A Papal Call: Hold Firmly to Hope

"The power of love is stronger than the evil that threatens it."

With that memorable line, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Holy Mass Sunday, Sept. 14, in the shrine town of Lourdes, France, before 150,000 pilgrims. It marked Pope Benedict's first visit to France as the Holy Father. He celebrated the open-air Mass dedicated to the sick in a huge field near the grotto where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl.

Earlier, he entrusted the French people to God's mercy, telling them "the merciful action of the God of love" would, without fail, come to all those who trusted in His promise of goodness and eternal life. It was, in effect, Pope Benedict calling to mind the signature under the Image of The Divine Mercy, "Jesus, I trust in You."

Hold Firm, Pope Tells Bishops
Pope Benedict urged bishops to hold firm on the Church's doctrine relating to marriage and divorce. The pontiff called upon bishops to "uphold firmly, even at the cost of opposing prevailing trends," the "stable union" of man and woman in marriage.

Continuing in his remarks against the cultural grain of "anything goes," the Pope reaffirmed his belief that while the Church will continue to surround remarried Catholics "with the greatest of affection, [it] firmly maintains the principle of the indissolubility of marriage. Initiatives aimed at blessing irregular unions cannot be admitted."

The French Catholic Church has been beset by many problems, including a sharp decline in churchgoing and a steep drop-off in spiritual practices among the people. Earlier in his visit, Pope Benedict addressed the trends that seem to be turning Europe's back on its deep-rooted Christian heritage, expressing concern but also hope.

The Strength of Hope
"Hope will always remain stronger than all else," the Pope said in a Mass celebrated Saturday at the Esplanade des Invalides in Paris, attended by 260,000 people. "The Church, built upon the rock of Christ, possesses the promises of eternal life, not because her members are holier than others, but because Christ made this promise to Peter: 'You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."

On Monday morning, Sept. 15, the Pope again said Mass for the sick in the field near the grotto for about 200,000 pilgrims, who braved pouring rain to see the pontiff. Marie Romagnano, RN, founder and director of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, was - along with her son, Joe - in Lourdes for the duration of Benedict's visit. She spoke with this writer shortly before 11 a.m. Eastern time, following the Mass of the Sick.

'He is Very Tender and Caring'
"My impression is that Pope Benedict is very tender and caring towards the sick," Marie said. "The first reason he came to Lourdes was to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 150th anniversary of the apparitions. It was wonderful how he spoke of Our Lady and the choice of the humble person of Bernadette to receive her visits, a girl who was from the poorest family in town, so poor they lived in the local jail. The Pope also stressed the fact that Our Lady is the light of hope for the world, and so the message of Lourdes it brings hope to the sick. Our Lady is such a tender mother, that she really embraces all these pilgrims. Everyone who comes here and leaves with grace experiences inner healing."

A Time for Fearlessness
Prior to the Pope's visit, the French press published the grim statistics that reflect the decline of church attendance and the dramatic lessening of religious practice among the French people. Catholicism remains France's No. 1 religion, but only 10 percent of those polled said they regularly attend Mass. The Holy Father addressed this on Saturday:

In this unfailing hope in God's eternal presence to the souls of each of us, in this joy of knowing that Christ is with us until the end of time, in this power that the Holy Spirit gives to all those who let themselves be filled with Him, I entrust you, dear Christians of Paris and France, to the powerful and merciful action of the God of love who died upon the cross and rose victorious on Easter morning.

At the conclusion of Saturday's Mass, Pope Benedict addressed some spontaneous remarks to the young people in the audience. Recalling his predecessor, the Holy Father told the youths, "Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to give your life to Christ. Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests at the heart of the Church. Nothing will ever replace a Mass for the salvation of the world."

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" at thedivinemercy.org.

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