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Lourdes: thousands attend anniversary Mass

 An estimated 70,000 pilgrims attended a special open-air Mass in Lourdes yesterday, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady to St Bernadette in 1858. The Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Jacques Perrier and the Archbishop of Marseille, Bernard Panafieu concelebrated the Mass with more than 25 bishops and 800 priests, in the field opposite the Grotto. During his homily, Bishop Perrier said: "Coming here is to have one's belief replenished, in a world of mistrust, hostility and indifference... Lourdes is also like a school for prayer -- a place where it is easy, even natural, to pray because one senses it is expected." After Bishop Perrier gave the final blessing, at the end of Mass, bells from all the churches in Lourdes rang out in unison. As Mass began in Lourdes, a relic of St Bernadette was carried to Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, to mark the anniversary. Italian police on white horses accompanied the procession. The year-long celebrations officially began on December 8, 2007. They will continue until December 8, 2008. Millions of pilgrims are expected to visit Lourdes this year - among them Pope Benedict who is expected to visit some time in September. For more information see: www.lourdes-france.org