mary leads pilgrims to Christ, says pope at Lourdes Mass
Multitudes gather to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mary's visits with Bernadette
By JOHN THAVIS
“The power of love is stronger than the evil that threatens us.”
- Pope Benedict
Arriving in Lourdes Sept. 13 following a two-day stopover in Paris, the pope immediately joined in the pilgrimage.
Cheered by tens of thousands who packed the streets of the town in the Pyrenees Mountains, the pope first stopped at the parish church where St. Bernadette was baptized, then visited the small house -- a former prison not much bigger than a cell -- where the girl and her family lived in the mid-19th century. There, he kissed her rosary and said a prayer.
Next, the pope went to the grotto at the base of a rocky cliff, where Bernadette experienced 18 apparitions of Mary from Feb. 11 to July 16, 1858. Like millions of pilgrims each year, he paused to take a drink of water from the spring she discovered there, a spring said to have miraculous powers. Later, the pope closed a torchlight evening procession in Rosary Square. Addressing the crowd of pilgrims, he paid tribute to simple devotion.
“In this shrine at Lourdes . . . we are invited to discover the simplicity of our vocation: It is enough to love,” he said.
The traditional nighttime procession stems from St. Bernadette’s habit of lighting a candle when Mary would appear to her. Today, the pope said, the light from pilgrims’ torches represents a powerful symbol against the darkness of sin.
The procession expresses the mystery of prayer in a form that everyone can grasp, like a luminous path in the dark, he said. It should also remind Christians of those who suffer.
The pope remembered those experiencing family problems, illness, unemployment or loneliness, as well as difficulties related to immigration. Those who have suffered or died for Christ must not be forgotten, either, he said.
On the plane carrying him to France, the pope told journalists his April 16 birthday fell on the feast of St. Bernadette, and for that reason he felt very close to her.
At Lourdes, he said, people encounter Mary and find that “the mother’s love” is what provides true healing for all sickness and suffering.
“I think this is a very important sign for our era,” he said.
The pope returned to the Lourdes Mass site in the evening of Sept. 14 to close a eucharistic procession. After kneeling and praying in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, he told pilgrims that the respect Catholics show the Eucharist reflects the awareness that Christ is truly present.
Those who, for some reason, cannot receive Communion may find special meaning in adoration, he said.
At a Mass Sept. 15, Pope Benedict encouraged thousands of sick people to seek solace in Mary’s smile and maternal love.
Their devotion to Mary at a time of need is not “pious infantilism” but a sign of the highest spiritual maturity, the pope said Sept. 15 from an altar ringed with wheelchairs and stretchers.
The pope 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.
Behind the group receiving the sacrament stretched hundreds of the distinctive covered blue wheelchairs used to transport many of the sick at Lourdes. Most were there for the pope, but all had come to pray to Mary.
“I get a great feeling of well-being here. I’m in touch with God through Mary, right here in Lourdes,” said Frank Nelson, a 72-year-old Irishman, who has been coming to the sanctuary since 1948.
Seated in a wheelchair next to others in his pilgrim group, he added that he also has come for “some healing,” after undergoing two hip operations, stomach surgery and treatment for prostate cancer.
In his sermon, the pope said devotion to Mary is not an act of “outmoded sentimentality.” Rather, turning to Mary demonstrates that people “know precisely how to acknowledge their weakness and their poverty before God.”
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