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Love can overcome evil, Pope says

Pope Benedict, on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where the faithful believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl 150 years ago, told a crowd that love can be stronger than all the evil in the world.

The pontiff said Mass for more than 150,000 people on a field in the shadow of the sanctuary built over the spot of the apparitions in 1858. Pilgrims flocked here from dozens of countries for the Pope's three-day visit, his 10th abroad and his first to France. Many were in wheelchairs or stretchers and helped by volunteers.

When he arrived on Saturday night, Pope Benedict, 81, prayed in the grotto where Bernadette Soubirous said the Madonna appeared and spoke to her 18 times and he drank water from a spring that believers say has healing powers.

In the past 150 years, the Church has recognised as "miracles" more than 65 medically inexplicable healings of sick pilgrims who visited Lourdes.

Pope Benedict, saying Mass from under white canopies shaped like sails, told his listeners to be true to their faith because "it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins".

Wearing red, white and gold vestments, he told a crowd wrapped in jackets against an unusually cold late summer day that "the power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us".

Sean Luddock, a volunteer who helped lead a pilgrimage of several hundred people from Ireland, said: "This is an incredible experience for our group, especially for the sick ones. We come here in the same period every year and this year it just happened to coincide with the Pope's visit. What a treat!"