Lourdes (AsiaNews/CWN) Upon arriving in the Sanctuary of Lourdes John Paul II will greet the sick and then confer one of the rarest papal honours on the statue of Our Lady in the Massabielle grotto: a golden rose.
The tradition dates back to the 11th century, a time when Pontiffs offered kings and princes a golden rose.
The rose was made by expert goldsmiths using the finest gold and, as some historians claim, often melted down to fill the royal treasury.
The practice of giving this honour to temporal rulers declined in recent decades. The last royal personage to receive it was the Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg in 1956.
Popes did however continue bestowing golden roses on Catholic shrines around the world.
John Paul II himself conferred it on Marian sanctuaries in Czestochowa, in Poland, and Loreto, in Italy.
His devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes goes back a long way. As Karol Woityla he made his first journey to the shrine in 1947 soon after his priestly ordination. He returned in August 1983 as John Paul II.