Pope Benedict XVI celebrated an open-air Mass on Monday for the sick at the shrine of Lourdes in southwest France. He urged the sick, whom he blessed during the service, to remember that dignity never abandons the sick person. Sabina Castelfranco has this report for VOA from Paris.

Rows of pilgrims in wheelchairs were at the front of a large crowd that turned out for Pope Benedict's outdoor mass at the shrine of Lourdes. Some waved flags to greet the pontiff on his final day in France.

During the mass, the pope blessed the sick. Millions travel to Lourdes every year hoping for a miracle cure from the spring water there, which is believed to have healing powers. The Catholic Church has recognized dozens of healings linked to the shrine at Lourdes.

For each individual, Benedict said during his homily, suffering is always something alien.  It can never be tamed. Unfortunately we know, the pope added, that the endurance of suffering can upset life's most stable equilibrium.  He said it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life.

And he called on those who suffer to turn to Mary to fight against sickness.

The pontiff urged all those who suffer and those who struggle and are tempted to turn their backs on life to turn towards Mary. Within the smile of the Virgin, he said, lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness, in support of life.

The pope told those gathered that dignity never abandons the sick person.

The pope came to Lourdes to mark the 150th anniversary of Saint Bernadette's visions of the Virgin Mary. He has spent four days in France including a visit to Paris.