LOURDES, France (Reuters) - Pope Benedict prayed on Saturday at the site where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a French peasant girl 150 years ago, and asked the world not to forget the victims of terrorism and hatred.
The pope arrived in the southwestern town of Lourdes on the second day of his visit to France after earlier celebrating an outdoor mass for more than 250,000 people in Paris, telling them the modern world had made idols of money and power.
At Lourdes, Benedict prayed in the grotto where Saint Bernadette Soubirous said she had seen the Madonna 18 times in 1858, and drank water from a spring that believers say has healing powers.
In the past 150 years, the Church has recognised as “miracles” 67 medically inexplicable healings of sick pilgrims who visited Lourdes.
Later, at the end of a candlelight procession around the grounds of the sanctuary, Benedict told tens of thousands who had gathered to hear him not to forget those suffering in the world.
“We think of innocent victims who suffer from violence, war, terrorism and famine; those who bear the consequences of injustices, scourges and disasters, hatred and oppression; of attacks on their human dignity and fundamental rights, on their freedom to act and think,” he said.
The pope was speaking spoke two days after the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks against the United States.
Benedict was to spend three days in Lourdes, the last foreign destination visited by Pope John Paul II before his death in 2005.
At mass on Saturday morning in Paris, the pope told more than a quarter of a million people that the modern world had turned money, possessions and power into idols as false as the gold and silver statues worshipped by the pagans of antiquity.
“Has not our modern world created its own idols?” he said.
“Has it not imitated, perhaps inadvertently, the pagans of antiquity, by diverting man from his true end, from the joy of living eternally with God,” he said in fluent French, wearing gold, white and red vestments.
Benedict, who arrived in France on Friday, celebrated the mass at Les Invalides, a complex of military buildings begun by King Louis XIV in the 17th century that houses the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte.
In his homily, he pursued a theme dear to him: the need to inject lasting spiritual and religious values into a modern society often enamoured of things material and fleeting.
He quoted the writings of St Paul, saying “Money is the root of all evil”, and added in his own words: “Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge diverted man from his true destiny?”
Since he arrived on Friday, the pope has been encouraging Catholics to speak out confidently in a country where “laicite”, the separation of church and state that often relegates faith to the private sphere, is part of the national psyche.
The once powerful French church struggles with a shortage of priests and Sunday mass attendance is below 10 percent.
But religion has re-emerged as a factor in public life, especially because of the growth of Islam, and French Catholics have increasingly spoken out on social issues.