Bookmark and Share

Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Visit to France

for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes

12 - 15 September 2008

On 12th September, Pape Benoît was interviewed during the flight to France. In Paris, he met with authorities of State at the Elysée Palace, with representatives of the Jewish community, with representatives from the world of culture at the Collège des Bernardins, celebrated Vespers with priests, religious, seminarians and deacons gathered at Notre-Dame Cathedral, greeted the young people gathered in the esplanade in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral & those waiting in front of the balcony of the Apostolic Nunciature.

On 13th September, Papa Benedict visited the Institut de France & celebrated Mass on the Esplanade des Invalides in Paris before journeying to Lourdes.

On arrival in Lourdes, our Holy Father joined in the torchlight procession in Rosary Square. The following day, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, Pape Benoît celebrated Mass in the Prairie, followed by the Angelus. He then met with the French Bishops in the Hemicycle Sainte-Bernadette before participating in the Blessed Sacrament Procession in the Prairie. On 15 September, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the sick in the Esplanade in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary before saying farewell from the Airport of Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées.

Homélie du Pape Benoît XVI - Fête de saint Jean Chrysostome 2008
Esplanade des Invalides, Paris - in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Monsieur le Cardinal Vingt-Trois,
Messieurs les Cardinaux et Chers Frères dans l'Épiscopat,
Frères et sœurs dans le Christ,
Jésus-Christ nous rassemble en cet admirable lieu, au cœur de Paris, en ce jour où l'Église universelle fête saint Jean Chrysostome, l'un de ses plus grands Docteurs qui par son témoignage de vie et son enseignement, a montré efficacement aux chrétiens la route à suivre. Je salue avec joie toutes les Autorités qui m'ont accueilli en cette noble cité, tout spécialement le Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, que je remercie pour ses aimables paroles. Je salue aussi tous les Évêques, les Prêtres, les Diacres qui m'entourent pour la célébration du sacrifice du Christ. Je remercie toutes les Personnalités, en particulier Monsieur le Premier Ministre, qui ont tenu à être présentes ici ce matin ; je les assure de ma prière fervente pour l'accomplissement de leur haute mission au service de leurs concitoyens.

La première Lettre de saint Paul, adressée aux Corinthiens, nous fait découvrir, en cette année paulinienne qui s'est ouverte le 28 juin dernier, à quel point les conseils donnés par l'Apôtre restent d'actualité. « Fuyez le culte des idoles » (1 Co 10, 14), écrit-il à une communauté très marquée par le paganisme et partagée entre l'adhésion à la nouveauté de l'Évangile et l'observance de vieilles pratiques héritées de ses ancêtres. Fuir les idoles, cela voulait dire alors, cesser d'honorer les divinités de l'Olympe et de leur offrir des sacrifices sanglants. Fuir les idoles, c'était se mettre à l'école des prophètes de l'Ancien Testament qui dénonçaient la tendance humaine à se forger de fausses représentations de Dieu. Comme le dit le Psaume 113 à propos des statues des idoles, elles ne sont qu’ « or et argent, ouvrages de mains humaines. Elles ont une bouche et ne parlent pas, des yeux et ne voient pas, des oreilles et n'entendent pas, des narines et ne sentent pas » (4-5). Hormis le peuple d'Israël, qui avait reçu la révélation du Dieu unique, le monde antique était asservi au culte des idoles. Très présentes à Corinthe, les erreurs du paganisme devaient être dénoncées, car elles constituaient une puissante aliénation et détournaient l'homme de sa véritable destinée. Elles l'empêchaient de reconnaître que le Christ est le seul et vrai Sauveur, le seul qui indique à l'homme le chemin vers Dieu.

Cet appel à fuir les idoles reste pertinent aujourd'hui. Le monde contemporain ne s'est-il pas créé ses propres idoles ? N'a-t-il pas imité, peut-être à son insu, les païens de l'Antiquité, en détournant l'homme de sa fin véritable, du bonheur de vivre éternellement avec Dieu ? C'est là une question que tout homme, honnête avec lui-même, ne peut que se poser. Qu'est-ce qui est important dans ma vie ? Qu'est-ce que je mets à la première place ? Le mot « idole » vient du grec et signifie « image », « figure », « représentation », mais aussi « spectre », « fantôme », « vaine apparence ». L'idole est un leurre, car elle détourne son serviteur de la réalité pour le cantonner dans le royaume de l'apparence. Or n'est-ce pas une tentation propre à notre époque, la seule sur laquelle nous puissions agir efficacement ? Tentation d'idolâtrer un passé qui n'existe plus, en oubliant ses carences, tentation d'idolâtrer un avenir qui n'existe pas encore, en croyant que, par ses seules forces, l'homme réalisera le bonheur éternel sur la terre ! Saint Paul explique aux Colossiens que la cupidité insatiable est une idolâtrie (Cf. 3,5) et il rappelle à son disciple Timothée que l'amour de l'argent est la racine de tous les maux. Pour s'y être livrés, précise-t-il, «certains se sont égarés loin de la foi et se sont infligés à eux-mêmes des tourments sans nombre » (1 Tm 6, 10). L'argent, la soif de l'avoir, du pouvoir et même du savoir n'ont-ils pas détourné l'homme de sa Fin véritable, de sa propre vérité ?

Chers frères et sœurs, la question que nous pose la liturgie de ce jour trouve sa réponse dans cette même liturgie, que nous avons héritée de nos Pères dans la foi, et notamment de saint  Paul lui-même (Cf. 1 Co 11, 23). Dans son commentaire de ce texte, saint Jean Chrysostome fait remarquer que saint Paul condamne sévèrement l'idolâtrie, qui est une « faute grave », un « scandale », une véritable « peste » (Homélie 24 sur la première Lettre aux Corinthiens, 1). Immédiatement, il ajoute que cette condamnation radicale de l'idolâtrie n'est en aucun cas une condamnation de la personne de l'idolâtre. Jamais, dans nos jugements, nous ne devons confondre le péché qui est inacceptable, et le pécheur dont nous ne pouvons pas juger l’état de la conscience et qui, de toute façon, est toujours susceptible de conversion et de pardon. Saint Paul en appelle à la raison de ses lecteurs : « Je vous parle comme à des gens réfléchis : jugez vous-mêmes de ce que je dis » (1 Co 10, 15). Jamais Dieu ne demande à l'homme de faire le sacrifice de sa raison ! Jamais la raison n'entre en contradiction réelle avec la foi ! L'unique Dieu, Père, Fils et Esprit Saint, a créé notre raison et nous donne la foi, en proposant à notre liberté de la recevoir comme un don précieux. C'est le culte des idoles qui détourne l'homme de cette perspective, et la raison elle-même peut se forger des idoles. Demandons donc à Dieu qui nous voit et nous entend, de nous aider à nous purifier de toutes nos idoles, pour accéder à la vérité de notre être, pour accéder à la vérité de son être infini !

Comment parvenir à Dieu ? Comment parvenir à trouver ou retrouver Celui que l'homme cherche au plus profond de lui-même, tout en l'oubliant si souvent ? Saint Paul nous demande de faire usage non seulement de notre raison, mais surtout de notre foi pour le découvrir. Or, que nous dit la foi? Le pain que nous rompons est communion au Corps du Christ ; la coupe d'action de grâce que nous bénissons est communion au Sang du Christ. Révélation extraordinaire, qui nous vient du Christ et qui nous est transmise par les Apôtres et par toute l'Église depuis deux millénaires : le Christ a institué le sacrement de l'Eucharistie au soir du Jeudi Saint. Il a voulu que son sacrifice soit de nouveau présenté, de manière non sanglante, chaque fois qu'un prêtre redit les paroles de la consécration sur le pain et le vin. Des millions de fois, depuis deux mille ans, dans la plus humble des chapelles comme dans la plus grandiose des basiliques ou des cathédrales, le Seigneur ressuscité s'est donné à son peuple, devenant ainsi, selon la formule de saint Augustin, « plus intime à nous-mêmes que nous-mêmes » (cf. Confessions III, 6. 11).

Frères et sœurs, entourons de la plus grande vénération le sacrement du Corps et du Sang du Seigneur, le Très Saint-Sacrement de la présence réelle du Seigneur à son Église et à toute l'humanité. Ne négligeons rien pour lui manifester notre respect et notre amour ! Donnons-lui les plus grandes marques d'honneur ! Par nos paroles, nos silences et nos gestes, n'acceptons jamais de laisser s'affadir en nous et autour de nous la foi dans le Christ ressuscité présent dans l'Eucharistie ! Comme le dit magnifiquement saint Jean Chrysostome lui-même : « Passons en revue les ineffables bienfaits de Dieu et tous les biens dont il nous fait jouir, lorsque nous lui offrons cette coupe, lorsque nous communions, lui rendant grâce d'avoir délivré le genre humain de l'erreur, d'avoir rapproché de lui ceux qui en étaient éloignés, d'avoir fait, des désespérés, et des athées de ce monde, un peuple de frères, de cohéritiers du Fils de Dieu » (Homélie 24 sur la Première Lettre aux Corinthiens, 1). En effet, poursuit-il, « ce qui est dans la coupe, c'est précisément ce qui a coulé de son côté, et c'est à cela que nous participons » (ibid.). Il n'y a pas seulement participation et partage, il y a «union», dit-il.

