France increases security around Lourdes for national pilgrimage

IMAGE: CNS photo/Caroline Blumberg, EPA


LOURDES, France (CNS) — French police
and military officials have launched a special security operation for the
country’s national pilgrimage to Lourdes, following the killing of a Catholic
parish priest in a spate of terrorist attacks.

Up to 30,000 Catholics are
expected to join the national pilgrimage, led by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of
Lyon. The pilgrimage will include services and processions at 22 churches and chapels
over the 128-acre site and culminate in Aug. 15 Masses for the feast of the

Mathias Terrier, information
director of the Diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes, said Catholic representatives
had agreed to the new arrangements in cooperation with local authorities and
security services. He said the “discreet but effective” measures
could remain in place indefinitely at the Marian shrine.

“It’s our duty and
responsibility to take account of the complicated current context by ensuring
pilgrims are well received,” he said in a televised statement. “We
have the experience and capacity to manage the necessary logistics.

“We’ve been very much
affected, collectively, by what’s happened,” he said. “This is a time
when great numbers of people arrive from around the world — and security is
clearly essential if we’re to welcome them calmly.

“This is a place of
serenity, peace and prayer — and it will remain so, whatever happens,” he

Lourdes, close to the Pyrenees mountains,
attracts around 5 million visitors annually and has been a place of pilgrimage
since 1858, when 14-year-old St. Bernadette Soubirous experienced the first of
18 visions of the Virgin Mary.

More than 7,000 miracles have
been claimed at the shrine, which is famed as a place of healing. Sixty-eight
cures have been confirmed as scientifically inexplicable by its International
Medical Committee.

Beatrice Lagarde, an official of
the prefecture of Hautes-Pyrenees, said there were no plans to cancel the
national pilgrimage and that changes had been kept to a minimum.

In a website statement, the
Lourdes shrine said available access routes had been restricted from 12 to
three and advised pilgrims to arrive early for the weekend events.

The increased security follows a
July 14 truck attack on Bastille Day celebrations in Nice and the July 26
murder of Father Jacques Hamel, 85, in a church in northern France.

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