On Thursday evening five thousand people with illnesses, supported by volunteers, family and friends, processed the half-mile from Castel Sant'Angelo, on the banks of Rome's Tiber River, to St. Peter's Square for the World Day of the Sick. The group was accompanied by the relics of St. Bernadette Soubirous, and was met at the end by the Holy Father himself.
The thousands of pilgrims carried candles and sang the Ave Maria of Lourdes as they made their way up the "Via della Conciliazione" to receive the Apostolic blessing from Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Square.
The throng, carrying with them the relics of St. Bernadette, brought the "atmosphere and sense of devotion that are breathed each day in the French sanctuary" to the Holy See, reported Vatican Radio.
In his blessing, the Holy Father welcomed the group emphatically, saying, "Dear friends! Thank you for your prayer, thanks for your love for the sick, for our Lord!"
"With all my heart I impart on you the Apostolic blessing!"
The procession, which was followed by a fireworks display, marked the conclusion of the Vatican's celebration of the 18th annual World Day for the Sick. Mass had been celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI for the occasion and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes earlier on Thursday.