La Messe est le sacrifice d'action de grâce par excellence, celui qui nous permet d'unir notre propre action de grâce à celle du Sauveur, le Fils éternel du Père. En elle-même, la Messe nous invite aussi à fuir les idoles, car, saint Paul insiste, « vous ne pouvez pas en même temps prendre part à la table du Seigneur et à celle des esprits mauvais » (1 Co 10, 21). La Messe nous invite à discerner ce qui, en nous, obéit à l'Esprit de Dieu et ce qui, en nous, reste à l'écoute de l'esprit du mal. Dans la Messe, nous ne voulons appartenir qu'au Christ et nous reprenons avec gratitude le cri du psalmiste : « Comment rendrai-je au Seigneur tout le bien qu'Il m'a fait ? » (Ps 115, 12). Oui, comment rendre grâce au Seigneur pour la vie qu'Il nous a donnée ? Là encore, la réponse à la question du psalmiste se trouve dans le psaume lui-même, car la Parole de Dieu répond miséricordieusement elle-même aux questions qu'elle pose. Comment rendre grâce au Seigneur pour tout le bien qu'il nous fait sinon en se conformant à ses propres paroles : « J'élèverai la coupe du salut, j'invoquerai le nom du Seigneur » (Ps 115,13) ?

Élever la coupe du salut et invoquer le nom du Seigneur, n'est-ce pas précisément le meilleur moyen de « fuir les idoles », comme nous le demande saint Paul ? Chaque fois qu'une Messe est célébrée, chaque fois que le Christ se rend sacramentellement présent dans son Église, c'est l’œuvre de notre salut qui s'accomplit. Célébrer l’Eucharistie signifie reconnaître que Dieu seul est en mesure de nous offrir le bonheur en plénitude, de nous enseigner les vraies valeurs, les valeurs éternelles qui ne connaîtront jamais de couchant. Dieu est présent sur l'autel, mais il est aussi présent sur l'autel de notre cœur lorsque, en communiant, nous le recevons dans le Sacrement eucharistique. Lui seul nous apprend à fuir les idoles, mirages de la pensée.

Or, chers frères et sœurs, qui peut élever la coupe du salut et invoquer le nom du Seigneur au nom du peuple de Dieu tout entier, sinon le prêtre ordonné dans ce but par l'Évêque ? Ici, chers fidèles de Paris et de la région parisienne, mais aussi vous tous qui êtes venus de la France entière et d'autres pays limitrophes, permettez-moi de lancer un appel confiant en la foi et en la générosité des jeunes qui se posent la question de la vocation religieuse ou sacerdotale : n'ayez pas peur ! N'ayez pas peur de donner votre vie au Christ ! Rien ne remplacera jamais le ministère des prêtres au cœur de l'Église ! Rien ne remplacera jamais une Messe pour le Salut du monde ! Chers jeunes ou moins jeunes qui m'écoutez, ne laissez pas l'appel du Christ sans réponse. Saint Jean Chrysostome, dans son Traité sur le sacerdoce, a montré combien la réponse de l'homme pouvait être lente à venir, cependant il est l'exemple vivant de l'action de Dieu au cœur d'une liberté humaine qui se laisse façonner par sa grâce.

