HMEH the Grand Master Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto Lourdes 5 May 2018
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, dear Confreres, dear Volunteers, dear Pilgrims,
Welcome to the 60th Annual International Pilgrimage of the Order to Lourdes.
Welcome, welcome indeed.
May I extend a special greeting to the Special Delegate of His Holiness, the Most Reverend Archbishop Angelo Becciu, and Their Eminences the Cardinals Renato Martino and Prosper Grech.
I also send a very warm and affectionate welcome to our Prelate, Mons. Jean Laffitte.
For all the many occasions that I have come to Lourdes – and this is my 23rd pilgrimage – to this holy place, this time is very special. For many reasons.
At the Council Complete of State on 2 May, I was called to serve as Grand Master. I thank all the electors for the faith they have shown in electing me to this onerous role. I will give my all for our Order. But without their constant help, together with the commitment and the prayers from all of you here, I will not be able to go forward.
I cannot recall a time that is more important for the Order, and for all of us, than now. We have shown in these recent days that the Order, with its proud tradition reaching back almost a thousand years, is alive and well and that we are looking to the future with courage and energy. We have shown that we are eager to revise our Constitutional Charter and strengthen our governance, so that we can meet the challenges of the 21st century with the best preparation possible. We need the capacity to give our Order a structure of rules which will allow us to go ahead now and in the coming years.
It is the same challenge that our predecessors faced down the centuries when they realised that it was necessary to update the Order’s Statutes.
As I have said before, this reform will protect the unique and traditional identity of our religious institution, it will guard the Order’s charisms, safeguard our identity and guarantee our continuing commitment to care for our neighbour.
I wish to emphasise again that the religious character of the Order is not in doubt. Nor would we transform ourselves into a Non-Government Organisation (NGO).
It is really here in Lourdes – especially because of the 160th anniversary of the Apparitions, as well as the 60th anniversary of our International Pilgrimages here – that ‘tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum’ – give their greatest testimony.
Let us take a moment to look at some impressive statistics: among our 7500 pilgrims we welcome 1500 malades. Under the banner of the Order we are here today represented by 45 nationalities – including Asia Pacific: Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Kora. From Africa: Senegal and Togo. From the Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, Peru, Uruguay and the United States, as well as our dear confreres from the Middle East, especially Lebanon. We particularly appreciate the efforts of our dear confreres and malades who come from very far away to celebrate and pray with us on this deeply significant occasion. But as we celebrate here, we also pray – we pray for each other, for our malades, our families, our friends, and for the whole world.
Dear Mons. Becciu, I would ask you to kindly convey the sentiment of our closeness to Pope Francis, assuring him that every one of us here on pilgrimage will pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, that the Holy Spirit will light his way and guide him throughout his mission, for our good and for all mankind.
This past year has brought many crises, so many tragedies, so much sadness, in man’s inhumanity to man. The Order of Malta contributes its own force for good, offering succour where we can. The unprecedented movements of peoples across the world has brought many problems and many injustices. As well as our help for those in great need, the authoritative voice of the Order continues to call on the international community to respect the human rights of the victims of war, of persecution, of economic hardship, forced to leave their homes and lives.
We continue to call on the international community to respect the dignity of these innocent victims. We continue to support the migrants, refugees and IDPs in their countries of origin, in their travels, often in dangerous and terrifying conditions, and in the host countries where integration programmes are vital for their futures, as well as for the local populations in those communities. In all these stages of the migrant journey, the Order is playing its part.
Our help is there, as it is in over a hundred countries around the world, where our work to support those in need continues unabated, for the lonely, the disabled, the elderly infirm, the homeless, children in perilous circumstances.
We stand together here in Lourdes, which casts its own influence on us. We meditate on the miracle of Bernadette, and the miracles that have been wrought here, so many times over so many years. Since the wondrous apparitions of Mary to the little 14-year old in 1858 – those experiences were to have a profound effect on the world. We reflect on what a miracle is: it may not be a cure from a serious illness or a disability, but it may well be a grace that is given to all pilgrims who come here – the miracle of serenity in the love of the Virgin Mary, the miracle of unconditional kindness to others, the miracle of tolerance, the miracle of acceptance of our own difficulties. The miracle that helps us understand that we are part of the same great spiritual family – the very special family that is the Order of Malta.
All that helps us to understand that the miracle of Lourdes is for all of us. Just open your heart.
As in every year, our thanks go to the Lourdes Sanctuary, to the Hospitalite, to the President of the French Association Thierry de Beaumont Beynac, to Alain de Tonquedec and his tireless team here, and to the dedicated team in Rome. We thank, too, our Grand Priors, Procurators, Presidents, Hospitallers, the medical teams, the volunteers, our chaplains and every one of you.
Before we continue on our way, I would like us to think about the weather for a moment. Why? Because it is interesting to reflect on the effects of the weather we encounter here in Lourdes each year. Sometimes there are light showers, sometimes it rains heavily, I can remember when it has snowed, and sometimes there is glorious sunshine. There is a little of everything.
All these conditions are rather like life itself. We have storms but we also have sun. We have dark times, but we also have times that are full of light. I see our pilgrimage as offering us that strength, to weather the storms and find the light. Mary is offering us her maternal love through Bernadette. Let us go forward into that light together.
Dear pilgrims, may I wish you all a spiritually fulfilling pilgrimage. May the light of the Virgin Mary shine upon us all.