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Cardinal to lead pilgrimage
to Lourdes in 2008


Author Title

In 1858, young Bernadette Soubirous saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near her home in Lourdes, France.

The Virgin, dressed in white, appeared 18 times between Feb. 11 and July 16, and always urged penance. When asked, she identified herself as the Immaculate Conception.

Today, Lourdes accommodates about 6 million pilgrims a year: the sick, the disabled, the young who come to serve, the curious. While there have been many miraculous cures from the water at Lourdes, most come for the spiritual healing.

Next August, in celebration of the 150th jubilee of the apparitions, Cardinal George will lead a pilgrimage of about 200 Catholics from the Archdiocese of Chicago to Lourdes, and those who cannot make the trip are invited to participate in an “at home pilgrimage” with Marian processions, Masses and other opportunities to pray with the pilgrims in France.

“As an archdiocese, we will seek freedom and healing from the sins of scandal, sexual abuse, racism, economic injustice and selfishness,” Cardinal George wrote in a letter to parishioners Sept. 12 announcing the pilgrimage. “We will pray in a particular way for the grace and courage to promote greater respect for all human life, to support vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and to defend and support Christian marriage and family life. At the end of the Lourdes Jubilee Year, on Dec. 8, 2008, I will rededicate the archdiocese to the patronage of Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception.”

The 200 who do participate in the pilgrimage, which has the theme, “Keep Us Free from Sin,” should be representative of the archdiocese, including a cross-section of ages, racial and ethnic groups and vicariates. Those who are ill and their care-givers are particularly invited. Those who cannot pay the full cost can ask for some assistance from the parishes and ministries they represent, according to the committee organizing the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage itself is an opportunity to teach Catholics about the longstanding Catholic tradition of pilgrimage, Cardinal George wrote in his letter.

“Whether to parishes or shrines in one’s own neighborhood or to holy places overseas, pilgrimages, journeys that are made for an intentionally spiritual purpose, form us as disciples of the Lord, deepen our unity with the Universal Church and express our faith in a public way that invites others to follow Christ,” he wrote.

In addition to the Lourdes pilgrimage, Catholics from the archdiocese are expected to particpate in pilgrimages to the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, Canada, and to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, next year.

Father Wayne Watts, pastor of St. John Berchmans Parish, has led groups of young people and adults on pilgrimages to Lourdes since 1995, and is on the committee for “Keep Us Free from Sin.” The effect Lourdes has had on the pilgrims amazes him, he said, and he offered to share some of their reflections.

One such essay is excerpted below, and others will be reprinted in upcoming editions of the Catholic New World.