.- More than 100,000 pilgrims gathered in Lourdes on Sunday morning for the final Mass of the celebrations surrounding the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes. âThere is a love in this world that is stronger than death,â than our sins and our imperfections, the Pope proclaimed as he led the celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
The final Mass, which was held on the meadow adjacent to the Shrine of Lourdes, commenced shortly after Pope Benedict made his way through the crowd in his popemobile.
"On this day when the Church's liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross", he said in his homily, "the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery: ... The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross. By His Cross we are saved.
"The instrument of torture, which on Good Friday manifested God's judgment on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace,â the Pope stated. ... The Church invites us ... to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew."
"It is significant," he observed, "that during the first apparition to Bernadette Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross," this is "an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, ... it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death. ... The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God's love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes."
"The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. ... It is He Who will make us free to love as He loves us, and to build a reconciled world. For on this Cross, Jesus took upon Himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ."
The celebration of the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Lourdes, said the Holy Father, "urges us to embark upon a journey of faith and conversion. Today, Mary comes to meet us, so as to show us the way towards a renewal of life for our communities and for each one of us."
"Jesus, born of Mary, is the Son of God, the sole Savior of all people, living and acting in His Church and in the world. The Church is sent everywhere in the world to proclaim this unique message and to invite people to receive it through an authentic conversion of heart. This mission, entrusted by Jesus to His disciples, receives here, on the occasion of this Jubilee, a breath of new life."
Following the Jubilee Way in the footsteps of Bernadette, "we are reminded of the heart of the message of Lourdes. Bernadette is the eldest daughter of a very poor family, with neither knowledge nor power, and in poor health. Mary chose her to transmit her message of conversion, prayer and penance, which fully accord with words of Jesus: 'What you have hidden from the wise and understanding, you have revealed to babes'. ... It is therefore a genuine catechesis that is being proposed to us in this way, under Mary's gaze."
When the "beautiful lady" revealed her name to Bernadette - "I am the Immaculate Conception" - she disclosed "the extraordinary grace that she has received from God. ... Mary is the woman from this earth who gave herself totally to God, and who received the privilege of giving human life to His eternal Son."
"She is beauty transfigured, the image of the new humanity. By presenting herself in this way, in utter dependence upon God, Mary expresses in reality an attitude of total freedom, based upon the full recognition of her true dignity.
"This privilege," the Pope added, "concerns us too, for it discloses to us our own dignity as men and women, admittedly marked by sin, but saved in hope, a hope which allows us to face our daily life."
"The primary purpose of the shrine at Lourdes is to be a place of encounter with God in prayer and a place of service to our brothers and sisters, notably through the welcome given to the sick, the poor and all who suffer. In this place, Mary comes to us as a mother. ... Through the light which streams from her face, God's mercy is made manifest. ... Mary comes to remind us that prayer ... must have a central place in our Christian lives. Prayer is indispensable if we are to receive Christ's power."
Benedict XVI then went on to note that "the presence of young people at Lourdes is also an important element. ... When Mary received the angel's visit, she was a young girl from Nazareth leading the simple and courageous life typical of the women of her village. And if God's gaze focused particularly upon her, trusting in her, Mary wants to tell you once more that not one of you is indifferent in God's eyes. ... Mary was ... conscious of her frailty in the face of God's omnipotence. Nevertheless, she said 'yes', without hesitating. And thanks to her yes, salvation came into the world, thereby changing the history of mankind.""Mary's message is a message of hope for all men and women of our day, whatever their country of origin," the Holy Father concluded. "I like to invoke Mary as the 'star of hope' ... who enlightens us and gives direction to our journey. Through her 'yes,' through the generous gift of herself, she has opened up to God the gates of our world and our history. And she invites us to live ... in invincible hope, refusing to believe those who claim that we are trapped in the fatal power of destiny."