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The Relevance of Lourdes at 150

Interview With Bishop Jacques Perrier

By Isabelle Cousturiť

LOURDES, France, FEB. 21, 2008 (Zenit) - The bishop of Lourdes says the pilgrimage site in his diocese is like a promise that never betrays.

That's how Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes et Lourdes described the spot on Feb. 10, eve of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, during his homily at Mass celebrated in the grotto. "The apparitions in Lourdes," the bishop said, "like Lent, propose to us the same question, that of hope, to which our Pope has dedicated his second encyclical. In what do we place our hope? What are we ready to do to enter into the great hope?"

At the beginning of this jubilee year marking the 150th anniversary of Our Lady's apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous, the prelate spoke with us about the current relevance of the message left by the "beautiful lady."

Q: In this year of special importance for your diocese, what message would you live to give to the faithful and pilgrims?

Bishop Perrier: If they come to Lourdes, they will be welcomed with warmth, and something very simple will be proposed to them: to follow the path of the jubilee, made up of four stages -- the baptistery, where Bernadette was baptized; the ancient prison, which is a place typically evangelical; and naturally the sanctuaries; and the oratory where Bernadette received her First Communion.

Therefore, the message is to demonstrate that the phenomenon of the apparitions are framed within a Christian life, which is the Christian life of Bernadette and the Christian life of the parish of Lourdes. It is necessary to try to propose again the itinerary of a pilgrimage, which is a methodology currently in vogue, in the framework of an ordinary Christian life, in the Eucharist, even though today the number of priests has gone down a lot compared to other eras.

Those who come can trace this path. The message of Lourdes is not essentially in words, but rather in actions, words, gestures all taken together, to enter into the spirit of the apparitions, through this itinerary by means of the four points of the city and the sanctuaries.

And for all those who cannot come, there are ways to unite yourselves from afar. [The Web site is in six languages, including English.] A retreat, or more precisely a novena, has been made, to associate oneself with the path of the jubilee, because for us, it is important that these people too can live the spirit of the jubilee, given that they don't have the possibility of being physically present, because of a lack of time or due to financial reasons.

Q: This jubilee year is an occasion to follow the footsteps of Bernadette Soubirous and rediscover the message the Virgin Mary gave us through her. Could you remind us of this message and tell us what is the current situation?

Bishop Perrier: There are various elements to the message. There is a strictly evangelical and constant aspect, which [is] that God chooses the humble and the little ones, because Bernadette was, moreover, uneducated. She was intelligent but she was not educated. She did not know how to read or write. She didn't go to catechesis and she belonged to a bankrupt family.

There is also the aspect of prayer: All of the episodes of the apparitions take place entirely in a climate of prayer. And there is, as well, the aspect of trust, that is, that the Virgin and Bernadette speak to each other, and sometimes don't even say anything. The encounter takes place in silence on 18 occasions. There is, thus, this type of cooperation, of reciprocal familiarity between Bernadette and the Lady. And something of this remains. In Lourdes, people are not afraid. And that's why there are so many people. She presents herself as someone who can understand everything and can welcome everything.

And there's an aspect of penance that can't be forgotten. This aspect does not appear at the beginning nor at the end of the apparitions, but rather in the middle. Five of the apparitions are very focused on penance and during a time of penance is when the fountain is discovered, which today is very associated with Lourdes, because immediately Lourdes was spread around the world.

And then, there is the name. Finally the Virgin wanted to say her name. She ended saying "I am the Immaculate Conception." Thus, there is total purity, there is complete innocence, this perfect integrity of liberty.

As you can see, there are many aspects in this message. And precisely because there are a lot, everyone can find something. In any case, this is not a message that can be summarized only in the few words that have been repeated. The message includes as well the gestures, the attitudes, the time that has passed. All of this is the message. It is like in the Gospel: There are not just the words of the ...

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