Enfin, si nous reprenons les paroles que le Christ nous a laissées dans son Évangile, nous verrons qu'Il nous a lui-même appris à fuir l'idolâtrie, en nous invitant à bâtir notre maison « sur le roc » (Lc 6, 48). Qui est ce roc, sinon Lui-même ? Nos pensées, nos paroles et nos actions n'acquièrent leur véritable dimension que si nous les référons au message de l'Évangile. « Ce que dit la bouche, c'est ce qui déborde du cœur » (Lc 6, 45). Lorsque nous parlons, cherchons-nous le bien de notre interlocuteur ? Lorsque nous pensons, cherchons-nous à mettre notre pensée en accord avec la pensée de Dieu ? Lorsque nous agissons, cherchons-nous à répandre l'Amour qui nous fait vivre? Saint Jean Chrysostome dit encore : « maintenant, si nous participons tous au même pain, et si tous nous devenons cette même substance, pourquoi ne montrons-nous pas la même charité ? Pourquoi, pour la même raison, ne devenons-nous pas un même tout unique ? … ô homme, c'est le Christ qui est venu te chercher, toi qui étais si loin de lui, pour s'unir à toi ; et toi, tu ne veux pas t'unir à ton frère ? » (Homélie 24 sur la Première Lettre aux Corinthiens, 2).

L'espérance demeurera toujours la plus forte ! L'Église, bâtie sur le roc du Christ, possède les promesses de la vie éternelle, non parce que ses membres seraient plus saints que les autres hommes, mais parce que le Christ a fait cette promesse à Pierre : « Tu es Pierre, et sur cette pierre, je bâtirai mon Église, et la puissance de la mort ne l'emportera pas sur elle. » (Mt 16, 18). Dans cette espérance indéfectible de la présence éternelle de Dieu à chacune de nos âmes, dans cette joie de savoir que le Christ est avec nous jusqu'à la fin des temps, dans cette force que l'Esprit donne à tous ceux et à toutes celles qui acceptent de se laisser saisir par lui, je vous confie, chers chrétiens de Paris et de France, à l'action puissante et miséricordieuse du Dieu d'amour qui est mort pour nous sur la Croix et ressuscité victorieusement au matin de Pâques. À tous les hommes de bonne volonté qui m'écoutent, je redis comme saint Paul : Fuyez le culte des idoles, ne vous lassez pas de faire le bien !

Que Dieu notre Père vous conduise à Lui et fasse briller sur vous la splendeur de sa gloire ! Que le Fils unique de Dieu, notre Maître et notre Frère, vous révèle la beauté de son visage de Ressuscité ! Que l'Esprit Saint vous comble de ses dons et vous donne la joie de connaître la paix et la lumière de la Très Sainte Trinité, maintenant et dans les siècles des siècles ! Amen !"

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily during the Torchlight Procession
Rosary Square, Saturday, 13 September 2008 - in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Bishop Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes, Dear Brothers in the episcopate and the priesthood, Dear Pilgrims, dear Brothers and Sisters,

150 years ago, on 11 February 1858, in this place known as the Grotto of Massabielle, away from the town, a simple young girl from Lourdes, Bernadette Soubirous, saw a light, and in this light she saw a young lady who was “beautiful, more beautiful than any other”. This woman addressed her with kindness and gentleness, with respect and trust: “She said vous to me”, Bernadette recounted, “Would you do me the kindness of coming here for a fortnight?” she asked her. “She was looking at me as one person who speaks to another.” It was in this conversation, in this dialogue marked by such delicacy, that the Lady instructed her to deliver certain very simple messages on prayer, penance and conversion. It is hardly surprising that Mary should be beautiful, given that — during the apparition of 25 March 1858 — she reveals her name in this way: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Let us now look at this “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1) as she is described for us in Scripture. The Most Holy Virgin Mary, the glorious woman of the Apocalypse, wears on her head a crown of twelve stars which represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the entire people of God, the whole communion of saints, while at her feet is the moon, image of death and mortality. Mary left death behind her; she is entirely re-clothed with life, the life of her Son, the risen Christ. She is thus the sign of the victory of love, of good and of God, giving our world the hope that it needs. This evening, let us turn our gaze towards Mary, so glorious and so human, allowing her to lead us towards God who is the victor.

Countless people have borne witness to this: when they encountered Bernadette’s radiant face, it left a deep impression on their hearts and minds. Whether it was during the apparitions themselves or while she was recounting them, her face was simply shining. Bernadette from that time on had the light of Massabielle dwelling within her. The daily life of the Soubirous family was nevertheless a tale of deprivation and sadness, sickness and incomprehension, rejection and poverty. Even if there was no lack of love and warmth in family relationships, life at the cachot was hard. Nevertheless, the shadows of the earth did not prevent the light of heaven from shining. “The light shines in the darkness …” (Jn 1:5).

