THE Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, in France, is to host what, it says, is the world’s first live “e-pilgrimage”, after closing for the first time in its history during the coronavirus pandemic, along with other Marian centres in Europe.
“This extraordinary day will bring together millions of people from all continents through televisions, radios and social networks,” a statement on the shrine’s website said. “The world is facing an unprecedented economic and social crisis, coupled with a quest for new meaning. The brotherhood, generosity, and hope this sanctuary has held for 162 years have never been so essential”.
The statement said that the 15-hour “multi-generational and multicultural” e-pilgrimage on 16 July would include services, processions, and rosary recitation in ten languages, as well as lectures, live music, and archival videos illustrating the centre’s spirit and mission.
“The poor, fragile, sick, or disabled have the first place at Lourdes, whose chaplains have always carried prayers for the world, and with the world, to its grotto,” it said. “This is happening even more during the global crisis we are experiencing, when hundreds of thousands of messages, calls for help, cries of suffering, but also testimonies of hope continue to reach us.”
Lourdes, close to the Pyrenees, attracts up to five million visitors annually, and has been a place of pilgrimage since 1858, when the 14-year-old St Bernadette Soubirous experienced the first of 18 visions of the Virgin Mary, while gathering firewood.
Lourdes closed its doors to the public in mid-March, along with other European shrines. Most of them continued live-streaming prayers and liturgies, including Medjugorje, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Jasna Góra, in Poland, which said that more than 100,000 people had tuned in daily to its YouTube channel for an evening mass in the Lady Chapel.
The shrine of Fatima, in Portugal, where three shepherd children reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 2017, has since reopened to limited numbers of visitors, along with Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, which began welcoming pilgrims completing its Camino, or Way of St James, on 1 July, subject to hygiene regulations.
In its statement, Lourdes said that it faced a “historic loss” of €8 million from its enforced closure, and would appeal for funds to sustain its 320 employees and 100,000 volunteers, now that a “new phase” of pilgrimages was beginning.
The French RC daily newspaper La Croix reported on Tuesday that Assumption Day festivities at Lourdes, on 15 August, would be led by the the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, although sick pilgrims would not be able to take part in the events, which would be broadcast worldwide.
Although most keep no detailed data, European shrines from Mariazell in Austria to Knock in Ireland have reported increased visitors in recent years.
Fatima attracted 9.4 million during its 2017 centenary, according to church figures, while a record 350,000 completed the Camino de Santiago in Spain during 2019, compared with a few dozen in the 1970s.
The Pauline order that runs Jasna Góra reported 4.4 million visitors in 2019, and said that 50,916 masses had been celebrated during the year at its altars and chapels, and that 27,462 hours of confessions had been heard.
At least 30 pilgrimage routes have been created or reopened over the past decade in Britain, the recently created British Pilgrimage Trust says, while Walsingham, in Norfolk, with its Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines, was attracting 250,000 pilgrims yearly before Covid-19.