Today persecuted Christians and the martyrs of the Church took central place in our prayers, especially during the International Mass which we celebrate as one family with fellow pilgrims from every part of the world. In his message today, Cardinal Vincent reflects on this theme:
He also reflects on the heat of the day, which was bright, sunny and hot from the outset. This was a contrast to the cool of the evening yesterday, when, despite a full day, our pilgrims made most of the opportunity to pray with Our Lady. Some took part in the evening's Torchlight Procession.
Others lit candles at the Grotto for all their own prayer intentions as well for friends and family at home.
Bishop Nicholas Hudson, assisted by Fr Mark Walker and the Youth Ministry team, led a special prayer service for the Redcaps at the Grotto under the watchful gaze of Our Lady. The Redcaps work very hard most of the day to ensure that the pilgrims assigned to them are able to participate in the liturgies, events and all that the pilgrimage has to offer. Nourishing their own spiritual needs is just as important. This prayer service and other similar opportunities are a time for these young people to reflect on their experience, pray together and grow closer to Jesus. It is these encounters that nurture a profound and lifelong relationship with the Lord, and sometimes influence in remarkable ways the future direction of their lives.
This morning, the pilgrims from St Joseph's Pastoral Centre celebrated Mass in their patron saint's chapel. The rest of the pilgrims gathered in the Basilica of Pius X (Underground Basilica) for the International Mass. Cardinal Vincent presided and preached the homily. He invited all who were gathered to join him in praying 'especially for Christians who are persecuted for their faith, in so many parts of the world'.
He highlighted the fact that 'persecution of Christians is more widespread, more far-reaching than ever before'. He urged us to pray for these, our brothers and sisters: 'Even if we cannot reach out to touch and comfort them, we can hold them in our prayers so that they may receive the comfort of knowing that they are not forgotten and that we strive, here today, to unite ourselves with them, offering their pain and suffering to our loving Father.'
He also remembered all those who Christians who have embraced 'faithfulness to Jesus' to the end: 'We thank God that even today we are enriched by the deaths of so many martyrs, people who have faced and accepted death rather than embrace unfaithfulness to the Lord. They are the riches of the Church and the seed of our future.'
One of these martyrs, who is commemorated in the Underground Basilica and who has a direct link with our diocese, is Blessed Christian Chessel, one of the Algerian martyrs beatified by Pope Francis in December.
Bl Christian was taught by our own Canon Michael Brockie, who in turn was taught by Fr Austin Garvey. The Cardinal described Fr Austin's presence among us on the pilgrimage 'as the best homily of all because it speaks so eloquently' of Fr Austin's determination to spend this time in Lourdes with Our Lady.
At the end of Mass, we processed out towards the Grotto to pray at the special reliquary of St Bernadette. (If you'd like to read more about this reliquary, there's an article on the Lourdes Sanctuary website.)
In the afternoon, as the mercury soared, many pilgrims took respite in the mountains, where the air is fresher and the atmosphere more peaceful than the town.
This evening Cardinal Vincent and Bishop Nicholas return to London to take part in Archbishop-elect John Wilson's installation in Southwark tomorrow. We hold him in our prayers as he begins this new ministry.
Bishop John Sherrington remains with us to lead the pilgrimage. Tomorrow, he celebrates our closing Mass in the Grotto at 8.30am (7.30am UK time). For virtual pilgrims joining us from home, Lourdes TV carries a live broadcast from the Grotto at this link. Please join us.
Please continue to pray for us as we are praying for you at home.
You can find yesterday's recap here.