The Pope celebrated an open-air Mass for the sick at Lourdes today as he ended his visit to France.
Benedict XVI was to anoint 10 ailing pilgrims at the close of Mass in front of the shrine’s Basilica of the Rosary.
Rows of pilgrims, many wrapped up in quilts in wheelchairs and on stretchers, were at the front of the crowd, some waving flags to greet the Pontiff on the chilly day.
The Catholic shrine in the foothills of the Pyrenees has a special meaning for the suffering, many of whom believe that Lourdes’ spring water has the power to heal and even work miracles.
Helped by attendants, the sick bathe in pools of the cool water and take it home in plastic jugs and vials in the shape of the Virgin Mary.
Thousands of people have claimed to be cured by a visit, and the Catholic Church has officially recognised 67 incidents of miraculous healing linked to Lourdes.
In his homily, the Pope urged the ailing to remember that “dignity never abandons the sick person”.
“Unfortunately, we know only too well, the endurance of suffering can upset life’s most stable equilibrium, it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence, and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life,” he said.
“There are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace.”
Benedict planned his trip to mark the 150th anniversary of visions of the Virgin Mary to a Lourdes peasant girl, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, who was later named a saint.
Today, he concluded up a pilgrimage of sites linked to Bernadette’s life, visiting the chapel where she received her First Communion.
After Mass the Pope was departing for Rome, and then returning to his summer retreat in nearby Castel Gandolfo.
His four-day trip to Paris and Lourdes was his first to France since his election as Pontiff in 2005.