Pope Calls Women to Be Witnesses of "Essential Values"

Appeals for Defense of Life

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LOURDES, France, AUG. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II concluded his weekend pilgrimage to Lourdes with an appeal for the defense of human life in a society threatened by materialism.

More than 300,000 pilgrims, including many sick people, gathered in the field of the Marian shrine for the celebration of the Mass, the town’s prefecture reported Sunday.

From the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous, the Pope made a special appeal to women.

«In our age, which feels the temptation of materialism and secularization,» women are called to be witnesses «of the essential values which can only be perceived with the eyes of the heart,» the Holy Father said during his homily.

«To you, women, it corresponds to be sentinels of the invisible!» he said. «To all of you, sisters and brothers, I make an urgent appeal that you do everything you can so that life, all life, is respected from conception to its natural end.»

«Life is a sacred gift that no one can appropriate to himself,» the Pope said.

On an unusually warm day, John Paul II made a great effort to read his homily, omitting several passages to avoid the extra effort. His silent pauses to recover his breath were often accompanied by the pilgrims’ applause.

The Pontiff addressed special words to young people, inviting them to discover in Christ the meaning of their lives, the central message of the Virgin of Lourdes.

At the end of the Mass, and before praying the Angelus, the Pope recalled the various meetings he had with young people in his previous seven visits to France, saying that those meetings were for him «the sign of a great hope.»

He left this message to all those present: «Be free women and men! But remember: Human freedom is a freedom marked by sin. It also has need of being liberated. Christ is the liberator, the one who ‘has liberated us so that we can be really free.’ Defend your freedom!»

The papal visit to the shrine of the little town in the Pyrenees took place on the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Sunday was the solemnity of Mary’s assumption to heaven.

Both dogmas, the Pope said in his homily, «are intimately linked.» They «proclaim the glory of Christ the redeemer and the holiness of Mary, whose human destiny was perfectly and definitively realized in God.»

The Pope was visibly exhausted during the celebration, but appeared joyful when visiting the Grotto of Massabielle, in the company of thousands of sick people.

The French government was represented at the Mass by Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin and Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, a former mayor of Lourdes.

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