VATICAN CITY (CNS): Pope John Paul is returning to Lourdes, France on August 14-15 not to seek physical healing but to praise God for his great gifts, including the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said the papal trip organiser.
“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 trip organiser and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The 84 year-old Pope John Paul has billed his August 14-15 trip to the shrine in the French Pyrenees as part of his commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX formally proclaimed that with “a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God,” the Blessed Virgin Mary was “preserved free from all stain of original sin” from the moment of her conception.
Less than four years later, a 14 year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed she had seen the Blessed Virgin Mary 18 times in a grotto near Lourdes. When Bernadette asked her name, Mary replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
In 1862, the local bishop officially recognised the apparitions seen by Bernadette between February and July 1858.
The bishop said the Pope is travelling to Lourdes to remind people of God’s grace and God’s initiatives throughout human history to bring people back to himself. Obviously, a key part of God’s outreach to sinful human beings was sending his son, born of a virgin who was without sin.