02/11/2008, 00.00
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Some 70,000 in Lourdes for the 150th anniversary of the first apparition

Given the extraordinary turnout some to eight million pilgrims are expected during this Jubilee Year. Benedict XVI might be among them in the fall. TV networks and newspapers from around the world are interested in the event, including some from Asia.

Lourdes (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The event has already raised interest in TV networks from countries as different as India and Korea, not to mention Japanese newspapers, and among the eight million pilgrims expected some will be coming from Thailand and China. The Jubilee of the Apparitions that began on 8 December last year and that will last till the same date this year promises to surpass all expectations.

The arrival of 70,000 pilgrims in the French town are proof enough of that but today at least they came to take part in the Mass Mgr Jacques Perrier, bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, will celebrate along with 29 bishops and 800 priests on the 150th anniversary of the first of 18 apparitions which took place until July 16 1858.

Benedict XVI also spoke about today’s celebration announcing that he will personally visit the shrine, in the fall, perhaps in September. In mentioning the apparition during yesterday’s Angelus the Pope said: “The message that the Virgin Mary continues to spread in Lourdes recalls the words that Jesus pronounced at the beginning of his public mission, and which we hear again several times in these days of Lent: ‘Convert and believe in the Gospel,’ pray and do penance.”

The number of faithful present today far surpasses every prediction and the broadcast by several European TV networks of the Sunday Mass celebrated by the bishop shows that the event is raising interest in the media world as well. Only today “we shall receive a quarter of the journalists we normally received in a year,” said David Torchala, press agent for the shrine’s communications service.

The town is also getting ready for the event. Work is underway to improve access to its main areas for those who cannot walk. A “route” that stops at places linked to the life of Bernadette Soubirous has been created.

For his part Bishop Perrier has highlighted 12 subjects that should illustrate by means of various initiatives the Church’s mission in fields in which Lourdes has expertise given its initial message and its experience over the past 150 years.

The “Twelve Missions of Lourdes” include the Church in mission with volunteers in the service of others; the Church in mission with Mary; the Church in mission with young people; the Church in mission for Christian unity; the Church in mission to call people to convert; the Church in mission towards the sick; the Church in mission towards the disabled; the Church in mission among the nations; the Church in mission for peace; the Church in mission nourished by the Eucharist; the Church in mission for inter-faith meetings; the Church in mission among the excluded.

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”