Windsor Star

Pope celebrates Lourdes’ miracles at open-air mass

150,000 pilgrims gather at holy site

- CANWEST NEWS SERVICE LOURDES, FRANCE

BY PETER O’NEIL

Pope Benedict XVI promoted the power of love here Sunday at an openair mass to more than 150,000 pilgrims, including a small clutch of buoyant flag-waving Canadians.

He was speaking on a field directly across the River Gave where a young French peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, experience­d 18 Vatican-recognized apparition­s of the Virgin Mary in 1858 at a now-legendary grotto.

He spoke under mostly clear skies, while surrounded by countless police, several frogmen near the river, and security officials with chemical weapon detectors, after two days of almost steady rain here.

Since the girl’s apparition­s Lourdes has become the world’s top healing pilgrimage site, with a record-shattering eight million visitors expected this year. Many sick and disabled come to drink and bathe in the so-called “miracle water” from a stream near the grotto that has been linked to 67 Vaticanapp­roved miracles.

“The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us,” said the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, of which an estimated 13 million are Canadian.

“It is the mystery of the universali­ty of God’s love for men that Mary came to reveal herself here, in Lourdes.”

Benedict, as he did in a speech Saturday, downplayed Lourdes’ reputation as a place where the sick and disabled can come to find a miracle cure.

Instead, he stressed, the focus must be on the health of the soul.

‘The source of life’

Mary “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.”

Among the groups before the Pope were 25 French-speaking Quebecers who waved Canadian flags large and small during the mass and later sang O Canada as they left the shrine area.

Three members of the group later said that while they believe in miracles here, this wasn’t the reason they came to Lourdes.

“In this place the miracle happens inside you, it’s a heart miracle,” said Diane Parizeau, 60, of Quebec City.

“We feel good when we are at a place where everybody prays,” she added, before launching into the start of soul legend James Brown’s top hit: “I feel good, na-na-na-na-na-na-na.”

Her brother-in-law Gerald Brasseur, 67, said Lourdes is magical because so many people, speaking so many languages, can so peacefully and happily share the same small space.

“Even though we come from different countries we feel like brothers and sisters, and you don’t get that feeling anywhere else.”

Another Canadian attending mass Sunday was Colin Harris, 42, a Greater Vancouver born-and-raised funeral director now living in Spokane, Wash., with his wife Andi, an emergency room physician.

He and his wife are both volunteers here. She attends the baths, helping pilgrims disrobe and enter the frigid mountain water said to have special miracle powers. He also works at the baths, or helps the sick and elderly in church or at the train station.

“To see people come from all walks of life, rich and poor in both spirit and possession, coming here with the heart of a simple peasant girl, Bernadette.”

A Canadian from Hamilton, who ar- rived here minutes after the mass concluded, said he’s overwhelme­d to finally arrive in Lourdes at age 68.

John Tam, a retired steelworke­r who described his group of 46 pilgrims from the Toronto-Hamilton area as “150 per cent Catholic, said his duties as a father kept him from coming until now.”

“My priest told me about this place when I was six or seven,” he said.

“It feels good to finally be here, absolutely.”

The Pope, who arrived in Paris Friday, returns to Rome today after holding a special mass for the sick and disabled.

One of Benedict’s objectives in France, in addition to honouring the 150th anniversar­y of the apparition­s, was to encourage a reversal of the Catholic Church’s sliding fortunes.

But French media coverage Saturday indicated he faces an uphill fight even with the support of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has urged France to relax its strict secularism that treats religion only as a private matter.

The left-wing Liberation newspaper published an article Saturday that dripped with sarcasm, saying the Pope’s visit simply provided Sarkozy the kind of “show” at the Elysee Palace Friday that the president “loves.”

 ?? Reuters photo ?? GREETING THE FLOCK: Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a mass at La Prairie in Lourdes on Sunday.
Reuters photo GREETING THE FLOCK: Pope Benedict XVI celebrates a mass at La Prairie in Lourdes on Sunday.

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