Why the Pope Went to Lourdes

Cardinal Barbarin Points to the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception

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LOURDES, France, AUG. 17, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon presided this year over the traditional national pilgrimage Aug. 15 to Lourdes, which on this occasion had a special guest: John Paul II.



In this interview, the 53-year-old primate of France reflects on the reason for the papal visit, the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and its fruits.

Q: What would you say to a youth who asked you about the mystery of the Immaculate Conception?

Cardinal Barbarin: Let us begin with the voice that was heard when Jesus came out of the waters of the Jordan: "This is my beloved Son." What God desired to give to men took place through Jesus, the sole Mediator. We receive everything -- the forgiveness of sins, justice and peace, purity of heart, holiness, victory over death -- through baptism, which is our rebirth.

"Do not marvel that I say to you, 'You must be born anew,'" Jesus said to Nicodemus. So we understand why God willed to give this gift beforehand to the Mother of his Son. Even before God saved the world with the passion and resurrection of Jesus, at the moment that Mary's life was conceived in her mother's womb, she was "all holy." There was nothing that stained or injured her.

That is why, in his greeting, the angel Gabriel said: "Hail, full of grace." No matter how much we study and analyze her life, we will see nothing but love.

Q: What is the essential message of the Pope's presence in Lourdes?

Cardinal Barbarin: John Paul II came on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by his predecessor, Blessed Pius IX.

He has helped us to go deeper into all that of our faith which relates to the Mother of God. After recalling her role in our salvation, the Second Vatican Council has taught us to see the place that Mary has in the Church and in men's journey.

One of our canticles mentions this theme: "She is the first on the way." Thanks to Mary's example and life, the Holy Father helps us to see all the light that God can infuse in a human heart. It is something that encourages us and fills us with hope.

The Pope also prayed the rosary with us, meditating on the luminous mysteries which he proposed two years ago. Jesus is "the light of the world." All those who approach Christ, who love and follow him, who participate in his mission and passion, reflect this light in the world. In this instance we can also say that Mary is the first.

We have also seen the Holy Father as a sick person among the sick, who come every year to Lourdes in great numbers. This has stimulated his hope and helps us to love the sick with greater tenderness and to give them the role that belongs to them in our society, above all in our Christian communities.

Q: What impetus can this event give to the life of the Catholic Church in France?

Cardinal Barbarin: One would have to be a fortuneteller to answer. I would say that when the Christian people gather around their pastor they are stimulated, as their unity and communion in faith is manifested.

The preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of the Church, are good nourishment for our hearts and minds. The Church always needs to be awakened.

I also believe very much in Mary's grace proper to this day and place: What sweetness and humility in the events of Lourdes and on little Bernadette's face! What a beautiful feast August 15 is, the solemnity of Mary's assumption, which is a spiritual summit in midsummer.

It is the day in which we hear the Gospel of the Magnificat proclaimed, a totally pure cry of joy. Mary exults because she sees everything that God does among us, all that he allows her to experience, she who is so little.