VATICAN CITY, NOV 13, 2007 (VIS) - In the Holy See Press Office this morning, the presentation took place of the program of celebrations organized to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Immaculate Conception to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France.
Participating in the press conference were Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes, Fr. Vincenzo Battaglia O.F.M., president of the Pontifical International Marian Academy, and Alessandro Pinna of UNITALSI (Italian National Union for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines).
Bishop Perrier indicated that for the 150th anniversary a Jubilee Year will be held, due to run from December 8, 2007, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to December 8, 2008, and "to take place within the context of the new evangelization."
Concerning the possibility of a pilgrimage by the Pope to Lourdes for the 150th anniversary, Bishop Perrier confirmed that Benedict XVI would visit "though we still do not know the exact date."
"Shrines and pilgrimages," the prelate went on, "today occupy an important place in religious life, especially among people who do not habitually follow religious practices. Shrine are places of silent evangelization." In this context he indicated that a Mariological-Marian congress due to be held in Lourdes from September 4 to 8, 2008, on the theme of "the apparitions of the Virgin Mary: history faith and theology" will consider "the inducement to convert exercised by shrines in general and by Marian shrines in particular."
The bishop of Lourdes highlighted how, "in the vast mission of the Church, there are 12 fields in which Lourdes possesses special competency, thanks to its original message and to its 150 years of history.
"The mission of the Church in each of these fields," he added, "will become apparent during the Jubilee Year with pilgrimages, meetings and initiatives." For example "the mission of the Church to the sick will be made manifest thanks to the UNITALSI pilgrimages," and missions are also envisaged with volunteers, with young people, with the disabled, to appeal for unity among Christians, to call for conversion, for peace, etc.
Bishop Perrier then indicated how on February 11, 2008, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, the first of the 18 apparitions of the Virgin to Bernadette will be commemorated (the last apparition took place on July 16, 1858, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). A week later, on February 18, 2008, Feast of St. Bernadette, the first of the 15 consecutive apparitions will be remembered. "Our Lady asked Bernadette to come to the Grotto every day, and she kept her promise despite the difficulties."
March 25, will mark the anniversary of the 16th apparition of the Virgin. "On that day, Feast of the Annunciation," said Bishop Perrier, "the Lady finally pronounced her name: I am the Immaculate Conception."
The bishop then indicated how from July 15 to 20, 2008, to coincide with World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, various groups of young Christian artists will perform in Lourdes.
The "path of the Jubilee" which the pilgrims will be invited to follow, symbolically leads from Baptism to the Eucharist and includes four stages: the parish baptistery where Bernadette was baptized; the hut where her family lived which, "with its poverty and darkness, is a cause for reflection on the paradoxical nature of divine preferences;" the road to the grotto; and the chapel of the hospice where Bernadette received First Communion on June 3, 1858.
Numerous publications are appearing to coincide with the Jubilee, intended for people of all ages and from all Christian backgrounds. The event will also be celebrated with a Jubilee Mass composed by Br. Jean Paul Lecot, musical director of the Shrine of Lourdes. On December 8, in homage to John Paul II, the inauguration will take place of mosaics representing the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary on the facade of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, the work of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik.
It is expected that some eight million pilgrims will visit Lourdes for the Jubilee Year.
OP/LOURDES JUBILEE/PERRIER VIS 20071113 (690)