Pope Benedict XVI’s helicopter touched down in Lourdes on Saturday evening to the sight of a multitude of pilgrims waiting to begin the Jubilee Way. After a torchlight procession, the Holy Father spoke to the pilgrims about how at Lourdes, Mary invites everyone to enter into God’s dialogue of love with man, a dialogue that finds physical expression at Lourdes.
The pilgrimage designed for the 150th anniversary celebration of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette is known as the Jubilee Way and is comprised of four places associated with the French saint’s life. Seated in his popemobile, the Pope visited the first three stages of the Jubilee Way and paused to pray at each place.
The Way encompasses 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.
After having dinner at St. Joseph’s Hermitage nearby, Benedict XVI appeared at the lower terrace of the basilica and watched the closing stages of the torchlight procession from the Grotto of the Apparitions to the basilica.
Night was fully upon the crowd of pilgrims as Pope Benedict began recounting the miraculous encounter of Bernadette of Soubirous with the Blessed Mother 150 years ago.
"On February 11, 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," the Pope said.
"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.”
The Pope found the grotto, which is continually awash with the light of hundreds of candles, an even more apparent sign of the glorious light of God. “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."
Benedict XVI indicated that "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.”
It is important to note that, while Mary is the one who appeared to St. Bernadette, Mary continually pointed the young girl to contemplate God through the Rosary, the Pope underscored.
“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."
The theme a light appeared once again as Benedict XVI pointed out that John Paul II visited Lourdes on two occasions and "keenly encouraged the prayer of the Rosary." In fact, the Pope noted, his predecessor 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 Pontiff assured.
Reflecting on the procession, Pope Benedict explored the different dimensions it carries. The 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 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.”
With these intentions in mind, the Holy Father turned to Mary’s example. "Mary," he said, "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."