France: Lourdes eagerly awaits its pilgrims

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France: Lourdes eagerly awaits its pilgrims

By Xavier Le Normand/ la-croix.com

On May 16, 2020--the shrine of Lourdes, closed since March 17--reopened its doors during the first weekend since confinement.

The Marian shrine in Lourdes in southern France partially reopened two weeks ago, but almost all the shops around the esplanade are still shuddered.

Despite the bright blue sky, the town has a sad feel to it.

"Still, a few shops are open, which was not the case yesterday," says Mgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, the shrine's rector.

Lourdes has the second largest number of hotels of any town or city in France. But only six have stayed open during the coronavirus lockdown.

Out in the streets the religious pilgrims are desperately looking for a place to have a drink and refresh themselves.

"When the sanctuary is closed, the city dies," notes the rector.

He says the rosary that Pope Francis led from the Vatican Gardens this past Saturday in conjunction with Marian shrines around the world should mark an important step for Lourdes: an end to the remaining restrictions on visits.

Each evening there will be a "torchlight rosary" until there is a sufficient number of pilgrims for the traditional nighttime processions again.

SAFE DISTANCING
The shrine has now resumed its normal opening hours. During the lockdown, which began on March 17, the chaplains kept vigil at the grotto, praying for more than 130,000 intentions that faithful from all over the world entrusted to them. Now they are "returning the place to praying pilgrims".

These were prayers for the sick, and by the sick, thus maintaining the link between Lourdes and those hoping for healing.

This link was also manifested in a very concrete way with Our Lady's hospitality by giving six homeless people infected with COVID-19 a place to stay.

Since its reopening on May 16, a few more pilgrims have been arriving steadily each day. But the numbers are still much smaller than normal because of the ban on travel beyond 100 kilometres.

During the direct link with the pope in the Vatican on Saturday about 500 gathered at the foot of the Lourdes' grotto. All wore masks or protective visors.

White circles were marked on the ground to show them where to stand to maintain a safe distance.

IN COMMUNION WITH THE WHOLE WORLD
"We're slowly returning to a normal rhythm and it is a pleasure to see people again," say Assumption Sisters Anne-Marie and Marie-Yvonne.

Living in Lourdes during the lockdown they could gaze down at the completely deserted shrine from their windows.

They joined the Easter Vigil Mass that the chaplains celebrated by shining flashlights.

"Usually, we are side by side for big events there, but that is still far from being the case," says Sister Marie-Yvonne.

Hélène, who came to Lourdes with her family from a town just over 100 km away, is not displeased with this state of affairs.

"The atmosphere is very intimate. But thanks to the connection with the pope and the other sanctuaries, we are in communion with the whole world," she says.

NO RETURN TO NORMAL LIFE BEFORE 2021
Laura, originally from Malaysia, came to Lourdes 12 years ago as a hotel keeper. She was at Saturday's rosary gathering with her husband.

"We are really happy because we see that life is beginning to take off again," she says.

Although they won't be opening to guests again until June 15, bookings remain hopelessly low -- at least until August when there will be the French national pilgrimage organized by the Assumption family.

The annual appointment will be followed a few days later by the important pilgrimage of the Diocese of Rome. This should mark the real return to a more usual rhythm for the sanctuary, even if only a few physically ill people will be able to make the trip.

But in any case, warns Mgr. Dumas, "the real return to normal will probably not take place in 2020".

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 11:36
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