Pope Benedict XVI held a deep love for Our Lady of Lourdes until his death. A famous story about this reverence goes as follows; at age 95, Pope Benedict XVI continued to visit the Vatican's Lourdes grotto to pray the Rosary. He had forged a deep bond with Our Lady of Lourdes, whom he had visited in 2008 during a trip to France.
In October 2022, a young priest working for the Curia walked through the Vatican gardens to his offices not far from St. Peter's Square. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he decided to make a small detour to the grotto of Lourdes, a life-size reproduction in the Vatican of the rocky cavity where the Virgin appeared to the young Bernadette, in 1858.
The priest meditated in front of the grotto, laid the burden of his day before Our Lady, and then finished his prayer. But as he turned around to go back down the Vatican hill, he discovered, bewildered, the Pope emeritus also arriving towards the grotto, pushed in his wheelchair by the consecrated laywomen who have been taking care of him since his resignation in 2013. "I was stunned, overwhelmed with emotion. I did not move, I simply waved my hand," he confided, still somewhat dazed by this vision.
To the very end, the Pope emeritus went to the grotto, located a few hundred meters above the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, where he lived. In his book Il Monastero, Vatican expert Massimo Franco recounts these discreet visits of a Pope who had resolved to live a life withdrawn from the world. "You could see him from afar, sitting on a bench, a white spot contrasting with the green of the bushes and trees: a thin silhouette, protected even in summer by a sleeveless windbreaker as white as his cassock."
This formed a powerful end to his illustrious life in the Church, complementing the beginning of his tie in office. On the day after his election, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the cardinals with a message of unity and fidelity. He pledged to "work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of a full and visible unity of all followers of Christ." Looking to Christ, Benedict XVI renewed his "unconditional promise of fidelity. Him alone I intend to serve, dedicating myself totally to the service of his Church." And then he added: "To support me in this promise, I invoke the maternal intercession of Most Holy Mary, in whose hands I place the present and the future of my person and the Church."
During his ecclesiastical career he was asked about Mary. When asked, what does Mary mean personally to you, his first reaction is: "An expression of the closeness of God." Later, when questioned about Mary in Scripture and dogma, about Marian devotion and apparitions, he says, this woman had "a quite unique union with God”. However, Lourdes was never far from his Marian thoughts. He would say, visitors of Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe experience "the greatness of this figure, as well as the consolation and healing it brings."
The Pope saw Mary as a towering figure in the Church. For Pope Benedict, Mary is the "pure figure of humanity and the Church”. We need to remember that she is Our Mother and model of faith. She is never the object of faith, that would be God, but an indispensable aid to our faith.