08/15/2004, 00.00
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Pope tells women to be free defending life and that which is invisible

The Pope spoke again of the status of women in the final mass of the pilgrimage. He appealed to the young to "give life meaning".

Lourdes (AsiaNews) – Appearing in better physical conditions than yesterday, the Pope urged women to be "the sentinel of the invisible" in an age "of materialism and secularism" and bear witness of those "essential values that are seen with the eyes of the heart".

This was the essence of the Pope's message in the final mass celebrated in Lourdes, a place so touched by the feminine because of the Virgin's apparition to the girl Bernadette. The "task" the message calls for reflects the Church's concern for the status of women in society, a concern best explained in the letter recently published by Card. Joseph Ratzinger, but one also reflected in John Paul II's warning to men and women to "be truly free", to defend that freedom through the One "who for freedom has set us free!"

During the mass, the white table cloth covering the altar seemed to lose itself for several hundred yards into the huge crowd of perhaps 300,000 faithful who had gathered at Lourdes' la prairie for the papal mass.

As they did yesterday, people prayed for peace, but like all things in Lourdes, the core of their prayers was the personal relationship to God through Mary's intercession. It was this relationship the Pope evoked at the end of the mass before the Angelus:

"The Blessed Virgin met Bernadette at the rock of Massabielle. She revealed herself to her as the One full of God's grace, and she asked her to do penance and pray.

"She pointed to the spring of water, and asked the girl to drink. Fresh spring water has thus become one of Lourdes' symbols, a symbol of the new life Christ gives to those who convert.

"Yes! Christianity is source of life and Mary, the sentinel of its spring. She urges us all to give up pride and choose humility to gain Her Son's mercy and work for a culture of love." And so

Pope John Paul II appealed to young people, to women, to everyone:

"From this grotto of Massabielle the Blessed Virgin speaks to us too, the Christians of the third millennium. Let us listen to her!

"Listen to her, young people who seek an answer capable of giving meaning to your lives. Here you can find that answer. It is a demanding one, yet it is the only answer which is genuinely satisfying. For it contains the secret of true joy and peace.

"This grotto also issues a special call to women. Appearing here, Mary entrusted her message to a young girl, as if to emphasise the special mission of women in our own time, tempted as it is by materialism and secularism: to be in today's society a witness of those essential values which are seen only with the eyes of the heart.

"To you, women, falls the task of being sentinels of the Invisible! I appeal urgently to all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to do everything in your power to ensure that life, each and every life, will be respected from conception to its natural end. Life is a sacred gift, and no one can presume to be its master."

Of great note was the crowd's reaction to this segment in John Paul II's appeal. At each applause, the Pontiff repeatedly urged people to respect life.

 "Our Lady of Lourdes," the Pope said, "has a message for everyone. Be men and women of freedom! But remember: human freedom is a freedom wounded by sin. It is a freedom which itself needs to be set free. Christ is its liberator.

"In this we know we can count on Mary, who, since she never yielded to sin, is the only creature who is perfectly free. I entrust you to her. Walk beside Mary as you journey towards the complete fulfilment of your humanity!

As an example of such humanity, the Pope thanked the many young volunteers who help the sick and infirm who come to Lourdes. Two of them recited the prayer of the faithful for all those living with handicaps, for the hospital staff who must "follow the example of Your Son".

Especially poignant were the prayers for all those life has hurt, that they may find someone to hear and help them, for France and Europe, that their peoples may remember their Christian roots, and finally, for peace, that it might find women and men courageous enough to defend it at all times."

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