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'Everything will be done' to protect Lourdes pilgrims

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'Everything will be done' to protect Lourdes pilgrims
Photo: AFP
09:24 CEST+02:00
While summer events have been cancelled across France, one that will go ahead is the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes for the feast of Assumption on August 15th. Authorities have vowed everything will be done to protect pilgrims.

There may well be a climate of tension in France but not everyone is giving in to fear.

While authorities around France have been cancelling summer events over security concerns, authorities in the Catholic pilgrimage town of Lourdes are insistent that life must go on as normal.

August 15th marks the annual feast of the Assumption, one of the biggest dates on the calendar for the famous town in south west France, with thousands of pilgrims descending on the shrines each year for a mass and procession.

Local authorities would have been forgiven for cancelling the event following the brutal murder of a Catholic priest in northern France last month, but Béatrice Lagarde, the prefect of the Hautes-Pyrénees département said officials were convinced the pilgrimage must continue as normal.

"The choice was made to not ban the event, nor the procession or the rituals that go with the pilgrimage, because it is the right of the faithful to access Lourdes," Lagarde told Europe1 radio.

"However everything will be done to secure the place," she said.

Catherine Simcox, who made a pilgrimage from the north east of England to Lourdes earlier this month described the heightened security.

"By Thursday morning, there were armed guards inside the sanctuaries and then the gates became single file entry (with metal barriers) with bags being searched on the way in." she told The Local.

"This total freaked my three kids out who are used to Lourdes & it was hard to not scare them when they asked why it was happening," she said.

"It didn't spoil my experience, but it saddened me that it was necessary and I understood that some people were reassured by the measures."

A ring of security will remain in place at Lourdes around the sanctuary until Tuesday August 16th.

Normally Lourdes is accessed by 12 different points of entry however that will be reduced to three for the August 15th event.

And as might be expected pilgrims will have their bags systematically searched on entry.

Waste bins have been replaced with clear plastic bags and the streets around the sanctuary will be banned to cars at lunch times and in the evening to reassure those present.

The big mass annual mass will take place as usual on August 15th. Normally some 25,000 attend but fears of terror attacks may see reduced numbers this year.

Other events however have been adapted such as the procession which will only take place now within the security cordon.

Between August 11th and 24th some 250 police and paramilitary officers will be tasked with providing security.

On the top of that, Lagarde says there will also be dozens of soldiers, police motorcycle teams and a bomb disposal unit.

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