Lourdes: 'a place of
communion, hope and conversion'
On Saturday, 13 September , the Holy Father lunched with
the Bishops of Île-de-France
and his entourage at the Apostolic Nunciature.
In the afternoon he was driven to Paris-Orly International
Airport. After a 75 minute flight, the Pope arrived at the
Airport of Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees and immediately embarked on a
helicopter for the 14-km flight to Antoine Béguère
In 1858 Lourdes was a quiet village of 4,000 inhabitants
until Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, an illiterate
14-year-old girl who had not yet made her First Communion. The
Blessed Virgin appeared 18 times to Bernadette between 11
February and 16 July that year, identifying herself in the local
dialect as "the Immaculate Conception" during her 16th
Apparition. In 1866, Bernadette joined the Saint-Gildard Convent
of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction in Nevers.
She died in 1879. Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonized
Today, six million pilgrims from 70 countries visit the
Shrine of Lourdes every year. Since 1858, 66 miraculous healings
in Lourdes have been recognized by the Church. The Holy Father,
in the popemobile, then took the "Jubilee Way". This is the
itinerary for pilgrims on. the occasion of the moth anniversary
of Our Lady's Apparitions. It includes four places linked to St
Bernadette's life: the baptismal font, in which she was baptized
in the Parish Church of the Sacred Heart; the Cachot, where she
lived with her family; the Grotto of Massabielle, the site of
the Apparitions; The Hospital or Hospice (chapel), where she
received her First Communion.
In the parish Church of the Sacred Heart the Pope was
received by the parish priest who accompanied him to the Chapel
of the Blessed Sacrament where he prayed and then at the
baptismal font where Bernadette was baptized. He recited the
prayer of the first stage. At the end he went by popemobile to
Place Peyramale and then on foot to the Cachot where he recited
the prayer for the second stage of the itinerary and kissed
Bernadette's Rosary beads.
Benedict XVI continued by popemobile to the third place,
the Grotto of Massabielle, which he visited accompanied by
Bishop Jacques Perrier. A child offered him a glass of water
from the stream that bubbled to the surface when Our Lady told
Bernadette to dig; today it flows al the rate of 32,000 gallons
a day. The Holy Father lit a candle and prayed in silence before
reading the prayer of the third stage of the Jubilee Way.
Pope Benedict XVI then went by car to St. Joseph's
Hermitage, where he was staying. He dined in private. A
torchlight procession wound through Lourdes from the Grotto of
the Apparitions and across the Prairie to arrive in front of the
Basilica where the Pope was watching it from the lower terrace.
The Holy Father then spoke to the pilgrims. The following is a
translation of his Address in French.
Dear Bishop Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes,
Dear Brothers in the episcopate and the priesthood,
Dear Pilgrims, dear Brothers and Sisters,
One hundred and fifty years ago, on 11 February
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”.
This woman addressed her with kindness and
gentleness, with respect and trust: “She said vous to
me”, Bernadette recounted, “Would you do me the kindness of
coming here for a fortnight?” she asked her. “She was looking at
me as one person who speaks to another.” 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.
It is hardly surprising that Mary should be
beautiful, given that—during the apparition of 25 March 1858—she
reveals her name in this way: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Let us now look at this “woman clothed with the
sun” (Rev 12:1) as she is described for us in Scripture.
The Most Holy Virgin Mary, the glorious woman of the Apocalypse,
wears on her head a crown of twelve stars which represent the
twelve tribes of Israel, the entire people of God, the whole
communion of saints, while at her feet is the moon, image of
death and mortality.
Mary left death behind her; she is entirely
re-clothed with life, the life of her Son, the risen Christ. She
is thus the sign of the victory of love, of good and of God,
giving our world the hope that it needs.
This evening, let us turn our gaze towards Mary,
so glorious and so human, allowing her to lead us towards God
who is the victor.
Countless people have borne witness to this:
when they encountered Bernadette’s radiant face, it left a deep
impression on their hearts and minds. Whether it was during the
apparitions themselves or while she was recounting them, her
face was simply shining. Bernadette from that time on had the
light of Massabielle dwelling within her.
The daily life of the Soubirous family was
nevertheless a tale of deprivation and sadness, sickness and
incomprehension, rejection and poverty. Even if there was no
lack of love and warmth in family relationships, life at the
cachot was hard.
Nevertheless, the shadows of the earth did not
prevent the light of heaven from shining. “The light shines in
the darkness …” (Jn 1:5).
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. From the fourth
apparition onwards, on arriving at the grotto, Bernadette would
light a votive candle each morning and hold it in her left hand
for as long as the Virgin was visible to her. Soon, people would
give Bernadette a candle to plant in the ground inside the
Very soon, too, people would place their own
candles in this place of light and peace. The Mother of God
herself let it be known that she liked the touching homage of
these thousands of torches, which since that time have continued
to shine upon the rock of the apparition and give her glory.
From that day, 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.
Learn to pray the rosary
By coming here to Lourdes on pilgrimage, we wish
to enter, following in Bernadette’s footsteps, into this
extraordinary closeness between heaven and earth, which never
fails and never ceases to grow. In the course of the
apparitions, it is notable that Bernadette prays the rosary
under the gaze of Mary, who unites herself to her at the moment
of the doxology.
This fact confirms the profoundly theocentric
character of the prayer of the rosary. When we pray it, Mary
offers us her heart and her gaze in order to contemplate the
life of her Son, Jesus Christ.
My venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II,
came here to Lourdes on two occasions. In his life and ministry,
we know how much his prayer relied upon the Virgin Mary’s
intercession. Like many of his predecessors in the Chair of
Peter, he also keenly encouraged the prayer of the rosary; one
of the particular ways in which he did so was by enriching the
Holy Rosary with the meditation of the Mysteries of Light.
These are now represented on the façade of the
Basilica in the new mosaics inaugurated last year. As with all
the events in the life of Christ, “which she preserved and
pondered in her heart” (Lk 2:19), Mary helps us to
understand all the stages in his public ministry as integral to
the revelation of God’s glory. May Lourdes, the land of light,
continue to be a school for learning to pray the Rosary, which
introduces the disciples of Jesus, under the gaze of his Mother,
into an authentic and cordial dialogue with his Master!
'Come here in procession'
On Bernadette’s lips we hear the Virgin Mary
asking us to come here in procession so as to pray with
simplicity and fervour. The torchlight procession expresses the
mystery of prayer in a form that our eyes of flesh can grasp: in
the communion of the Church, which unites the elect in heaven
with pilgrims on earth, the light of dialogue between man and
his Lord blazes forth and a luminous path opens up in human
history, even in its darkest moments.
This procession is a time of great ecclesial
joy, but also a time of seriousness: the intentions we bring
emphasize our profound communion with all those who suffer.
We think of innocent victims who suffer from
violence, war, terrorism, and famine; those who bear the
consequences of injustices, scourges and disasters, hatred and
oppression; of attacks on their human dignity and fundamental
rights; on their freedom to act and think.
We also think of those undergoing family
problems or suffering caused by unemployment, illness,
infirmity, loneliness, or their situation as immigrants. Nor
must we forget those who suffer for the name of Christ and die
Mary teaches us to pray, to make of our prayer
an act of love for God and an act of fraternal charity. By
praying with Mary, our heart welcomes those who suffer. How can
our life not be transformed by this? Why should our whole life
and being not become places of hospitality for our neighbours?
Lourdes is a place of light because it is a place of communion,
hope and conversion.
As night falls, Jesus says to us: “keep your
lamps burning” (Lk 12:35); the lamp of faith, the lamp of
prayer, the lamp of hope and love! This act of walking through
the night, carrying the light, speaks powerfully to the depths
of ourselves, touches our heart and says much more than any
other word uttered or heard. This gesture itself summarizes our
condition as Christians on a journey: we need light, and at the
same time are called to be light.
Sin makes us blind, it prevents us from putting
ourselves forward as guides for our brothers and sisters, and it
makes us unwilling to trust them to guide us. We need to be
enlightened, and we repeat the prayer of blind Bartimaeus:
“Master, let me receive my sight!” (Mk 10:51). Let me see
my sin which holds me back, but above all, Lord, let me see your
We know that our prayer has already been granted
and we give thanks because, as Saint Paul says in the Letter to
the Ephesians, “Christ shall give you light” (5:14), and Saint
Peter adds, “he called you out of darkness into his marvellous
light” (1 Pet 2:9).
To us who are not the light, Christ can now say:
“You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14), entrusting us
with the responsibility to cause the light of charity to shine.
As the Apostle Saint John writes, “He who loves his brother
abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling”
(1 Jn 2:10).
To live Christian love, means at the same time
to introduce God’s light into the world and to point out its
true source. Saint Leo the Great writes: “Whoever, in fact,
lives a holy and chaste life in the Church, whoever sets his
mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth
(cf. Col 3:2), in a certain way resembles heavenly light;
as long as he himself observes the brilliance of a holy life, he
shows to many, like a star, the path that leads to God” (Sermon
In this shrine at Lourdes, to which the
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
Tomorrow, the celebration of the exaltation of
the Holy Cross brings us into the very heart of this mystery. At
this vigil, our gaze is already turned towards the sign of the
new covenant on which the whole life of Jesus converges. The
cross is the supreme and perfect act of the love of Jesus, who
lays down his life for his friends. “So must the Son of man be
lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn
As proclaimed in the songs of the Suffering
Servant, the death of Jesus is a death which becomes a light for
the nations; it is a death which, in intimate association with
the liturgy of atonement, brings reconciliation, it is a death
which marks the end of death. From that day onwards, the Cross
is a sign of hope, Jesus’ victory standard, “because God so
loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes
in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn
Through the Cross, our whole life gains light,
strength and hope. The Cross reveals the whole depth of love
contained in the original design of the Creator; through the
Cross, all is healed and brought to completion. That is why life
lived with faith in Christ dead and risen becomes light.
The apparitions were bathed in light and God
chose to ignite in Bernadette’s gaze a flame which converted
countless hearts. How many come here to see it with the
hope—secretly perhaps—of receiving some miracle; then, on the
return journey, having had a spiritual experience of life in the
Church, they change their outlook upon God, upon others and upon
A small flame called hope, compassion,
tenderness now dwells within them. A quiet encounter with
Bernadette and the Virgin Mary can change a person’s life, for
they are here, in Massabielle, to lead us to Christ who is our
life, our strength and our light.
May the Virgin Mary and Saint Bernadette help
you to live as children of light in order to testify, every day
of your lives, that Christ is our light, our hope and our life!