'Lourdes Shrine should respond ever better to its spiritual mission'

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'Lourdes Shrine should respond ever better to its spiritual mission'

By Arnaud Bevilacqua/ la-croix.com

Pope Francis on June 6 appointed Auxiliary Bishop Antoine Hérouard of Lille, as Apostolic Delegate for the French shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountain range in southwest France.

La Croix International asked about his assigned task, which is expected to be undertaken over a period of at least several months, improving pastoral care for pilgrims in the wake of claimed over-emphasis on business management of the site.

La Croix: Why were you appointed Apostolic Delegate for the Shrine of Lourdes?

Bishop Antoine Hérouard: This winter, Archbishop Salvatore Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization [the Roman Dicastery responsible for major international shrines], visited Lourdes.

Following his report, the pope wished to appoint an apostolic delegate who could take an external look and adopt measures to ensure that the sanctuary always responds better to its mission.

The appointment of an apostolic delegate is probably not common, whereas we are used to another way of working in Lourdes.

Yet, on the scale of large shrines, it is more common than we think. In his letter of appointment, the pope mentions Medjugorje, but we can also mention Assisi or Padua in Italy.

We must not overreact to this appointment. It should be seen as an encouragement, not a sanction. Above all, it proves that the pope wants to be involved with the shrines. I don't know why he chose me, but I guess my experience could have played a role.

How do you approach your mission as a delegate for the Shrine of Lourdes?

First of all, I think we should not come up with ideas that are too specific. I will go to Lourdes in the coming days for a first meeting and to define the working methods.

I remain Auxiliary Bishop of Lille, but I will devote some time to this mission. This is not full-time and does not involve managing the daily life of the sanctuary. It could be extended for a few months because I am not bound by a specific duration. It is up to me to define the time I need.

I will begin by listening to the different people involved: the rector, the chaplains, operations and financial managers and Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes. But I will also consult with pilgrims and national and international pilgrimage leaders.

On the basis of this work and Archbishop Fisichella's report, it will then be a question of defining the measures to be taken. I do not think that there are insurmountable difficulties. It is necessary to work to restore an impetus to the general spirit of the sanctuary.

In recent years, the shrine has nevertheless experienced some difficulties....

The declining attendance is the result of the downward trend in diocesan and international pilgrimages. Is it an inevitable decrease or not?

There are also economic reasons, particularly for Italians, who constitute one of the largest contingents of pilgrims, whose country is experiencing a serious economic and social crisis. Some people give up coming to Lourdes for financial reasons.

However, while organized pilgrimages are experiencing some difficulties, the number of individual pilgrims is increasing.

We must ask ourselves how to welcome them ever better and allow them to have a spiritual experience.

Regarding the financial management of the sanctuary, it is obviously necessary to balance the accounts.

But that is not the primary objective. The purpose is always of a pastoral and spiritual nature. It is a balance that must be found and reaffirmed.

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 12:24
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