France: After the Health Crisis, Pilgrims Return to Lourdes

October 10, 2022

The Lourdes sanctuary closed its doors for the first time in its history in March 2020, during the first Covid-19 confinement. “In 2020, we lost 90% of attendance,” announced David Torchala, Director of Communication of the sanctuary.

Going from 3.5 million pilgrims per year before the pandemic to 800,000 coming in 2020, the number of pilgrims to the sanctuary rose to 1.6 million people in 2021. There should also be around 1.6 million pilgrims this year, he told AFP.

Gradually, organized pilgrimages resumed as health and border restrictions were lifted. However, not all foreign pilgrims have been able to return and Covid-19 continues to deter some people at risk, sick, disabled, or fragile.

Despite everything, confides Don Jean-Xavier Salefran, of the St. Martin Community, vice-rector of the sanctuary of Lourdes, “the sanctuary looks to the future with confidence thanks to the resumption of organized pilgrimages and the return of many young people this year 2022.”

On the occasion of the feast of the Assumption, Don Salefran recalled the significance of this great feast of the Blessed Virgin, which the context of secularization tends to obscure. “From the Christian perspective, the feast is not an escape from the world but, on the contrary, the manifestation of the presence of God in creation and in history.”

“Relying on the memory of the great deeds of God, it nourishes the hope of Christians on pilgrimage on this earth. This is how Catholics live to the rhythm of events in the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints whose solemnities punctuate the whole year. Today's feast celebrates the completion of the earthly pilgrimage of the Virgin Mary. The Assumption is indeed the culmination of a life under the sign of the elevation.”

Pope Francis appointed Msgr. Jean-Marc Micas Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes on March 30, 2022, following the installation of Bishop Nicolas Brouwet in the episcopal see of Nîmes. Bishop Micas was ordained a priest on March 10, 1991 for the Archdiocese of Toulouse, then became a member of the Company of Priests of Saint-Sulpice on June 6, 1999.

He was secretary of the National Council of Major Seminaries from 2011 to 2013 and appointed provincial of France of the Company of Priests of Saint-Sulpice in 2013. Msgr. Micas was consecrated bishop on May 29, 2022 in the basilica of St. Pius X in Lourdes, and installed at Tarbes Cathedral on May 30, 2022.

Appointed Rector of Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral since September 1, 2022, Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas has completed his three-year term of service at the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Lourdes. On May 3, 2022, the Permanent Council of the Conference of Bishops of France appointed, on the proposal of Bishop Micas, Fr. Michel Daubanes rector of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Born in 1964, he is from the Montauban region and was working as a tax inspector when he entered the seminary. Ordained priest on June 24, 2001, Fr. Michel Daubanes was appointed cooperator then administrator of the parish of Notre-Dame du Grand Sud in Evreux, before becoming parish priest of the parish of Notre-Dame de l'Alliance in Evreux from 2004 to 2014.

He has been a member of the Episcopal Council of the diocese of Evreux since 2004, vicar general of the diocese and moderator of the curia since 2006, chaplain of the new Navarre hospital in Evreux (psychiatric hospital) since 2014, member of the provincial team for the formation of future permanent deacons since 2018 and professor of biblical exegesis at the Norman Institute of Religious Sciences since 2020.

Fr. Michel Daubanes took office in Lourdes on September 1, 2022 for a 5-year term, which can be renewed once.