September 14, 2008

Pope Makes Pilgrimage to Famed Shrine in France


By Frances D'Emilio

The Associated Press


As millions of pilgrims do each year, Pope Benedict XVI drank water Saturday from the Lourdes spring famed for miraculous cures as he visited a grotto at the sanctuary he calls a "citadel of hope."

A young girl in 19th century peasant costume handed the pontiff a glass of the water from the spring that burst through the ground 150 years ago when a local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, had repeated visions of the Virgin Mary.

The grotto sheltered Benedict from a steady rain but didn't keep out the evening chill as the pontiff, in a red mantle over white robes, prayed and lit a candle.

Benedict flew to Lourdes, a town in southwest France near the Pyrenees, after saying an outdoor Mass in Paris attended by more than a quarter-million Roman Catholics - a show of faith in a traditionally Roman Catholic country that has witnessed a sharp decline in churchgoing in recent years.

In his homily in Paris, Benedict focused on the ills of modern materialism, condemning the unbridled passion for power, possessions and money.

"Has not our modern world created its own idols?" Benedict said, wondering aloud whether people have "imitated, perhaps inadvertently, the pagans of antiquity?"

The main purpose of Benedict's first visit to France as pontiff was the pilgrimage in Lourdes as the shrine marked the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to 14-year-old Bernadette, who later was made a saint.

Riding through Lourdes in his special vehicle , the pontiff smiled and waved to cheering crowds of pilgrims. In drizzle and chilly wind, the 81-year-old pope walked the final stretch to the grotto.

More than 5 million people visit Lourdes every year - some brought to the spring in wheelchairs and stretchers - in hopes that drinking and bathing in the water will heal their ailments. The church has officially recognized 67 miracle cures linked to Lourdes over the years.

The pope has said that miracles are not the real point, but faith.

"We don't go to Lourdes looking for miracles," he said en route to France. "The love of the mother (Mary) is the true healing."

Originally published by BY FRANCES D'EMILIO.

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