.- The Holy Father thanked the French for their hospitality during his four-day trip that ended with a departure ceremony on Monday afternoon. During his closing remarks, the Pontiff recalled that before the Grotto of Massabielle, he spent time praying for the pilgrims, for the Church, for France, and for the world.
Following this morning’s Mass for the sick, the Pope traveled to the airport of Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees for his farewell ceremony. Present for the celebration were the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, political and civil authorities, the bishops of the Mini-Pyrenees region, and the president, vice president and secretary general of the Conference of Bishops of France.
Benedict XVI thanked all who had worked “devotedly and whole-heartedly for the successful outcome,” of his four day visit to France.
He described his journey in terms of the two panel piece of art called a diptych.
The first panel of the visit was “Paris, a city that I know well and the scene for several important meetings. There I met a vibrant people, proud of their firm faith; I came to encourage them to persevere courageously in living out the teaching of Christ and His Church," he said.
The Pope then highlighted the importance of some of his meetings in Paris. “How can I fail to recall here the prestigious encounter with the world of culture at the Institut de France and the College des Bernardins? As you know, I consider culture and its proponents to be the privileged vehicles of dialogue between faith and reason, between God and man."
The second panel of the diptych contained “a symbolic place, which attracts and fascinates every believer,” Pope Benedict commented. Picking up on the theme of light which was a prominent feature of his preaching, the Holy Father depicted Lourdes as “like a light in the darkness of our groping to reach God. Mary opened there a gate towards a hereafter which challenges and charms us."
"The Pope was duty bound to come to Lourdes to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions,” he said. “Before the Grotto of Massabielle, I prayed for all of you. I prayed for the Church. I prayed for France and for the world.”
Similar to all other pilgrims, the Holy Father explained, “I completed all four stages of the Jubilee Way, visiting the parish church, the Cachot and the Grotto, and finally the chapel of the hospital. I also prayed with and for the sick who come here to seek physical relief and spiritual hope. God does not forget them, and neither does the Church. Like every faithful pilgrim, I wanted to take part in the torchlight procession and the Blessed Sacrament procession. They carry aloft to God our prayers and our praise," he reminded.
Benedict XVI also recalled how he shared with French bishops "my conviction that the times are favorable for a return to God."
"May God bless France!" he cried. "May harmony and human progress reign on her soil, and may the Church be the leaven in the dough that indicates with wisdom and without fear, according to her specific duty, who God is!"
After expressing his desire to return to France in the future, the Holy Father promised that "From Rome I shall remain close to you, and when I pray before the replica of the Lourdes Grotto which has been in the Vatican Gardens for a little over a century, I shall think of you."
Minutes later, Pope Benedict boarded his flight and departed, arriving two hours later at Rome’s Ciampino airport. From there, the Holy Father traveled to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.