The Order of Malta’s 50th pilgrimage to Lourdes
The Order of Malta’s 50th International Pilgrimage to Lourdes took place from 2 to 7 May with some 8000 participants, including over 1500 sick, coming from 42 countries. Record numbers for a pilgrimage with a special character this year, as it was the first to be led by the Order’s new Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, elected on 11 March last. It was also the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions and the 50th of the Order’s International Pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Noteworthy this year was the participation of the President of the Republic of Malta, Dr. Edward Fenech-Adami, who attended the main religious ceremonies, including the international mass officiated by Cardinal Pio Laghi.
The Church in Mission among Nations
During the 2007 Pilgrimage the Bishop of Lourdes, the Right Reverend Jacques Perrier, had presented the programme for the 2008 Jubilee Year to the Order, and in particular the twelve missions chosen as important indications for pilgrims gathering in Lourdes for the 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions. The Bishop of Lourdes announced that the Order’s international character meant that it would be entrusted with the eighth mission: the Church in mission among nations. The patron of this mission is the Blessed John XXIII, chosen for his celebrated social encyclicals.
The Order of Malta has organized an exhibition at Lourdes on relations among nations, inspired by the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes and by the Social Encyclicals of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II.
The Fifty Years of the International Pilgrimage
Some of the Order of Malta’s National Associations, and in particular the British and French ones, had already organised pilgrimages to Lourdes before 1958, the year when the Order’s first International Pilgrimage was organised for the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions. This pilgrimage became annual, organised mainly by the French Association with an ample presence of National Associations. In 1975, Prince Guy de Polignac, President of the French Association, asked Grand Master Angelo de Mojana to appoint a General Coordinator, since the national groups, and in particular the Italians, had become so numerous that the French needed help in organizing the pilgrimage.
Over the years, new National Associations joined the pilgrimage, initially represented by few people, who were warmly applauded during the presentation evening, especially when small groups of the sick and their assistants from the eastern countries started to participate. These small groups have now become larger and well consolidated. We recall with particular emotion the arrival of the Delegation from the Lebanon and other countries sorely tried by war or other political confrontations.