By Lydia O’Kane
Over the past few months’ people around the world have had to adapt to a different way of living, working and also praying due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
But it hasn’t stopped the four-day annual French National Pilgrimage to Lourdes getting underway.
On Wednesday, the 147th edition of the pilgrimage began with Holy Mass in the Church of St Bernadette.
The event, which is organised by the Congregation of the Assumptionists, runs from the 12-16 August and has as its theme: “Going to the Source of Love”.
Although the pilgrimage is going ahead, this edition will not see the vast crowds of previous years due to social distancing restrictions.
The sick are not alone
Fr Vincent Cabanac is director of the French National Pilgrimage. He explained that despite the difficulties regarding the pandemic, this year’s pilgrimage is a “rendezvous” they wanted to maintain.
This year, there will be a delegation of just 500 pilgrims who will be present at the event. But other pilgrims will be able to follow all the main events online, and those who are sick will also be able to be part of the pilgrimage via radio and television.
We don’t want the sick to “feel alone”, said the National Director, and that is why there will be this digital connection from them to the Sanctuary.
Although COVID-19 has changed the format of this gathering, there is still a rich array of events over the course of the four days. The programme includes the recitation of the Rosary, concerts, processions, vigils and testimonies.
Restrictions in place
For health reasons, and to respect physical and social distancing, bathing is not possible at the Sanctuary at present. But Fr Cabanac points out that in a symbolic gesture, people will be able to come to the baths and will be able to wash their face and hands.
Visit of Cardinal Parolin
At the invitation of the organizers of the national pilgrimage, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is visiting the Shrine at Lourdes to preside over Mass for the Feast of the Assumption on August 15.
He had been invited to the shrine before the coronavirus outbreak.
This is the Cardinal’s third visit to Lourdes since become Vatican Secretary of State. In 2017 he visited the Shrine as Pope Francis' representative for the World Day of the Sick; and in 2018 for the St Francis de Sales Days.
Speaking about Cardinal Parolin’s presence at Lourdes, Fr Cabanac said, “It is a very important sign for us that the Cardinal visits.” With his presence he is giving an expression of encouragement that is faithful and humble.
“The Cardinal,” said the Assumptionist Priest, “is giving a strong message of prayer not only for France but for the world, presenting his intention here in the Grotto of Massabielle and this visit will be very important for us, for France and for the Church.”