At age 95, the Pope continued to visit the Vatican’s Lourdes Grotto to recite the rosary. He had forged a deep connection with Our Lady of Lourdes, which he had visited in 2008 during his trip to France.
Last October, a young priest working at the Curia crossed the Vatican gardens to find his offices, not far from Saint Peter’s Square. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he decides to make a short detour to the grotto of Lourdes , this life-size reproduction in the Vatican of the rock cavity where the Virgin appeared to little Bernadette, in 1858. In front of the grotto, the priest meditates , places the burden of his day on the Madonna, then concludes his prayer. But as he turns around to come back down from the Vatican Hill, he discovers, astounded, the pontiff emeritus also arriving towards the grotto, pushed in his chair by the consecrated lay people who have taken care of him since his renunciation in 2013. “I was paralyzed, overcome with emotion. I didn’t move, I just waved my hand,” he confides, still haunted by this vision.
We can see him from afar, sitting on a bench, a white spot that contrasts with the green of the bushes and trees.
Until the end therefore, the pope emeritus will have gone to this cave, located a few hundred meters upstream from the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where he resided. In his work Il Monastero , the Vaticanist Massimo Franco recounts these furtive expeditions of a pope who had resolved to a life withdrawn from the world. “We can see him from afar, sitting on a bench, a white spot that contrasts with the green of the bushes and trees: a lean silhouette, protected even in summer by a sleeveless windbreaker as white as his cassock. The immediate reflex would be to move back, so as not to disturb, as one would do if one surprised a rare and threatened animal, which would rarely come out of its burrow and would never leave its shelter,” he writes in a work which will soon be published in French by Artège editions.
On December 28, when Pope Francis alerted the world to the state of health of his “seriously ill” predecessor, some immediately remembered the deep bond that Joseph Ratzinger had with the Virgin of Lourdes. They rushed to the Vatican grotto. “Let us welcome the invitation of Pope Francis and return our pilgrim hearts to the grotto of Lourdes in the Vatican gardens,” tweeted Cardinal Sandri, prefect emeritus of the congregation for the Oriental Churches. “For years, this place has welcomed the footsteps and supplications of Pope Benedict XVI . Now, Mary watches over the path he travels in these hours. The Orient is close to him! », added the one who was created cardinal by Benedict XVI.
Very close to Saint Bernadette
The German pontiff was the second pope to visit Lourdes, after John Paul II . In 2008, he joined the Pyrenean city on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions.
At the microphone of France Bleu, Mgr Perrier, bishop of Lourdes from 1998 to 2012 , remembered this visit to the Marian city where the pontiff celebrated mass in front of 150,000 people. “He remained in prayer for a very long time during the Eucharistic adoration. A completely silent prayer, not at all conventional. Then he said a text. And then he prayed again for a long time. This showed that he was a man of interiority and truly a man of prayer,” confided the bishop emeritus.
“The feast day of Saint Bernadette is at the same time the day of my birth. As a result, I already feel very close (…) to this young, pure, humble little girl,” Benedict XVI explained to journalists during this trip to France. A nod from the calendar that is reminiscent of another: the day on which Benedict XVI announced to the world his desire to renounce his papal office was none other than February 11, 2013, the day on which The Church celebrates Our Lady of Lourdes…