Frail pope heads to Lourdes'to thank God, not seek a cure'

12th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

VATICAN CITY, Aug 12 (AFP) - Ageing and frail, Pope John Paul II heads to Lourdes on Saturday, grimly determined to shake off the crippling yoke of Parkinson's disease to complete the 104th foreign trip of his pontificate.

VATICAN CITY, Aug 12 (AFP) - Ageing and frail, Pope John Paul II heads to Lourdes on Saturday, grimly determined to shake off the crippling yoke of Parkinson's disease to complete the 104th foreign trip of his pontificate.  

More than 300,000 mostly European pilgrims are flocking to the small French town in the Pyrenees, many of them only too aware that the health problems that have slowed the rate of papal trips to a trickle mean that this could be his last.  

The two-day visit to the town's shrine to the Virgin Mary will be his second trip abroad this year, following a visit to Switzerland in June. The Swiss trip was his first foreign foray for eight months and appeared to leave him drained.  

However, papal pluck and a reportedly strict diet have given the lie to Austrian Cardinal Christof Schoenborn's assessment last September that he was clearly "dying".  

The Vatican has yet to accept invitations for further foreign visits, though the pope himself has confirmed he will visit the Italian town of Loreto on September 5, as part of the national pilgrimage of the Italian Catholic Action Association.  

French President Jacques Chirac will greet the 84-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church at Tarbes airport early Saturday, before the pope moves on to Christianity's most visited place of pilgrimage after Rome.  

John Paul II told pilgrims at his most recent general audience on Wednesday that he would take part in three public ceremonies in Lourdes - leading the rosary prayer on Saturday afternoon, a candlelit procession that evening and a mass on Sunday.  

He last visited Lourdes, famous for the apparition of the Virgin Mary to a 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous - now Saint Bernadette - 21 years ago.  

"I consider the possibility of returning to Lourdes as a special gift of providence," the pontiff told pilgrims at his summer residence outside Rome.  

He said he will carry with him to Lourdes the entire world's hopes for peace.  

"I will carry in my heart the thanks and supplications of all the Church, and the entire world, which only in God can find peace and salvation," he said.  

This second visit to Lourdes coincides with an important event in the Catholic Church calendar - the 150th anniversary of the 1854 proclamation by Pope Pius IX of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which officially recognized that Mary was born in a unique state of grace, not stained with original sin which Catholics believe all humans carry.  

Sunday, when the papal mass is expected to draw more than 200,000 people, is also the day Catholics annually cerebrate the Feast of the Assumption - the Virgin Mary's ascent into heaven.  

Prior to his departure for Rome on Sunday evening, the pope will express his personal devotion to the Virgin by praying privately at the shrine.  

He has credited Mary, the mother of Jesus, with saving his life - diverting a bullet fired at point-blank range away from vital organs - in an assassination attempt in St Peter's Square in May 1981.  

The Vatican insists the pope is not seeking a cure for his own infirmity - the quest of tens of thousands of crippled pilgrims who flock to the shrine's healing spring waters every year - but to thank God for his gifts.  

"Lourdes is not just a place to seek healing, it is a place where people demonstrate their faith in God and their devotion to Mary," said Bishop Renato Boccardo, the Vatican organiser of the trip.  

The Catholic Church officially recognizes 66 miracles attributed to Lourdes' healing waters, though claims of astonishing recoveries from illness are legion.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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