Lourdes is one of the places chosen by God for his beauty to be reflected with particular brightness, hence the importance here of the symbol of light. From the fourth apparition onwards, on arriving at the grotto, Bernadette would light a votive candle each morning and hold it in her left hand for as long as the Virgin was visible to her. Soon, people would give Bernadette a candle to plant in the ground inside the grotto. Very soon, too, people would place their own candles in this place of light and peace. The Mother of God herself let it be known that she liked the touching homage of these thousands of torches, which since that time have continued to shine upon the rock of the apparition and give her glory. From that day, before the grotto, night and day, summer and winter, a burning bush shines out, aflame with the prayers of pilgrims and the sick, who bring their concerns and their needs, but above all their faith and their hope.

By coming here to Lourdes on pilgrimage, we wish to enter, following in Bernadette’s footsteps, into this extraordinary closeness between heaven and earth, which never fails and never ceases to grow. In the course of the apparitions, it is notable that Bernadette prays the rosary under the gaze of Mary, who unites herself to her at the moment of the doxology. This fact confirms the profoundly theocentric character of the prayer of the rosary. When we pray it, Mary offers us her heart and her gaze in order to contemplate the life of her Son, Jesus Christ. My venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, came here to Lourdes on two occasions. In his life and ministry, we know how much his prayer relied upon the Virgin Mary’s intercession. Like many of his predecessors in the Chair of Peter, he also keenly encouraged the prayer of the rosary; one of the particular ways in which he did so was by enriching the Holy Rosary with the meditation of the Mysteries of Light. These are now represented on the facade of the Basilica in the new mosaics inaugurated last year. As with all the events in the life of Christ, “which she preserved and pondered in her heart” (Lk 2:19), Mary helps us to understand all the stages in his public ministry as integral to the revelation of God’s glory. May Lourdes, the land of light, continue to be a school for learning to pray the Rosary, which introduces the disciples of Jesus, under the gaze of his Mother, into an authentic and cordial dialogue with his Master!

On Bernadette’s lips we hear the Virgin Mary asking us to come here in procession so as to pray with simplicity and fervour. The torchlight procession expresses the mystery of prayer in a form that our eyes of flesh can grasp: in the communion of the Church, which unites the elect in heaven with pilgrims on earth, the light of dialogue between man and his Lord blazes forth and a luminous path opens up in human history, even in its darkest moments. This procession is a time of great ecclesial joy, but also a time of seriousness: the intentions we bring emphasize our profound communion with all those who suffer. We think of innocent victims who suffer from violence, war, terrorism, and famine; those who bear the consequences of injustices, scourges and disasters, hatred and oppression; of attacks on their human dignity and fundamental rights; on their freedom to act and think. We also think of those undergoing family problems or suffering caused by unemployment, illness, infirmity, loneliness, or their situation as immigrants. Nor must we forget those who suffer for the name of Christ and die for him.

Mary teaches us to pray, to make of our prayer an act of love for God and an act of fraternal charity. By praying with Mary, our heart welcomes those who suffer. How can our life not be transformed by this? Why should our whole life and being not become places of hospitality for our neighbours? Lourdes is a place of light because it is a place of communion, hope and conversion.

As night falls, Jesus says to us: “Keep your lamps burning” (Lk 12:35); the lamp of faith, the lamp of prayer, the lamp of hope and love! This act of walking through the night, carrying the light, speaks powerfully to the depths of ourselves, touches our heart and says much more than any other word uttered or heard. This gesture itself summarizes our condition as Christians on a journey: we need light, and at the same time are called to be light. Sin makes us blind, it prevents us from putting ourselves forward as guides for our brothers and sisters, and it makes us unwilling to trust them to guide us. We need to be enlightened, and we repeat the prayer of blind Bartimaeus: “Master, let me receive my sight!” (Mk 10:51). Let me see my sin which holds me back, but above all, Lord, let me see your glory! We know that our prayer has already been granted and we give thanks because, as St Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians, “Christ shall give you light” (5:14), and St Peter adds, “he called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet 2:9).

To us who are not the light, Christ can now say: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14), entrusting us with the responsibility to cause the light of charity to shine. As the Apostle Saint John writes, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 Jn 2:10). To live Christian love, means at the same time to introduce God’s light into the world and to point out its true source. St Leo the Great writes: “Whoever, in fact, lives a holy and chaste life in the Church, whoever sets his mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (cf Col 3:2), in a certain way resembles heavenly light; as long as he himself observes the brilliance of a holy life, he shows to many, like a star, the path that leads to God” (Sermon III:5).

