Security tight in France as pilgrims descend on Lourdes

Heightened security as Mass is celebrated in Lourdes.

Catholic pilgrims from around the world, many sick or disabled, converged on a shrine in the French town of Lourdes under exceptional security following recent extremist attacks.

Armed soldiers and police patrolled the railway station and town centre and inside the sanctuary at Lourdes, where a 19th century village girl said she had visions of the Virgin Mary.

The site in southern France, near the Spanish border, draws pilgrims of all kinds, some hoping for a cure from the famous spring water in the Lourdes grotto.

As a helicopter circled overhead, visitors bearing candles and banners streamed towards the grotto and the sprawling plaza of the basilica, apparently undeterred by new security restrictions or the recent attacks.

Crowds began gathering at the sanctuary before dawn for a series of outdoor Masses in multiple languages celebrating the Feast of the Assumption, when according to Catholic belief, Jesus’s mother Mary ascended into heaven.

Thousands attended a candlelight procession on Sunday night, though the route was reduced from past years to better protect believers.

French authorities had already been planning extra security for the annual holiday, but concerns mounted after a series of attacks in July around Europe — notably one on July 26 in north-west France.


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