On Saturday afternoon the Holy Father left Paris and travelled to Orly airport where he boarded a plane to Tarbes. From there he continued his journey to Lourdes by helicopter.
After arriving the Pope visited the first three stages of the Jubilee Way by popemoble. The Way, which was opened for th anniversary year, includes four places associated with the life of Bernadette: the font where she received Baptism; the 'Cachot', the house where her family lived; the Grotto of Massabielle, site of the apparitions of the Virgin and the heart of the Marian shrine; and the chapel in which she received First Communion. As the Pope arrived at the grotto, a child gave him a glass of water from the spring. The Holy Father then lit a candle and paused a moment to pray in silence before reading the prayer for this stage of the Jubilee Way.
At 9.15 m Benedict XVI went to the basilica where he watched the closing stages of the torchlight procession from the lower terrace.
The Pope opened his address by recalling that "150 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'. ... 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".
"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. ... 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 said: "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".
After pointing out that John Paul II visited Lourdes on two occasions and "keenly encouraged the prayer of the rosary", the Pope also recalled how his predecessor had enriched the Rosary "with the meditation of the Mysteries of Light".
"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".
The Holy Father emphasised how the procession "is a time of great ecclesial joy, but also a time of seriousness: the intentions we bring emphasise 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 the 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 for Him.
He said: "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. ... Lourdes is a place of light because it is a place of communion, hope and conversion". Sin, by contrast, "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".
"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 to love".
"How many come here 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 themselves", said the Pope in conclusion. "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".
Mass at the Shrine
More than 100,000 people were waiting at the Meadow of the shrine of Lourdes, when Pope Benedict arrived about 10am to celebrate Mass yesterday afternoon.
In his homily he said: "On this day when the Church's liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery: ... The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross. By His Cross we are saved.
"The instrument of torture", the Pope added, "which on Good Friday manifested God's judgement on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace. ... The Church invites us ... to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew".
"It is significant that during the first apparition to Bernadette Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross", this is "an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, ... it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death. ... The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God's love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes".
"The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. ... It is He Who will make us free to love as He loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon Himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ".
The celebration of the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Lourdes, said the Holy Father, "urges us to embark upon a journey of faith and conversion. Today, Mary comes to meet us, so as to show us the way towards a renewal of life for our communities and for each one of us".
"Jesus, born of Mary, is the Son of God, the sole Saviour of all people, living and acting in His Church and in the world. The Church is sent everywhere in the world to proclaim this unique message and to invite people to receive it through an authentic conversion of heart. This mission, entrusted by Jesus to His disciples, receives here, on the occasion of this Jubilee, a breath of new life".
Following the Jubilee Way in the footsteps of Bernadette, "we are reminded of the heart of the message of Lourdes. Bernadette is the eldest daughter of a very poor family, with neither knowledge nor power, and in poor health. Mary chose her to transmit her message of conversion, prayer and penance, which fully accord with words of Jesus: 'What you have hidden from the wise and understanding, you have revealed to babes'. ... It is therefore a genuine catechesis that is being proposed to us in this way, under Mary's gaze".
When the "beautiful lady" revealed her name to Bernadette - "I am the Immaculate Conception" - she disclosed "the extraordinary grace that she has received from God. ... Mary is the woman from this earth who gave herself totally to God, and who received the privilege of giving human life to His eternal Son".
"She is beauty transfigured, the image of the new humanity. By presenting herself in this way, in utter dependence upon God, Mary expresses in reality an attitude of total freedom, based upon the full recognition of her true dignity.
"This privilege concerns us too, for it discloses to us our own dignity as men and women, admittedly marked by sin, but saved in hope, a hope which allows us to face our daily life".
"The primary purpose of the shrine at Lourdes is to be a place of encounter with God in prayer and a place of service to our brothers and sisters, notably through the welcome given to the sick, the poor and all who suffer. In this place, Mary comes to us as a mother. ... Through the light which streams from her face, God's mercy is made manifest. ... Mary comes to remind us that prayer ... must have a central place in our Christian lives. Prayer is indispensable if we are to receive Christ's power".
Benedict XVI noted that "the presence of young people at Lourdes is also an important element. ... When Mary received the angel's visit, she was a young girl from Nazareth leading the simple and courageous life typical of the women of her village. And if God's gaze focussed particularly upon her, trusting in her, Mary wants to tell you once more that not one of you is indifferent in God's eyes. ... Mary was ... conscious of her frailty in the face of God's omnipotence. Nevertheless, she said 'yes', without hesitating. And thanks to her yes, salvation came into the world, thereby changing the history of mankind".
"Mary's message is a message of hope for all men and women of our day, whatever their country of origin", the Holy Father concluded. "I like to invoke Mary as the 'star of hope' ... who enlightens us and gives direction to our journey. Through her 'yes', through the generous gift of herself, she has opened up to God the gates of our world and our history. And she invites us to live ... in invincible hope, refusing to believe those who claim that we are trapped in the fatal power of destiny".
Following Mass at the Shrine, the bells rang throughout Lourdes as the Pope prayed the Angelus.
Benedict XVI recalled how every day, thanks to the Angelus, "when the first hours of the day are already beginning to weigh us down with fatigue, our availability and our generosity are renewed by the contemplation of Mary's 'yes'. This clear and unreserved 'yes'".
"While sin divides, separating us from one another", he continued, "Mary's purity makes her infinitely close to our hearts, attentive to each of us and desirous of our true good. You see it here in Lourdes, as in all Marian shrines; immense crowds come thronging to Mary's feet to entrust to her their most intimate thoughts, their most heartfelt wishes".
"Mary shows us the right way to come to the Lord, ... in truth and simplicity. Thanks to her, we discover that the Christian faith is not a burden: it is like a wing which enables us to fly higher, so as to take refuge in God's embrace".
"Here, close to the grotto, and in intimate communion with all the pilgrims present in Marian shrines and with all the sick in body and soul who are seeking relief, we bless the Lord for Mary's presence among her people, and to her we address our prayer in faith:
"Holy Mary, you showed yourself here one hundred and fifty years ago to the young Bernadette, you 'are the true fount of hope' Faithful pilgrims who have gathered here from every part of the world, we come once more to draw faith and comfort, joy and love, security and peace, from the source of your Immaculate Heart. 'Monstra Te esse Matrem'. Show yourself a Mother for us all, O Mary! And give us Christ, the hope of the world!"
Following the Angelus, the Holy Father travelled to the St. Joseph Hermitage where he lunched with bishops from the Midi-Pyrenees region.