This is a great sign that the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa in its peregrination across the world arrived in the shrine of Lourdes exactly on the 8th of December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It seems that Our Lady Herself wanted it because the organisers had not been able to plan the date earlier due to enormous distances and the sequence of meetings in 22 countries.
At 9.30 A.M. a solemn procession started at the Shrine of Lourdes to the underground Basilica of St. Pius X. The Basilica is the biggest church in France. It can hold over 25 thousand people. About 100 priests participated in the procession together with the people serving during the Holy Eucharist. On this great feast the Basilica of the Immaculate Virgin Mary was full. Numerous pilgrims came to Lourdes in order to attend this international Holy Mass in the presence of Our Lady of Częstochowa. The Icon was carried into the Basilica and placed to the right of the main altar. Before the beginning of the Eucharist Nicolas Brouwet, the bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, and those assisting him at the altar prayed in great meditation before the miraculous Icon for a long time.
Bishop Brouwet gave a splendid sermon in three languages – French, Italian and Spanish, about the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mystery which is connected so much with the apparitions in Lourdes.
After the Holy Mass the Częstochowa Icon was solemnly carried to the Massabiel Grotto where the Mother of God appeared to St. Bernadetta Soubirous in 1858. The Icon was placed on the stone altar in the Grotto of the apparitions and the people said the prayer of Angelus at noon. Many pilgrims had been keeping vigil at the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa until she left Lourdes.
The day earlier, on Friday morning, December 7th – on the Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary – the Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa came from Toulouse to the town of Bagneres de Bigorre near the shrine of Lourdes where Polish Carmelite Sisters of the Infant Jesus have their house. It was a real spiritual treat for both the Polish and the French sisters, who had joined the Poles. The sisters, closed in their convent, are not able to go to Jasna Góra, so Our Lady of Częstochowa visited them Herself to tell them that She is always with them, that She remembers them and takes care of them. What a blessing it is to be face to face with the Mother of God! The Holy Mass, the prayers of the hours, and adoration... A feast and blessing for all the people living in Bagneres de Bigorre.
In the evening at 4 PM, at the beginning of the celebrations of the Eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the Icon left the chapel of the Carmelite Sisters and went to the parish church of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lourdes, where at 5.30 PM it received a warm welcome from the local clergy and the faithful who gathered in great numbers. The nave and the aisles of this enormous church are rarely as full as on that day.
At 6 PM, after the Icon was carried in a procession and solemnly put at a place of honour, the Holy Mass was celebrated by many priests. It was presided over by the local pastor Fr. Jean-Francois Duhar. He preached a sermon in which he talked a lot about the irreplaceable role of Virgin Mary in the defence of the civilisation of life, so much threatened in our time by the extreme liberalism and moral relativism that spread faster and faster. Only special God`s grace, which can only be obtained through prayers to Mary, can bring people`s hearts to repentance. This is why the great effort of the Icon`s peregrination “From Ocean to Ocean” across the world, to save the family, the threatened human life and the dignity of every man, deserves the highest praise. It is so exceptionally daring and so up-to-date.
At 8.30 PM a prayer vigil with the Virgin Mary for the family and defence of life started and it continued almost to midnight. All the time the service was presided over by the local pastor with assisting persons in lithurgical dress. The very rich programme consisted of prayers for the families and the selected readings, among others from the John Paul II`s Encyclica “Evangelium vitae”. It was interspaced with the singing of the numerous Orthodox community from Lourdes and the Poles from the neighbourhood, particularly the Sisters of Nazareth from the House of the Polish Catholic Mission “Bellevue”. The Icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa made the members of the Orthodox Church involved in the prayers. They took a very active part in the service, gave the testimony of their faith by praying, singing beautifully and paying public tribute on their knees to the Holy Icon from Częstochowa. In France the peregrination arrangements have been put in the hands of the Brotherhood of Notre-Dame de France which has a lot of experience in this field.