Pope offers 'shortcut' through purgatory
Mike Aivaz and Jason Rhyne
Published: Friday December 7, 2007

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For devout Catholics fearful of a long stint in purgatory -- a vast metaphysical holding area where the faithful believe they will go to be "purified" prior to their admittance to heaven -- the Pope had some encouraging news this week: there's an easier way.

Pope Benedict XVI has decreed that Catholics can cut short their future purgatory stays by visiting a holy shrine in Lourdes, France, a site where believers say the Virgin Mary appeared to a shephardess in 1858. Catholic pilgrims who visit Lourdes from now through next year, which will mark the 150th anniversary of the miracle claim, will receive an "indulgence" from the Pope, which he says will speed the trip to heaven.

"The door for indulgences is not always open, though, and for years after the Vatican Council reforms of the 1960s, they were rarely offered -- until 2000, when Pope John Paul II started using them to attract pilgrims to World Youth Day," reports the New York Times' Mike Nizza. "The pilgrimage, which must be made in the next year, can be accomplished using Vatican charter flights that began over the summer."

For Catholics not in a position to jaunt off to France, prayer at other select sites during a ten-day span in February may also do the trick. According to the BBC, the Pope indicated that "believers who prayed at places of worship dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes from 2-11 February next year -- or who were unable to make the journey -- would also be able to receive indulgences."

"The spirit always has to be one of trust in Christ and trust in the words of Christ to his apostles," Father Jonathan Morris, a priest, told the BBC. "And those words were this: 'What you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven; and what you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.' If those words are true, and if the Pope understands them correctly, indulgences really do work."

In 1998, Pope John Paul II announced that Catholic penitents would receive indulgences for such good deeds as quitting smoking, abstaining from alcohol, or performing a charitable act. "Indulgences are an ancient form of church-granted amnesty from certain forms of punishment, in this life or hereafter, for sin," the Times reported then. "The medieval church sold indulgences, a practice that drove Martin Luther to rebel, beginning the Reformation. They remain a source of theological debate between Protestants and Catholics..."

The following video is from BBC's BBC World, broadcast on December 06, 2007