Pope anoints sick at Lourdes on last day in France

Mon Sep 15, 2008 6:50am EDT
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

LOURDES, France (Reuters) - Pope Benedict anointed and prayed for 10 ailing Roman Catholics on Monday during his final mass at the Lourdes shrine in southwestern France whose waters are reputed to have the power of miraculous healing.

Patients on wheeled stretchers and elderly in wheelchairs, many huddled under blankets against the morning chill, joined about 30,000 faithful outside the basilica built over the grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1858.

Although Lourdes is known for the 67 miracles the Catholic Church says have occurred there, Benedict made no mention of them in his sermon on devotion to Mary. The anointing with consecrated oil was meant to bring spiritual healing, he said.

"Christ is not a healer in the manner of the world," the German-born pontiff explained in his sermon. "Christ's presence comes to break the isolation which pain induces. Man no longer bears his burden alone."

Of the 10 he anointed, Benedict addressed eight in French, one in English and one in German. Only three were well enough to walk up unaided and kneel before him as he applied the oil to their foreheads and hands.

Benedict was due to return to Rome after the mass, the end of a four-day visit during which he encouraged a greater role for faith in French public life and told French bishops to make more space in their church for traditionalist Catholics.

His calls for a more tolerant "laicite," the French division of church and state that mostly sidelines religion from public affairs, echoed those of President Nicolas Sarkozy but elicited criticism from secularists opposed to any change.


<p>Pope Benedict XVI anoints a faithful with the holy oil during his final mass for the sick at the Basilica of the Rosary (Basilique Notre-Dame du Rosaire) at the Lourdes shrine in southwestern France, on September 15, 2008 whose waters are reputed to have the power of miraculous healing. REUTERS/Alberto Pizzoli/Pool</p>