In this shrine at Lourdes, to which the Christians of the whole world have turned their gaze since the Virgin Mary caused hope and love to shine here by giving pride of place to the sick, the poor and the little ones, we are invited to discover the simplicity of our vocation: it is enough to love.

Tomorrow, the celebration of the exaltation of the Holy Cross brings us into the very heart of this mystery. At this vigil, our gaze is already turned towards the sign of the new covenant on which the whole life of Jesus converges. The cross is the supreme and perfect act of the love of Jesus, who lays down his life for his friends. “So must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15).

As proclaimed in the Songs of the Suffering Servant, the death of Jesus is a death which becomes a light for the nations; it is a death which, in intimate association with the liturgy of atonement, brings reconciliation, it is a death which marks the end of death. From that day onwards, the Cross is a sign of hope, Jesus’ victory standard, “because God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Through the Cross, our whole life gains light, strength and hope. The Cross reveals the whole depth of love contained in the original design of the Creator; through the Cross, all is healed and brought to completion. That is why life lived with faith in Christ dead and risen becomes light.

The apparitions were bathed in light and God chose to ignite in Bernadette’s gaze a flame which converted countless hearts. How many come here to see it with the hope — secretly perhaps — of receiving some miracle; then, on the return journey, having had a spiritual experience of life in the Church, they change their outlook upon God, upon others and upon themselves. A small flame called hope, compassion, tenderness now dwells within them. A quiet encounter with Bernadette and the Virgin Mary can change a person’s life, for they are here, in Massabielle, to lead us to Christ who is our life, our strength and our light. May the Virgin Mary and Saint Bernadette help you to live as children of light in order to testify, every day of your lives, that Christ is our light, our hope and our life!"

Papa Benedetto's Homily at the Eucharistic Celebration on 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Prairie, Lourdes - Sunday, 14 September 2008 - in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Cardinals, Dear Bishop Perrier, Dear Brothers in the episcopate and the priesthood, Dear pilgrims, brothers and sisters,

“Go and tell the priests that people should come here in procession, and that a chapel should be built here.” This is the message Bernadette received from the “beautiful lady” in the apparition of 2 March 1858. For 150 years, pilgrims have never ceased to come to the grotto of Massabielle to hear the message of conversion and hope which is addressed to them. And we have done the same; here we are this morning at the feet of Mary, the Immaculate Virgin, eager to learn from her alongside little Bernadette.

I would like to thank especially Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes for the warm welcome he has given me, and for the kind words he has addressed to me. I greet the Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests, the deacons, the men and women religious, and all of you, dear Lourdes pilgrims, especially the sick. You have come in large numbers to make this Jubilee pilgrimage with me and to entrust your families, your relatives and friends, and all your intentions to Our Lady. My thanks go also to the civil and military Authorities who are here with us at this Eucharistic celebration.

“What a great thing it is to possess the Cross! He who possesses it possesses a treasure” (St Andrew of Crete, Homily X on the Exaltation of the Cross). On this day when the Church’s liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Gospel you have just heard reminds us of the meaning of this great mystery: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that men might be saved (cf Jn 3:16). The Son of God became vulnerable, assuming the condition of a slave, obedient even to death, death on a cross (cf Phil 2:8). By his Cross we are saved. The instrument of torture which, on Good Friday, manifested God’s judgement on the world, has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation and peace. “In order to be healed from sin, gaze upon Christ crucified!” said St Augustine (Treatise on St John, XII, 11). By raising our eyes towards the Crucified one, we adore him who came to take upon himself the sin of the world and to give us eternal life. And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified one for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew. On this wood Jesus reveals to us his sovereign majesty, he reveals to us that he is exalted in glory. Yes, “Come, let us adore him!” In our midst is he who loved us even to giving his life for us, he who invites every human being to draw near to him with trust.

This is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son. In fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it 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, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. 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. She invites all people of good will, all those who suffer in heart or body, to raise their eyes towards the Cross of Jesus, so as to discover there the source of life, the source of salvation.

The Church has received the mission of showing all people this loving face of God, manifested in Jesus Christ. Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards 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. We entrust all this to Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother, present at the foot of the Cross.

In order to welcome into our lives this glorious Cross, the celebration of the Jubilee of Our Lady’s apparitions in Lourdes 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. By welcoming her Son, whom she presents to us, we are plunged into a living stream in which the faith can rediscover new vigour, in which the Church can be strengthened so as to proclaim the mystery of Christ ever more boldly. Jesus, born of Mary, is the Son of God, the sole Saviour 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. After the example of the great evangelizers from your country, may the missionary spirit which animated so many men and women from France over the centuries, continue to be your pride and your commitment!

