Frail Pope in Lourdes visit
An estimated 300,000 people packed the Pyrenean town hoping for a glimpse of the pontiff — there were so few rooms left that French radio advised latecomers to bring a tent.
The Pope, 84, was greeted at nearby Tarbes airport by Jacques Chirac, the French president, at the start of his 104th foreign visit, his seventh to France. He was officially celebrating the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the immaculate conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854. In 1858 the Virgin Mary was said to have first appeared to the peasant girl who became St Bernadette.
The Pope travelled the 10 miles to the Grotto of the Apparitions in his “popemobile”. In the midday sun tempers frayed as barriers prevented many in the crowds from getting a closer look. When the pontiff finally arrived, he delivered a shaky recital of the angelus and joined in prayers with other pilgrims.
His every move was greeted by cheers from the crowds and the chanting of “Papa” by teenage girls who sounded as ecstatic as if they had been at a pop concert. Later in the afternoon, after a rest in his modest room at the Accueil Notre-Dame, he headed a procession to the Basilica of Lourdes.
The Pope’s medical records had been flown to a nearby hospital in case of emergency and a specially equipped ambulance was part of the official cortege. If needed, a helicopter was on standby to take him to Italy.
Bishop Renato Boccardo, secretary of the pontifical council for social communications, played down reports that John Paul II — who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and respiratory ailments — was himself looking for a miracle. “To look at this pilgrimage as the trip of a sick person among the sick is totally short-sighted,” he said.
For the many Britons among the throng, yesterday had seemed an opportune time to visit Lourdes. “I’m not optimistic about a miracle,” said Caroline Holmes, from Darlingon, who is suffering from stomach cancer, “but this seemed as good a time as any to try for one.”
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019