09/15/2008, 00.00
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“Mary’s smile” offer sufferers reasons for hope, says Pope

Benedict XVI ends his visit to France by celebrating Mass for the sick in Lourdes. Suffering can upset life’s equilibrium, bearing it is very difficult and can lead to the loss of the sense of life, but grace comes as support. From Mary also comes the certainty that Jesus is close those who suffer and “accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.
Lourdes (AsiaNews) – The Mass for the sick, a ceremony dedicated to the six million people who every year play the main role in pilgrimages to Lourdes, was celebrated today, the day of the Blessed Virgin of Sorrows, the last day of Pope Benedict XVI’s stay in France before his departure for Rome. During the service Holy Father stressed the sick’s dignity and the hope, which reflects “Mary’s smile,” that never abandons them. Accepting pain whilst maintaining a sense of life’s value, knowing the value of solidarity whilst knowing that Jesus is always by one’s side are some of the other points he mentioned. The trip itself was a success that surprised papers and TV networks, forcing secular French media to ask why.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the main esplanade of the Lourdes Sanctuary, first of all the sick and their helpers. To them the Pope spoke about “Mary’s smile” which reflects “our dignity as children of God, that dignity which never abandons the sick person. This smile, a true reflection of God’s tenderness, is the source of an invincible hope. Unfortunately we know only too well: the endurance of suffering can upset life’s most stable equilibrium, it can shake the firmest foundations of confidence, and sometimes even leads people to despair over the meaning and value of life.

“[S]uffering,” he said, “is always something alien. It can never be tamed. That is why it is hard to bear, and harder still—as certain great witnesses of Christ’s holiness have done—to welcome it as a significant element in our vocation, or to accept, as Bernadette expressed it, to “suffer everything in silence in order to please Jesus’.”

In one’s lifetime there “are struggles that we cannot sustain alone, without the help of divine grace. When speech can no longer find the right words, the need arises for a loving presence.”

It is at this moment that we week the closeness of our family and friends and of “those who are intimately bound to us by faith. Who could be more intimate to us than Christ and his holy Mother, the Immaculate One? More than any others, they are capable of understanding us and grasping how hard we have to fight against evil and suffering.”

In “the smile of the Virgin lies mysteriously hidden the strength to fight against sickness, in support of life. With her, equally, is found the grace to accept without fear or bitterness to leave this world at the hour chosen by God.”

In Mary’s smile “we grasp that our sole wealth is the love God bears us, which passes through the heart of her, who became our Mother” and “a spring of living water,” a “humble sign” of the wellspring that the Virgin pointed out to Bernadette.

From her believing heart, from her maternal heart, flows living water which purifies and heals. By immersing themselves in the baths at Lourdes, how many people have discovered and experienced the gentle maternal love of the Virgin Mary, becoming attached to her in order to bind themselves more closely to the Lord” who “imparts his salvation by means of the sacraments, and especially in the case of those suffering from sickness or disability, by means of the grace of the sacrament of the sick.”

After the homily the Holy Father imparted the same Sacraments to the sick. “Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world,” he said. “In order to heal us, he does not remain outside the suffering that is experienced; he eases it by coming to dwell within the one stricken by illness, to bear it and live it with him. Christ’s presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone: as a suffering member of Christ, he is conformed to Christ in his self-offering to the Father, and he participates, in him, in the coming to birth of the new creation.

The Pope’s last thoughts were for all those who, in Lourdes, have come as helpers to the sick. “The service of charity that you offer,” he said, “is a Marian service. Mary entrusts her smile to you, so that you yourselves may become, in faithfulness to her son, springs of living water. Whatever you do, you do in the name of the Church, of which Mary is the purest image. May you carry her smile to everyone! (FP)

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