50,000 believers gather in Lourdes for 150th anniversary of visions
Catholic pilgrims descended on Lourdes for a mass commemorating the 150th anniversary of when the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a young shepherdess
LOURDES, France, February 12, 2008 - Some 50,000 Catholic pilgrims
descended on Lourdes for a mass commemorating the 150th anniversary of when
the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a young shepherdess.
More than 25 bishops and 800 priests were in attendance at the service
celebrated by the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Jacques Perrier and the
Archbishop of Marseille Bernard Panafieu.
The mass took place in a field opposite the Massabielle shrine where the
mother of Jesus Christ is said to have first appeared in a vision to
Bernadette Soubirous on February 11, 1858.
The town of Lourdes in southwestern France is one of the main pilgrimage
sites for the Catholic Church, attracting millions of believers from around
the world who venerate the Virgin and often make the trip in hope of a cure.
Accompanied by a 30-member choir, readings for the mass were given in
several languages, including English, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese and
"Lourdes is a presence that pacifies, that gives confidence and that allows
Bernadette to face difficulties," said Perrier in his homily to the pilgrims.
A day of prayer was set to follow the mass, as well as a torchlight
procession in honour of the Virgin Mary in the evening.
The celebrations began December 8, 2007 and will run through until December
8, 2008. They commemorate a total of 18 visions believed to have been seen by
Soubirous between February and July of 1858.
For the Catholic Church, Soubirous' visions confirmed the dogma of the
Immaculate Conception -- proclaimed four years later by Pope Pius IX -- which
declares that Mary was "without sin" when Jesus Christ was conceived.
Pope Benedict XVI is expected to take a pilgrimage to Lourdes sometime in
September, marking a high point for the jubilee year.
In December, the Vatican announced the pope would grant indulgences for a
limited time to pilgrims who visit Lourdes for the 150th anniversary.
In the Catholic Church, indulgences are remittances of suffering for sins.
In order to go to heaven, it is believed one must 'repair' the harm committed
on earth before death.