Saturday, October 01, 2016

Security and transport issues drive decline in visits to Lourdes

Complex factors behind declineThe past decade has seen a 30 percent drop in the number of organised pilgrimages to Lourdes. 

Staff believe it is due to factors including a crisis of faith, rising individualism, the security situation, and transport difficulties, according to Vatican Insider.

Fear and the dread of attacks doesn’t seem to have much to do with it, at the moment at least. 

Security checks have increased (particularly inside the enclosed area that leads to the basilicas and the grotto), but they are lax and limited to opening bags and rucksacks. 

Europe is the real patient of the pilgrimages to Massabielle.

Pilgrimages go ahead if they are organised by the local bishop in person (Britain and Ireland being interesting cases). Where apostolic drive is left solely up to the associations, the difficulties are evident. There are more Asians and North Americans coming to Lourdes but it is hard to identify their journey with a traditional pilgrimage.

The visit to the grotto is part of a tour that includes stops in Biarritz, Paris, and Rome. These kinds of visits are exclusive to tour operators not traditional organisations. 

During peak seasons, there are days when visitor numbers reach record lows, with smaller torchlit Eucharistic processions in comparison to recent years.

The shrine starts to get busy on Friday afternoon, reaching maximum capacity on the Sunday, when the international Mass is celebrated in the underground Basilica of St Pius X.

Pilgrimages are becoming short-stay visits in comparison to the traditional six-day visits (plus two days of travel).

Then there is the transport factor: Train journeys take forever. For example, a normal train journey from the northern Italian city of Milan to Lourdes used to take 15-16 hours. This has now risen to 23 or even 24 hours. 

These journey times would have been the norm back in the 1940s and 1950s. And this is taking into consideration the fact that there are seriously ill passengers travelling on board these trains.

So why are train journeys so long? For years now, the French railway company has been saying that the delays are down to railway modernisation.

Trains are often parked in way-stations in the middle of the night and stay there for hours, giving way not just to passenger trains but to freight trains, too. This causes discomfort to the sick, staff, and pilgrims alike. 

The coach is one alternative solution but it is by no means a definitive solution.

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