VATICAN CITY, JUL 16, 2004 (VIS) - When Pope John Paul II travels to Lourdes on August 14-15 to celebrate the feast of the Assumption and to mark the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, it will be his 104th foreign apostolic trip and the seventh time he has been to France. His last visit was in August 1997 for World Youth Day.
He was the first Pope ever to visit Lourdes when he went there in 1983 as a pilgrim during the Holy Year of the Redemption. This August is his second trip to the celebrated shrine where, on March 25, 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to the young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous and announced: "I am the Immaculate Conception." Mary first appeared to Bernadette on February 11 of that year.
On December 8, 1854, after having consulted the bishops of the world, Pope Pius IX, with the Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus," solemnly proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which affirms: "We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."
The Conference of the Bishops of France, in a July information bulletin, outlined the Holy Father's itinerary for the weekend. He will arrive at the Tarbes-Ousson Airport at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, where President Jacques Chirac of France is scheduled to meet him. Towards 1 p.m. the Pope will go to the Grotto where, in late afternoon, he will be joined by other pilgrims with whom he will pray the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary as the faithful process around the shrine. The fifth mystery will end in the square in front of the basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, following which the Holy Father will address the crowd. At 9 p.m. there will be the traditional torchlit procession on the shrine grounds.
On Sunday, August 15, feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John Paul II is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 10 a.m. at the shrine. In the afternoon he will spend some private time in prayer at the Grotto. His departure for Rome is set for 6 p.m.
According to the bishops, more than 300,000 people, including 2,000 journalists who have registered for the occasion, are expected in Lourdes for the two-day event. The French bishops, together with the authorities of the Lourdes shrine and the prefecture of Hautes-Pryenees, have created an Internet site, available in French and English, for the visit: www.lourdes2004.com.
When he instituted the World Day of the Sick in 1992, Pope John Paul chose February 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, as the date on which this day would be marked each year. The first world day took place in 1993 in Lourdes on the theme "That the sick and disabled will have their rightful place in society and in the Church." This year the World Day of the Sick was again celebrated in Lourdes, on the theme "The Immaculate Conception and Health in the Christian Roots of Europe."
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