.- A press conference took place in the Holy See Press Office this morning to discuss the program of celebrations organized to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Viring Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France.
Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes indicated that for the 150th anniversary a Jubilee Year will be held, due to run from December 8, 2007, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to December 8, 2008, and "to take place within the context of the new evangelization."
Regarding the possibility of a pilgrimage by the Pope to Lourdes for the 150th anniversary, Bishop Perrier confirmed that Benedict XVI would visit "though we still do not know the exact date."
âThe mission of the Church in each of these fields," he added, "will become apparent during the Jubilee Year with pilgrimages, meetings and initiatives." For example "the mission of the Church to the sick will be made manifest thanks to the UNITALSI (Italian National Union for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines) pilgrimages," and missions are also envisaged with volunteers, with young people, with the disabled, to appeal for unity among Christians, to call for conversion, for peace, etc.
Bishop Perrier then indicated how on February 11, 2008, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, the first of the 18 apparitions of the Virgin to Bernadette will be commemorated (the last apparition took place on July 16, 1858, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). A week later, on February 18, 2008, Feast of St. Bernadette, the first of the 15 consecutive apparitions will be remembered. "Our Lady asked Bernadette to come to the Grotto every day, and she kept her promise despite the difficulties."
March 25, will mark the anniversary of the 16th apparition of the Virgin. "On that day, Feast of the Annunciation," said Bishop Perrier, "the Lady finally pronounced her name: I am the Immaculate Conception."
The bishop then indicated how from July 15 to 20, 2008, to coincide with World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, various groups of young Christian artists will perform in Lourdes.
It is expected that an estimated eight million pilgrims will visit Lourdes for the Jubilee Year.
So far, we know that the Holy Father has planned three trips outside of Italy in 2008: France, the U.S. in April and Australia in July for World Youth Day.