On August 14th, the Missionary Oblates joined hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to welcome Pope John Paul II to Lourdes. The Holy Father returned to Lourdes to honor Mary on this 150th Anniversary of the proclamation of her Immaculate Conception.
Lourdes is a fitting place for the commemorative visit because it was at Lourdes that Our Lady ratified the church doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. In 1858, just four years after the doctrine was created, Our Lady appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous in the French village of Lourdes and announced herself as the “Immaculate Conception.”
Throughout the Holy Father’s two-day pilgrimage, he was absorbed in prayer as he visited the Sacred Grotto where Our Lady appeared, prayed with pilgrims, and celebrated Mass on the feast of the Assumption. Speaking from the balcony of the Accueill Notre Dame Center on the eve of the Assumption, the pope referred to Our Lady’s apparitions to Bernadette as a “dialogue between Heaven and earth which has continued and which is still ongoing.”
Through intense prayer, Pope John Paul II conveyed a strong sense of spiritual communion with the Blessed Mother. His inspiring presence and faith-filled words brought many to tears as he urged all to embrace their devotion to Our Lady and pray for peace.
The Pope’s visit was also a special time for the international community of Oblates who work at the Shrine. The Oblates, who have a large role in international youth ministry at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, were very busy over the course of the Pope’s visit. The entire community was mobilized for a variety of tasks: the press, the ceremonies, translations, the vigil, the rosary, and leading the volunteers.
The day before the Pope’s arrival, Oblates led a youth vigil with more than 7,000 young in the St. Pius X underground basilica. Then on August 14th, the Oblates joined other chaplains at the Grotto to recite the Angelus with the Pope. Later that evening, during the candlelight procession, Fr. Yves Chalvet, O.M.I., carried the gold rose offered to the Shrine by Pope Pius IX.
On the last day of his visit, Oblates and other chaplains concelebrated Mass with the Holy Father. Then, shortly before his departure, he gathered with the Oblates and all the chaplains to bid them farewell and was serenaded by sixty youth volunteers under the direction of Fr. Servio Zampa, O.M.I.
In the end, the brief pilgrimage of the Holy Father was a very moving spiritual experience for the Oblates and all the pilgrims and workers at the Shrine. His presence was a profound spiritual influence for the multitude of pilgrims who had gathered, seeking consolation and hope.