When we follow 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” (Mt 11:25). On their spiritual journey, Christians too are called to render fruitful the grace of their Baptism, to nourish themselves with the Eucharist, to draw strength from prayer so as to bear witness and to express solidarity with all their fellow human beings (cf Homage to the Virgin Mary, Piazza di Spagna, 8 December 2007). It is therefore a genuine catechesis that is being proposed to us in this way, under Mary’s gaze. Let us allow her to instruct us too, and to guide us along the path that leads to the Kingdom of her Son!

In the course of her catechesis, the “beautiful lady” reveals her name to Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. Mary thereby discloses the extraordinary grace that she has received from God, that of having been conceived without sin, for “he has looked on his servant in her lowliness” (cf Lk 1:48). 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. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me” (Lk 1:38). 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 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. This is the path which Mary opens up for man. To give oneself fully to God is to find the path of true freedom. For by turning towards God, man becomes himself. He rediscovers his original vocation as a person created in his image and likeness.

Dear brothers and sisters, 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, always open to the needs of her children. Through the light which streams from her face, God’s mercy is made manifest. Let us allow ourselves to be touched by her gaze, which tells us that we are all loved by God and never abandoned by him! Mary comes to remind us that prayer which is humble and intense, trusting and persevering, must have a central place in our Christian lives. Prayer is indispensable if we are to receive Christ’s power. “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone” (Deus Caritas Est, 36). To allow oneself to become absorbed by activity runs the risk of depriving prayer of its specifically Christian character and its true efficacy. The prayer of the Rosary, so dear to Bernadette and to Lourdes pilgrims, concentrates within itself the depths of the Gospel message. It introduces us to contemplation of the face of Christ. From this prayer of the humble, we can draw an abundance of graces.

The presence of young people at Lourdes is also an important element. Dear friends, gathered this morning around the World Youth Day Cross: 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 focussed particularly upon her, trusting in her, Mary wants to tell you once more that not one of you is indifferent for God. He directs his loving gaze upon each one of you and he calls you to a life that is happy and full of meaning. Do not allow yourselves to be discouraged by difficulties! Mary was disturbed by the message of the angel who came to tell her that she would become the Mother of the Saviour. She 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. For your part, dear young people, do not be afraid to say yes to the Lord’s summons when he invites you to walk in his footsteps. Respond generously to the Lord! Only he can fulfil the deepest aspirations of your heart. You have come to Lourdes in great numbers for attentive and generous service to the sick and to the other pilgrims, setting out in this way to follow Christ the servant. Serving our brothers and sisters opens our hearts and makes us available. In the silence of prayer, be prepared to confide in Mary, who spoke to Bernadette in a spirit of respect and trust towards her. May Mary help those who are called to marriage to discover the beauty of a genuine and profound love, lived as a reciprocal and faithful gift! To those among you whom he calls to follow him in the priesthood or the religious life, I would like to reiterate all the joy that is to be had through giving one’s life totally for the service of God and others. May Christian families and communities be places where solid vocations can come to birth and grow, for the service of the Church and the world!

Mary’s message is a message of hope for all men and women of our day, whatever their country of origin. I like to invoke Mary as the star of hope (Spe Salvi, 50). On the paths of our lives, so often shrouded in darkness, she is a beacon 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 like her in invincible hope, refusing to believe those who claim that we are trapped in the fatal power of destiny. She accompanies us with her maternal presence amid the events of our personal lives, our family lives, and our national lives. Happy are those men and women who place their trust in him who, at the very moment when he was offering his life for our salvation, gave us his Mother to be our own!

Dear brothers and sisters, in this land of France, the Mother of the Lord is venerated in countless shrines which thereby manifest the faith handed down from generation to generation. Celebrated in her Assumption, she is your country’s beloved patroness. May she always be honoured fervently in each of your families, in your religious communities and in your parishes! May Mary watch over all the inhabitants of your beautiful country and over the pilgrims who have come in such numbers from other countries to celebrate this Jubilee! May she be for all people the Mother who surrounds her children in their joys and their trials! Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope and to love with you. Show us the way towards the kingdom of your Son Jesus! Star of the sea, shine upon us and lead us on our way! (cf. Spe Salvi, 50). Amen."