Thousands of pilgrims of all ages and origins took part on Sunday, on the eve of a Mass for the Assumption, in a torchlight procession to the glory of the Virgin Mary at the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes, where 1.6 million worshipers are expected this year.
According to sanctuary officials, some 15,000 people marched Sunday shortly after nightfall. The crowds held torches and passed beneath the white statue of the Virgin Mary, singing and reciting “Hail Mary”. A Mass of the Assumption is to take place on Monday.
The crowd was preceded by hundreds of sick people in wheelchairs. Coming from Portugal, Edite Antunes, 67, and Maria Silva, 58, expressed their emotion to be there for the first time, especially since they could not go to the Portuguese sanctuary of Fatima since the start of the health restrictions due to Covid.
These health restrictions have greatly reduced the number of pilgrims coming to Lourdes since 2020. After dropping from some 3.5 million pilgrims per year before the pandemic, that figure fell to 800,000 in 2020 and then to 1.6 million in 2021. This year, a total of around 1.6 million are expected, sanctuary director of communications David Torchala told AFP.
The sanctuary, whose budget of some €30 million per year is financed only by donations from the faithful, must still put up to three-quarters of its 320 employees on partial unemployment between September and June, Belga News Agency reports.