The Lourdes sanctuary hopes to have turned the page on the 2020 crisis, and is preparing to welcome around 60% of the usual pilgrims over the next few months. But the operating loss is heavy in financial terms.
For Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau-Dumas, the page of the crisis has turned: “the dominate feeling at this moment is one of hope,” after a historic year marked by the closure of the sanctuary for two months and the cancellation of 85% of the pilgrimages.
For summer and autumn 2021, on the other hand, “more than 60% of the usual pilgrimages have been maintained,” the prelate is pleased to report.
However, there is no reason to cry victory: “2021 will be a better year than 2020, even if we will not yet reach the 2019 levels when we were in a virtuous spiral, with an increase in the number of pilgrims from all over the world like the Brazilians, the Filipinos, or the Koreans,” explains Msgr. Ribadeau Dumas, who evokes, for the current year, “30% higher attendance than in 2020,” the pilgrimages of April and May having all been canceled.
The recovery is timid, because for the moment, with a few exceptions, only French pilgrims are making their appearance at the Massabielle Grotto: “the airlines will reopen in a number of European capitals, but it will undoubtedly take longer for the faithful from across the Atlantic to come back,” explains the rector of the sanctuary.
Indeed, current U.S. President Joe Biden has considerably tightened the conditions for travel abroad by American citizens. And France is even one of the destinations to avoid.
On the financial side, the sanctuary’s 2021 operating loss is estimated at five million euros, higher than that of 2020 (four million euros), specifically due to “significant fixed costs and a drop in aid from the State.” Indeed it has become more profitable to welcome young migrants in the town hall, than to receive Catholic pilgrims in a hotel in Lourdes.
To finish, Bishop Ribadeau-Dumas wants to be reassuring: the sanctuary, which can hold up to 30,000 people on its 56 hectares, “is ready to welcome everyone, without worrying about capacities, but the processions will take place with gatherings of 500 people.”
Another important detail, health passports will not be required for pilgrims.