.- This coming Friday, Pope Benedict XVI will fly from Rome to Paris, thereby commencing his first visit as Pope to France. In anticipation of the visit, the Holy Father has penned a message to the nation lauding its strong tradition of faith and culture.
"On the eve of my arrival," writes the Holy Father, "I send cordial greetings to the French people and to all the inhabitants of that beloved nation. I am coming as a messenger of peace and fraternity. I know your country well. On various occasions I have had the pleasure of visiting it and of appreciating its generous tradition of welcome and tolerance, as well as the solidity of its Christian faith and of its exalted human and spiritual culture.
"On this occasion the reason for my trip is to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes," he adds. "After visiting Paris, the capital of your country, it will be my immense joy to join the multitude of pilgrims as they follow the stages of the Jubilee journey, in the footsteps of St. Bernadette, to the grotto of Massabielle. At the feet of Our Lady, I will pray intensely for the intentions of the entire Church, particularly the sick and the needy, as well as for peace in the world."
The youth have been on Pope Benedict’s mind and heart as evidenced by his request for prayers for the youth of France this past Monday. In his letter, Benedict turns his attention to the youth again: "For all of you, and especially for the young, may Mary be a mother ever- ready to meet the needs of her children, a light of hope that illuminates and guides you on your way."
The Pope concludes his message by inviting everyone to pray for the success of his journey, and by invoking the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary.