Jean-Paul II à la Grotte des apparitions de Lourdes en 1983

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Lourdes and the Popes

There is a definite connection between Lourdes and the successors of St. Peter due to the Virgin’s name given in the Apparitions: the “Immaculate Conception”.  The dogma was proclaimed in Rome on 8th December, 1854, after Pope Pius IX had consulted all the bishops of the world and the  faculties of theology.  In a letter to the Pope dated 1873, Bernadette, now Sister Marie Bernard, wrote: “Thinking about it, I’d say that the Holy Virgin is good.  You could say she came to confirm the word of our Holy Father.”  In 1874, the Pope gave the name “basilica” to what was still called the “Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes”.  Pope Pius IX is now represented over the front door to the Crypt.  He was beatified in 2000.

POPE Leo XIII (1878-1903)

Leo XIII authorized prayers, readings for Mass, and a Proper Office in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes (1890). This Mass is celebrated on 11th February.  He had a Lourdes Grotto built in the Vatican gardens.  Pope Leo XIII is represented in a mosaic on the left side of the facade of the Immaculate Conception Basilica.

Pope Pius X (1903-1914)

He expanded and improved the Vatican grotto.  He extended the Mass of 11th February to the universal Church. He proclaimed Lourdes as “the most glorious Eucharistic throne in the Catholic universe”. He was canonised in 1954. The medallion representing him is found above a portrait of Pius IX.

Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922)

He was the first Pope to visit Lourdes.  In 1913, before his election, he presided over the Italian national pilgrimage as would his successor, Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), in 1921.  It was during his pontificate that the beatification (1925) and canonization (1933) of Bernadette took place.  For the canonization, the Pope chose the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8.

Pope Pius XII (1939-1958)

Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State, the future Pius XII, was the special envoy of Pius XI for the closing of the Jubilee of the Redemption in 1935.  For three days and three nights, Masses were celebrated in the Grotto.  The Pope approved the construction of the St. Pius X Basilica, which was achieved after much labour.  For the centenary of the Apparitions, he wrote an encyclical in which he spoke of Lourdes as a “new outpouring of the Holy Spirit”.

In 1958, some months before his death, he sent Cardinal Roncalli for the consecration of the basilica, and on the opening day he addressed the pilgrims on the radio.  It is said that, had it not been for his failing health, he would have attended the celebration of the centenary.  He died on 9th October 1958. The world paid tribute to him before he was relentlessly attacked. He is represented on the façade of the Immaculate Conception, on the right-hand side.

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963)

Pope John XXIII had been nuncio in France after the Second World War. He knew Mgr Theas, bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, who had taken courageous positions on the deportation of the Jews during the war.  In 1958, Mgr Roncalli was patriarch of Venice when Pope Pius XII sent him for the consecration of the basilica St. Pius X.  He was beatified, along with Pius IX, in 2000. His two successors, Paul VI (1963-1978) and John Paul I (1978) had apparently been pilgrims to Lourdes before their pontificates.  

What is new with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI is that they visited as Popes.  May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II had come close to being assassinated. He was unable to attend the Eucharistic Congress held in Lourdes the following July.  But in 1983, he came to Lourdes to celebrate the feast of 15th August. The previous evening, at the end of the procession, in no uncertain terms he denounced all violations of religious freedom. No specific country was named, but many knew themselves targeted by his words. Six years later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Pope John Paul II (1978-2005)

He returned to Lourdes for 15th August 2004. This year marked the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  The Pope wanted to celebrate in Rome and then Lourdes, in response to Bernadette’s little phrase: “It looks as though she came to confirm the word of our Holy Father.”  The Pope, much weakened by ill-health, impressed all with his prayer and his humility.  This was his last pilgrimage outside Italy.

POPE Benedict XVI (2005-2013)

Contrary to expectations, shortly after his election Pope Benedict XVI made known his intention of being present during the celebrations at Lourdes marking the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions.  He visited Lourdes from 13th to 15th September 2008.  The Pope followed the Jubilee Way across the town and, over three days, gathered between three and four hundred thousand people, who impressed him deeply with their silent prayerfulness.

POPE Francis (Since 2013)

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, born 17th December 1936 in Buenos Aires, is a man of the Church, current Bishop of Rome, and according to tradition, 266th Pope of the Catholic Church under the name of Francis since his election on 13th March 2013