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Economic crisis and floods hit Lourdes pilgrim numbers

TV Lourdes/Screengrab
2 min

Businesses in the southwest French town of Lourdes fear there will be fewer pilgrims visiting the historic pilgrimage site this year because of floods earlier this year, along with the poor economy.

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Thousands of Catholics are due to gather in Lourdes today for the annual Feast of the Assumption, when believers celebrate the Virgin Mary’s ascent to heaven.

Lourdes has been recovering from damage caused by massive flash floods that swept through the area in June, which followed other floods last October.

More than six million people visit the town each year, some 30,000 of them during the Assumption holiday. Many sick or disabled people believe the water from the site’s underground grotto has healing powers.

Brion Deburca, the coordinating chaplain for English-speaking pilgrims, told RFI there has been a slight drop in the number of visitors this year, and the economic crisis may have something to do with it.

“For instance, coming from Scotland, you can have a cheap holiday in Spain or, let(s say, half the price of coming to Lourdes. The sick are the most important people in Lourdes, and if you’re bringing sick [people] with you on an airplane, it costs extra money.”

Deburca said the town has recovered remarkably quickly from the floods in June.

“Everything is back to normal apart from the underground basilica where we don’t have the televisions working; they have to be repaired and it will be done in the winter.”

“The floods came unbelievably fast. I had the last mass at the grotto at 7:30 in the morning and we thought there’d be another mass, and suddenly the water just rose and came over and just continued to rise. Everywhere, right throughout the Pyrenees, villages had roads washed away, the speed of it was just unbelievable,” he said.

Although the French government declared the entire area a natural disaster zone, Deburca said Lourdes did not receive any financial help because it was considered a religious site.

However, the government did mobilise the army to clear the debris.
 

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