Tens of thousands of pilgrims turned out at the shrine of Lourdes for Pope Benedict's mass to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a peasant girl's visions of the Virgin Mary. The Pope spoke to them of the message of Lourdes and told them praying is not a waste of time. Sabina Castelfranco has this VOA report from Paris.
Pilgrims came to Lourdes from different countries to be present for the pope's mass at the shrine where Saint Bernadette had her visions 150 years ago. She was only 14 years old and she had 18 visions of the Virgin Mary.
Addressing the faithful in his homily, Benedict reminded them of the message that stemmed from those apparitions.
Bernadette is the eldest daughter of a very poor family, the pope said, with neither knowledge nor power, and in poor health. Mary chose her to transmit her message of conversion, prayer and penance.
Millions visit the shrine every year hoping in a miracle cure. The Catholic Church has recognized dozens of miraculous healings of sick pilgrims who visited Lourdes.
The primary purpose of the shrine at Lourdes, the pope said, is to be a place of encounter with God in prayer and a place of service to our brothers and sisters, notably through the welcome given to the sick, the poor and all who suffer.
In his homily Benedict also told the faithful gathered that praying is not a waste of time, rather it is indispensable. He said: "To allow oneself to become absorbed by activity runs the risk of depriving prayer of its specifically Christian character and its true efficacy.
He urged young people not to be afraid to answer to God's calling to become priests or nuns.
On this day, the Catholic Church's liturgy is focused on the symbol of the cross. And Pope Benedict stressed that love can be stronger than all the evil in the world. He told the crowd that the cross initiates the faithful into the mysteries of Christian faith, including that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins.