On John Paul II's August Trip to Lourdes

VATICAN CITY, JULY 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II’s trip to Lourdes will help the whole Church mark the 150th anniversary of the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, says the organizer of papal trips.

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Bishop Renato Boccardo, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, says in this interview with ZENIT that the Pope’s Aug. 14-15 visit to the Marian shrine in France is more than a simple personal pilgrimage.

Q: Why is John Paul II going to Lourdes?

Bishop Boccardo: In response to the French bishops’ invitation to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the shrine.

The Church recalls Pope Pius IX’s proclamation that year. Curiously, four years later, in her apparition at Lourdes the Virgin confirmed what the Pope and the Church had said. In this context, the Pope is going to Lourdes as a pilgrim to admire the plan of God realized in a person, Mary.

Q: What will be the particular characteristics of this trip?

Bishop Boccardo: It has the character of a pilgrimage. The Pope wishes to venerate the Virgin and carry out the gestures proper to pilgrims, relaunching the message the Virgin left in Lourdes: penance, conversion and prayer.

This is why he will drink the water from the spring of the grotto of the Massabielle apparitions, which the rector of the shrine will offer him.

On Saturday afternoon, he will preside at the recitation of the rosary and the procession from the grotto to the courtyard of the Basilica of Lourdes. Later that night, there will be a torch procession, characteristic of Lourdes, which the Pope will follow from the terrace of his residence, the Notre Dame Accueil.

On Sunday morning he will preside at a large Mass in the shrine’s fields.

The trip will also be characterized by moments of prayer, which the Pope will spend in silence, in the grotto, as all pilgrims do.

These are the traditional gestures of the pilgrimage that the Pope will carry out in union with the interminable mass of pilgrims throughout history. Seeing the program and the Pope’s intentions, the words of Mary in Luke’s Gospel spring to mind: «All generations will call me blessed.»

Q: We are, therefore, before an event for the universal Church, and not just before a personal pilgrimage of this Pope.

Bishop Boccardo: With some surprise, I have read recently that the Pope is going as a «sick person among sick people.» I think this is a reductive interpretation of this important event.

The one who is coming to Lourdes as a pilgrim is John Paul II, Pastor of the universal Church. It is not a question of one more sick person.

In going to Lourdes, the Bishop of Rome takes with him, in a certain sense, all the Churches he has visited around the world. Therefore, the whole Church will gather in prayer around the Pope in the Massabielle grotto.

The Pope will stay at the Notre Dame Accueil, the home for the sick in Lourdes, as it is the building that is best equipped to accommodate him. But it is not necessary for the Pope to stay in a residence for the sick to express his closeness to those who suffer.

Let’s not forget that it was he who instituted the World Day of the Sick and that in these 26 years of pontificate he has manifested with all means his solidarity with those who suffer.

Q: You are following preparations for this trip closely with the Pope. What is the Pope expecting from this visit?

Bishop Boccardo: The Pope is very enthusiastic. As I said earlier, he wishes to emphasize the traditional gestures of a pilgrimage that manifest the genuine faith of the people.

In celebrating the anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, he wishes to remind the whole Church of the importance of grace in men’s lives. It will be a striking way of underlining the mystery of sin and of grace in human existence.

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