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Marist Bulletin - Number 321


Lourdes prepares for its 150th anniversary - An interview with Father Raymond Zambelli, director of the shrine

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In Mary’s Assumption and in her Immaculate Conception can be found the two central doctrines bearing upon the mystery of her life, a life that continues to bear life, speaking even to the men and women of today. Because that is true, the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception provides a jumping off point for reflection upon the history of the Mother of God as well as the historical occasions when Mary’s presence has been felt in new and unexpected ways. Such, for example, was the case on February 11, l858 in the small French town of Lourdes. Mary appeared there to an unschooled shepherd girl, Bernadette Soubirous. Very soon the 150th anniversary of the apparition will take place. At Lourdes, the event will be commemorated by a special Jubilee Year, which got under way last December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Father Zambelli, what significance lies in the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes?

The anniversary is a historical moment of gratitude for all the graces which have been bestowed upon millions of pilgrims in this place. The occasion is even more than that. It is a providential moment to return to the original form of the Virgin’s message, to apply it - in all its beauty, its relevance and its power - to our times and to ourselves. Many of our contemporaries are disoriented by today’s world. They are looking for some stable compass points by which to direct their lives. It seems to me that Lourdes could be considered a privileged point for strengthening one’s faith and one’s hope. It could be as well a place to learn once again love of one’s neighbor.

What will be the main theme of the anniversary?

The 2008 Jubilee is going to be rather more than a simple commemoration of the apparitions. In fact, the Jubilee will have a strong future orientation. That is the reason why the main theme will be: the place of Lourdes within the internal dynamics of the new evangelization so-called. In striving to spread the its message over 150 years, Lourdes has taken on some special aptitudes in several fields of the Church’s mission. Such would be the case for: the cause of peace; that of inter-religious dialogue and Christian unity; in concern for the sick, and for young people, with closeness to the disabled, and those on the margins of society.

How are you preparing the shrine to welcome the 2008 visitors?

For a number of years the Lourdes shrine itself here in France and all the others spread around the world, have been preparing on the religious level to celebrate the Jubilee. We have been trying to understand better the essential significance that touches us in the message given through the apparitions. Your take, for example: water, light, rock, the internationality of those who come here as pilgrims, the service rendered to the sick, the invitation to conversion. Besides such religious and spiritual elements as those, the structures which provide accommodation and welcome at Lourdes have undertaken a tremendous updating effort, remodeling various buildings which receive pilgrims each year. The same is true, in its fashion, for the basilica where the liturgies take place. We have completely renovated the interior of the Rosary Basilica and its gorgeous mosaics.
We are moving along too with the modernization of the central infrastructure systems of the Saint Pius X Basilica below the main floor: new lighting, new giant screens, a new sound system. To help with communications, we have established a special website dedicated to the 2008 Jubilee. We also envision setting up a “Jubilee Route” which pilgrims could follow. The route would include: a stop at the parish church of Lourdes (to recall Bernadette’s baptism); another at the Cachot (former prison where the Soubirous family stayed while the apparitions were occurring); a pause at the Hospice where Bernadette made First Communion which she had so long desired; and, as the final step of the route, the Grotto, privileged spot amongst all the special places of Lourdes.

Have you thought of special programs for young people?

The schedule envisions some special activities for young people in July 2008. Conducting the events in July would provide a sort of shared experience with World Youth Day which will be taking place at that time in Sydney, Australia. In accord with the way we think, the Lourdes event would allow young Europeans who otherwise could not do so, to join in World Youth Day with its international character. The young people at Lourdes would participate in various activities of special interest. The activities would have aspects artistic, musical and religious; and they would take place in a climate of conviviality, of encounter and of celebration. These events will take place at Lourdes itself from the July 15 to 20.

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