On August 14-15, 2004, Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the famous shrine of Lourdes, France, to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1858, four years after that definition was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX, the Virgin Mary appeared in Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubiroux to confirm this title given to Her by the Church: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Here are excerpts from the various speeches of the Holy Father during these two days:
As an introduction to the recitation of the Rosary in front of the Grotto of the Apparitions, on August 14, the Holy Father said:
“Kneeling here, before the grotto of Massabielle, I feel deeply that I have reached the goal of my pilgrimage. This cave, where Mary appeared, is the heart of Lourdes. It reminds us of the cave of Mount Horeb where Elijah met the Lord, who spoke to Him in `a still small voice' (1 Kg 19:12). Here the Blessed Virgin asked Bernadette to recite the Rosary, as She herself hold the beads. This grotto has thus become a unique school of prayer where Mary teaches everyone to gaze with burning love upon the face of Christ... As we turn to Mary Most Holy, let us pray together with Bernadette: `Good Mother, have mercy on me; I give myself entirely to You, that You may give me to Your dear Son, whom I wish to love with my whole heart. Good Mother, grant me a heart all aflame for Jesus'.”
Later in the evening, as an introduction to the torchlight procession, John Paul II said:
“When the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in the grotto at Massabielle, She began a dialogue between Heaven and earth which has lasted through time, and continues to this day. Speaking to the young girl, Mary asked that people should come here in procession, as if to signify that this dialogue cannot be limited to words, but must become a journey at Her side along the pilgrim way of faith, hope and love.
“Here in Lourdes, for more than a century, the Christian people have faithfully responded to that maternal summons, walking each day behind Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and processing each night amid songs and prayers in honour of the Lord's Mother.
“This year the Pope joins you in this act of devotion and love for the Most Holy Virgin, the glorious woman of the Book of Revelation, crowned with twelve stars (cf. Rev 12,1). Holding in our hands the lighted torch, we recall and profess our faith in the Risen Christ. From Him the whole of our life receives light and hope.
“To you, dear brothers and sisters, I entrust a particular intention for our prayer this evening: join me in imploring the Virgin Mary to obtain for our world the longed-for gift of peace. May forgiveness and brotherly love take root in human hearts. May every weapon be laid down, and all hatred and violence put aside. May everyone see in his neighbour not an enemy to be fought, but a brother to be accepted and loved, so that we may join in building a better world.”
On Sunday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, the Sovereign Pontiff celebrated an outdoor Mass in front of 300,000 people. Here are excerpts from his homily:
“`Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou'. The words which Mary spoke to Bernadette on March 25, 1858 have a particular resonance this year, as the Church celebrates the 150th anniversary of the solemn definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus.
“I have greatly wished to make this pilgrimage to Lourdes in order to celebrate an event which continues to give glory to the Triune God. Mary's Immaculate Conception is the sign of the gracious love of the Father, the perfect expression of the redemption accomplished by the Son, and the beginning of a life completely open to the working of the Spirit. (...)
“By Her words and Her silence, the Virgin Mary stands before us as a model for our pilgrim way. It is not an easy way: as a result of the fall of our first parents, humanity is marked by the wounds of sin, whose consequences continue to be felt also among the redeemed. But evil and death will not have the last word! Mary confirms this by Her whole life, for She is a living witness of the victory of Christ, our Passover.
“The faithful have understood this. That is why they throng to this grotto in order to hear the maternal counsels of the Blessed Virgin. In Her they acknowledge "the woman clothed in the sun" (Rev 12:1), the Queen resplendent before the throne of God (cf. Responsorial Psalm), ever interceding on their behalf.
“Today the Church celebrates Mary's glorious Assumption body and soul into Heaven. The two dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are closely related. Both proclaim the glory of Christ the Redeemer and the holiness of Mary, whose human destiny is even now perfectly and definitively realized in God.
“`When I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also' (Jn 14: 3). Mary is the pledge of the fulfilment of Christ's promise. Her Assumption thus becomes for us `a sign of sure hope and consolation' (cf. Lumen Gentium, 68).
“Dear brothers and sisters! From this grotto of Massabielle the Blessed Virgin speaks to us too, the Christians of the third millennium. Let us listen to Her!
“Listen to her, young people who seek an answer capable of giving meaning to your lives. Here you can find that answer. It is a demanding one, yet it is the only answer which is genuinely satisfying. For it contains the secret of true joy and peace.
“From this grotto I issue a special call to women. Appearing here, Mary entrusted Her message to a young girl, as if to emphasize the special mission of women in our own time, tempted as it is by materialism and secularism: to be in today's society a witness of those essential values which are seen only with the eyes of the heart. To you, women, falls the task of being sentinels of the Invisible! I appeal urgently to all of you, dear brother and sisters, to do everything in your power to ensure that life, each and every life, will be respected from conception to its natural end. Life is a sacred gift, and no one can presume to be its master.
“Finally, Our Lady of Lourdes has a message for everyone. Be men and women of freedom! But remember: human freedom is a freedom wounded by sin. It is a freedom which itself needs to be set free. Christ is its liberator; He is the one who "for freedom has set us free" (cf. Gal 5:1). Defend that freedom!
“Dear friends, in this we know we can count on Mary, who, since She never yielded to sin, is the only creature who is perfectly free. I entrust you to Her. Walk beside Mary as you journey towards the complete fulfilment of your humanity!”
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary remind you that heaven is our true home and the goal of our life's journey. Upon you and your families I invoke God's abundant blessings.”