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 CNS Story:

LOURDES-POPE Aug-20-2008 (420 words) xxxi

Bishop expects 200,000 pilgrims to attend papal Mass at Lourdes

By Catholic News Service

LOURDES, France (CNS) -- At least 200,000 pilgrims are expected to attend the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI during his September visit to the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes, said the local bishop.

Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes said: "We will be outside the holiday period, so there'll probably be fewer pilgrims from the central Paris area. We are expecting 200,000 people for the main Mass, but one is always in for surprises when popes come to France."

He added that each day of the papal visit Sept. 13-15 will be different -- "at first international, then for young people, and then for the sick."

The bishop told France's Le Monde daily Aug. 17 that the visit would be "totally different" from the 2004 pilgrimage to Lourdes by Pope John Paul II, who was "already very sick." Public access to Lourdes would be less restricted for those wishing to see the pontiff, he said.

"This visit will help rediscover the original intuition of Lourdes: closeness to the excluded and solidarity within the Christian family," he said.

Pope Benedict will visit Lourdes as part of a four-day pilgrimage to France, beginning Sept. 12. The trip will include the Sept. 14 Mass in Lourdes as well as meetings with non-Catholic religious leaders and French culture representatives in Paris.

Besides praying at the Marian grotto where St. Bernadette Soubirous saw an apparition of Mary while gathering firewood 150 years ago, the pope will follow the path commemorating St. Bernadette's life.

Writing in the Aug. 19 French edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Perrier said the French public had viewed the pope at his 2005 election as "a rigid man, inflexible theoretician and stranger to the affairs of this world, lost in his principles."

But he added that French citizens had discovered the pope "a bit better" during his visit to the United States, and noted his "courage and sensitivity" in confronting recent church scandals.

"We have observed a change of tone in media commentaries. He (the pope) has surprised them, and we could also surprise him by turning out in large numbers to show him we love him and are at one with him in the church," said the bishop.

Lourdes is expected to attract 8 million pilgrims during the jubilee year, which began Dec. 8, 2007, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and runs until Dec. 8 this year.

END


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