Pope celebrates mass at Lourdes shrine
FRANCE: Pope Benedict XVI celebrated an open-air mass in Lourdes on
Sunday, leading more than 100,000 faithful in prayer in the French town
that is one of the most revered Christian shrines.
The mass on the prairie of the sanctuary marked the 150th anniverary
of the Vatican-recognised apparitions of the Virign Mary to French
peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous.
Under clear skies, the pope arrived aboard his popemobile, waving and
smiling to the faithful who had come early to secure a spot on the
sprawling field near the grotto where Mary is said to have appeared in
The 81-year-old pontiff arrived in the southwestern town in the
foothills of the Pyrenees on Saturday for a pilgrimage after leading a
mass in central Paris attended by 260,000 people.
For the German pope, the Lourdes visit is an opportunity to shed his
image in France as a cold theologian lacking the charisma of his
predecessor John Paul II. "He is a man of great depth and I feel close
to him," said Jeanne, 70, from Saint-Etienne, in central France. "He may
not be as telegenic as John Paul, but he has a deep faith."
During an emotional visit to the shrine in 2004, a year before his
death, John Paul declared himself "a sick man among the sick" as he
struggled with advanced Parkinson's disease.
Organisers said they expected 150,000 faithful at the Sunday
services, fewer than originally planned due to several days of rain and
a cold snap. The leader of the world's one billion Catholics is making
his first visit to France since his election in 2005.
Lourdes, Sunday, AFP