At Lourdes, the Supreme Pilgrim

Pope Joins 100,000 in a Meditation on Rosary

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LOURDES, France, AUG. 16, 2004 ( Like the other 6 million people who come to Lourdes annually, John Paul II came to this Marian shrine on Saturday as a pilgrim.

«In my apostolic ministry, I have always had great confidence in the offering, prayer and sacrifice of those who suffer,» the Pope said in the text of a message delivered at the Grotto of Massabielle, scene of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions in 1858.

«I ask you to accompany me in this pilgrimage to present to God, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, all the intentions of the Church and of the world,» he said in the message.

The message was read by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on behalf of the 84-year-old Pontiff, who was exhausted by his trip and the welcome ceremony.

Earlier, French President Jacques Chirac and representatives of the Church in France greeted the Holy Father on his arrival at the Tarbes-Lourdes airport.

From the airport, the Pope went to the Marian shrine. Surrounded by sick people, he drank water from the spring, which was offered to him by the shrine’s rector and recollected himself in prayer.

In the afternoon, John Paul II participated together with some 100,000 people in a meditation on the luminous mysteries of the rosary.

Riding in the popemobile, he visited five symbolic places in Lourdes, one for each mystery, where he was met by groups of pilgrims.

Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes-Lourdes described the mysteries, while Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche communities, led a spontaneous prayer at each stage.

The procession began at the pools, the most characteristic place of Lourdes. Last year, more than 380,000 pilgrims were submerged in the waters in response to a request of the Blessed Virgin to Bernadette Soubirous on Feb. 28, 1858: «Go drink at the spring and bathe there.»

In his introductory address, the Pope said: «When kneeling here, before the Grotto of Massabielle, I feel with emotion that I have arrived at the end of my pilgrimage. This grotto, in which Mary appeared, is the heart of Lourdes.»

The second luminous mystery was prayed in the Tent of Adoration, erected in 2001 in the Field of the Grotto, where young people gathered to pray while awaiting the Pope’s arrival.

The third mystery was prayed in front of St. Bernadette’s Church, located near where the saint witnessed the Blessed Virgin’s first apparition. The sick prayed at this site with the Pope.

The fourth luminous mystery was prayed before the statue of John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, in the chapel of reconciliation. Priests and bishops joined the Holy Father there to pray.

The meditation ended in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, where altar boys and other servers waited for the Pontiff.

The rosary ended with a prayer the Pope composed, calling on the Virgin Mary’s intercession, and promising to remain with her «next to the innumerable crosses on which your Son is still crucified.»

Events on Saturday ended with the «procession of torches» from the Grotto of the Apparitions to the basilica of Lourdes, which the Holy Father followed from the terrace of the Residence of Our Lady, where he stayed that night.

John Paul II read a few words, asking pilgrims to pray for a «special intention.»

«Invoke the Virgin Mary with me, so that she will obtain for the world the longed-for gift of peace,» he said.

«May she inspire in us sentiments of forgiveness and fraternity!» he implored. «May arms be put down and hatred and violence extinguished in our hearts.»

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