By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
For the first time since it opened, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France will temporarily close its gates from midday, 17 March. This closure is in adherence to the measures taken by the French government to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the country. France presently has over 6500 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. The Shrine’s website had already announced on 28 February that “as a precaution, the pools have been closed until further notice”.
The Rector of the Shrine, Msgr. Ribadeau Dumas made the announcement through a message published on Twitter. “For the first time in its history, the shrine will close its doors for some time,” he announced.
Still a place of prayer
Prior to this announcement, in an interview after a meeting with Jean-Baptist Lemoyne, the Secretary of State for tourism on 12 March, Msgr. Dumas insisted that the shrine will remain “a place of prayer” in spite of the trying times. He also invited the faithful to continue to send in their prayer intentions.
In spite of the temporary closure, the shrine’s 30 chaplains will begin today a special novena to Our Lady to pray for the world. It will be broadcast live from the grotto of the apparition. Prayers offered at the shrine can be accessed via the live Lourdes TV page on the shrine website.
The Lourdes Sanctuary
In 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844 – 1879) in Lourdes, France, in eighteen separate apparitions. The site was quickly recognized as a holy place of prayer and healing. Today, it attracts roughly 6 million pilgrims annually. Pope Benedict visited Lourdes in September 2008 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions. Just 4 year before that, his predecessor, Pope Saint John Paul II visited the Shrine, during the last year of his life.