Given at Westminster Cathedral for the Virtual Lourdes Pilgrimage on 29th July 2020.
Today, on our virtual pilgrimage to Lourdes, we gather in spirit and prayer for the customary Wednesday International Mass. We can easily conjure up the sights and sounds of that vast underground basilica in Lourdes: the great gathering of people, the hum of anticipation, the mix of languages, the trumpets, the banners, the colourful processions and echo of rich singing. Then the utter stillness and reverence at the key moments in the Mass which bind us together in a shared and single focus: the presence of our Blessed Lord.
Today is different, but not different. We gather in another way, bringing the prayers of our hearts, including all the prayers we have promised. Let us focus our minds and hearts on Jesus alone, knowing that our Blessed Mother brings us to him with love and compassion. In this Mass, we receive his presence, for he is the spiritual food of our souls, the nourishment we need for this pilgrimage of life.
In every pilgrimage, the sick have a pride of place. It is true in every International Mass too. So this morning we commend to our Blessed Lady all the sick of our world, making our prayer truly international. Those who carry a share in the cross of her Son have a special place in Mary's heart. So it is that, throughout the world, our Blessed Lady gives remarkable signs of her presence, inspiring care for the poor and the sick, just as we know so well here in Lourdes.
Today we commend to Mary all who are suffering from the worst effects of the coronavirus, that has inflicted sickness in every part of our human family. We pray, too, for those who have died and whose illness has been exacerbated because of the knock-on effects of this pandemic: those awaiting treatment, those whose operations have been delayed, those whose regular care has been disrupted.
Mary is present to them all. Her shrines are found in every country.
In India, hard hit by this pandemic, we remember the great shrine of Our Lady of Good Health, in Vailankanni, known as the 'Lourdes of the East'. We pray for and with the people of India.
Then I think of the wondrous shrine of Our Lady of Luján, in Argentina, and pray for all the people of South America, with the burdens they bear at this time.
I think everyone knows of the ancient shrine of Guadalupe, in Mexico, marking the appearances of our Blessed Lady there, drawing millions of people to herself from whom they draw succour and strength.
Then I think and pray for the great continent of Africa, threatened as it is by this pandemic and its after-effects. I found the moving story of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Kibeho, in Rwanda, and thought of our prayers mingling with those who pray at that shrine at this time.
In the United States of America, too, a country rich in Marian shrines, the pandemic is afflicting so many whom we include in our prayers at this truly international Mass.
So many other places around the world bear not only the burden of this pandemic but of conflict, violence and poverty too. We hold them in our prayers.
In China, the first to battle the ravages of this virus, there is the shrine of Our Lady Queen of China in the small village of Dong Lu. It has a turbulent history of oppression and recovery. We pray for the many Christians in China and other groups such as the Uyghurs, who suffered fierce oppression by the state authorities.
I think too of the Middle East and the shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon, in Harissa, where some years ago, a solemn act of consecration was made, including these words: 'We ask you, O Blessed Virgin, to bestow your tenderness upon our beloved country and all the Middle East'.
And we pray for nearby Turkey at this moment when the great 'Hagia Sophia' is returned to use as a mosque, repeating events of centuries ago which were accompanied by violence and suffering. 'Hagia Sophia' means 'Holy Wisdom' and refers, of course, to the Wisdom of God, the Incarnate Word made flesh through the Virgin Mary. No wonder that high in the Hagia Sophia, presiding over its vast interior, there is a wonderful mosaic of Mary, presenting the child Jesus. I pray that the esteem in Islam for the person of Mary, Mariam, and our prayers, will help these days to remain peaceful and sustain respect for all the Christian communities in that land. Mary's special place in Turkey is, of course, Ephesus where the shrine of Mother Mary's House is so revered.
Everywhere, Mary reaches out to her children in our need. She does so always through those who are poor, who have so little, yet are rich in prayer and generosity.
Our Marian prayer today centres in Lourdes and includes all the countries of Europe with their many beautiful Marian shrines. In Lourdes, our Blessed Lady's constant messages find such powerful expression: that in our poverty we can become rich in her love; in our sickness, we can find new strength in her embrace; in giving her our service through the sick and the poor we come closer to her Beloved Son to whom she longs to bring us each day and at the last. Perhaps, through her powerful intercession, this pandemic will teach us some of these lessons: to know and love each other more readily; to serve and not simply seek profit here below; to recognise we are but one family and that divisions in hatred and exploitation tear apart the fabric of our own flesh.
May Mary, who never leaves us unaided, pray for us always. And so we say:
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
HE Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster