As is traditional at the general audience following a papal visit, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated today's audience to commenting on his trip to France for the 150th anniversary of the Marian Apparitions in Lourdes. He asked his audience to praise the Lord, for "Mary, appearing to St. Bernadette, opened a privileged place to encounter the divine love which heals and saves."
Pope Benedict began his speech by thanking the archbishop of Paris and the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes for guaranteeing the success of the trip. The Pontiff also offered his gratitude to the President of the French Republic for his hospitality.
He proceeded, then, to recall Paris, where his trip began. There, "a healthy distinction" between the political and religious spheres matured according to Jesus' words: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." "A true separation between church and state does not leave out the spiritual dimension," the Holy Father explained, "but acknowledges that the latter is, in a radical way, a guarantee of our
freedom and autonomy in earthly matters."
Pope Benedict then recounted his meeting with the world of culture, during which he addressed the theme: "The origins of Western theology and the roots of European culture."
The roots of Europe’s culture grew out of a time of crisis in ancient civilization, Benedict XVI reminded. In the midst of this crisis, monks, oriented by the light of faith, chose "the way of listening to the Word of God." …“In seeking God Who revealed Himself to us in Sacred Scripture, an important role was played by the physical sciences, which seek to investigate the secrets of language. Consequently, what developed in monasteries was the 'eruditio' which facilitated the formation of culture. Precisely for this reason 'quaerere Deum' - seeking God - is today, as it was yesterday, the foundation of all true culture," he said.
Artistic expression and architecture, including Paris' cathedral of Notre Dame, are the result of the search for God, and it was in this cathedral that the Pope addressed priests, deacons, religious and seminarians. He exhorted them to give priority to listening to the Divine Word, "looking to the Virgin Mary as the sublime example."
The Pope then turned to his greeting of the numerous and enthusiastic young people in the cathedral square, where he entrusted two treasures of the Christian faith to them: the Holy Spirit and the Cross. The Holy Spirit makes human intelligence "comprehend the beauty and truth of the love of God revealed on the Cross," he said.
The Holy Father recounted that after a brief stop at the Institut de France, of which he is a member, he celebrated Holy Mass on the Esplanade des Invalides. Like Paul addressing the Corinthians, he invited the faithful of Paris and all of France to search for the living God, who shows "his true face in Jesus present in the Eucharist."
Next, Pope Benedict spoke about his visit to Lourdes, where on Saturday evening he participated in the traditional torchlight procession, an event he called "a stupendous expression of faith in God and of devotion to his and our Mother."
On Sunday, when he celebrated the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Pope Benedict delivered a homily in which he spoke of Mary’s appearance to Bernadette in the grotto of Massabielle. Mary's first gesture, he noted, was the Sign of the Cross, "a first initiation in the essence of Christianity." "The entire message of Lourdes is contained in that gesture of Our Lady," he highlighted.
The Cross, the Pope added, "reminds us that true love without suffering does not exist."
Later, there was his meeting with the French episcopate and the Eucharistic procession with thousands of faithful, including many sick people. Reflecting on the procession, the Holy Father remarked, "The silence of these thousands of people before the Lord was moving." He described the silence as "not empty, but full of prayer and awareness of the presence of the Lord."
Pope Benedict noted Monday, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, was dedicated in a special way to the sick. He briefly visited the hospital chapel where Bernadette made her First Holy Communion and then, celebrated Holy Mass in the square in front of the Basilica of the Rosary, during which he anointed the sick.
The Pope concluded his reflections on the trip by stating, "In Lourdes, the Virgin Mary's smile invites us to go forward with great trust in the knowledge that God is good, God is love."