Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Lourdes, Suffering and Song

Today, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, marks the church's annual observance of the World Day of the Sick.

While the Pope participated by popping in at the tail end of the annual Mass and Vigil in St Peter's Basilica, this year's hub for the celebrations was in Seoul, South Korea, where Vatican health czar Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán represented Benedict XVI. This year's celebrations marked the 15th anniversary of the observance's institution by Pope John Paul II.

Departing from his usual exegesis on the day's liturgical texts, Benedict made the sick the linchpin of his Angelus talk this morning:
Benedict XVI recalled the “prodigious event” of “the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to St Bernadette, which took place on 11 February 1858 in the grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes”. This event, continued the pope, made “the location, situated in the French slopes of the Pyrenees, a global center for pilgrimages and intense Marian spirituality. In this place, for nearly 150 years now, the call of Our Lady to prayer and repentance still reverberates powerfully, a quasi permanent echo of the invitation with which Jesus inaugurated his preaching in Galilee: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mk 1:15).”

Although miracles and healings confirmed by a team of doctors often take place at Lourdes, the pope saw fit to draw attention to a more profound miracle: “Moreover, the shrine has become a destination of many sick pilgrims who, putting themselves in a position to listen to the Most Holy Mary, are encouraged to accept their sufferings and to offer them for the salvation of the world, uniting them with those of the crucified Christ.”

Benedict XVI explained the connection between the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick: “It was precisely because of this link between Lourdes and human suffering that, 15 years ago, the beloved John Paul II wanted the World Day of the Sick to be celebrated on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This year, the focus of this feast is in the city of Seoul, capital of South Korea, where I sent Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care to represent me. I send an affectionate greeting to him and to all those gathered there.”

The pope continued: “I would like to extend my thoughts to health workers across the world, well aware of the importance of their service to sick people in our society. In particular, I want to express my spiritual closeness and my affection for our sick brothers and sisters, especially those who are afflicted by more serious and painful illnesses. On this Day, our attention is turned towards them in a special way. It is necessary to support the development of palliative care that offers holistic support and gives terminally ill people the human support and spiritual accompaniment that they badly need.”
In acknowledging the presence of the various language groups at today's noon encounter, the pontiff cited among the English-speaking pilgrims a delegation of US parish music directors "representing the National Association of Pastoral Musicians," or NPM.

No, there was no tongue-lashing nor carpet-calling on the papal part -- the church musicians were actually greeted quite warmly, as Benedict wished that their time in Rome would impel them to "hunger and thirst more deeply for [Jesus'] justice and peace" as outlined in today's Gospel of the Beatitudes.

Luckily for us, our pastoral musicians already contribute greatly to that. Here's to much more of the same in the years to come.

AP/Riccardo de Luca