Thursday, April 24, 2008

EUROPE/FRANCE - Lourdes, city of peace

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to a girl named Bernadette, the small French village of Lourdes is organizing a series of events, in hopes of becoming “the city of peace and dialogue.”

In the month of Mary, on May 22-25, Lourdes will host for the first time the “Universities of peace” and the International Military Pilgrimage.

During the double-event’s presentation in Rome, on April 22, at Vatican Radio’s headquarters, Mr. Michel Azot, Vice-Mayor of Lourdes and founder of the “Universities of peace,” explained that since 2000, the idea existed for making Lourdes into a city of special encounters, a “laboratory” of dialogue and peace, with the conviction that a there is a path to reconciliation that must pass through knowledge, recognition, and dialogue, beginning with the relations among religions.

The “Universities of peace,” for eight years now have witnessed encounters of academics, politicians, diplomats, and world-renowned figures, with the goal of making dialogue, a means of prevention of conflicts and peace, the driving force in the development of all nations. The struggle for peace and dialogue, Mr. Azot said, is the struggle of our century. This year, the group will organize an event in the Ukraine and in the Balkan states.

The International Military Pilgrimage is an event that, for over 50 years, has hosted the visit of members of the military from all over the world. This year’s event has a registration of 22,000 soldiers from 40 countries. Italy will send 6,000. Fr. Jean Louis Theron, Director of the Pilgrimage, explained the paradox of linking the theme of peace to the pilgrimage of soldiers, saying that no one knows the misery of war and the blessing of peace, better than a soldier. The Pilgrimage will include many events, with the focus on the importance of communal prayer, in order to show the world that peace is possible.

Can the armed forces be an instrument of peace? This was the question posed by General Domenico Rossi, Chief Commander of the Central Military Region and President of the Cocer Interforze. The armed forces are certainly a resource at the service of the governments to whom they pledge allegiance, and of themselves, cannot bring peace. They need to enter into dialogue, especially diplomatic dialogue, within their setting. General Rossi’s hope is that, through the armed forces, a universal and lasting peace can be reached. During the month of May, Lourdes will also host cultural activities: on May 22, there is a theater/dance rendition of “The Jeweler’s Shop,” by Karol Wojtyla, promoted by the “Mondi Vicini” Association, and sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Vicariate of Rome, and the Province of Rome. (PC) (Agenzia Fides 23/4/2008; righe 36, parole 452)