Church in France Preparing for Pope at Lourdes

300,000 Pilgrims Expected on Aug. 15

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LOURDES, France, JULY 26, 2004 ( Lourdes, a small town in the Pyrenees, is preparing for a big visit.

John Paul II is scheduled to arrive Aug. 14-15 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

«The city of Lourdes is happy to welcome His Holiness John Paul II,» large signs announce.

No sooner the trip was announced in the spring, the organizers moved into action, including the French episcopal conference, the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Notre Dame de Salut Association, the congregation of the Augustinians of the Assumption, and the Diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes.

«Everything is virtually ready,» said Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes. «The preparation of the liturgies and of other celebrations continues calmly, the material organization is well under way.»

On July 9, Michel Bilaud, prefect of the department of the Hautes Pyrenees, said at a press conference: «The shared ambition of all the state services is to facilitate the stay and guarantee the security of tourists and pilgrims who will go to Lourdes on the occasion of the Pope’s visit.»

Generally, the French National Pilgrimage, organized in mid-August, gathers every year 7,000 to 8,000 pilgrims, in the first few days, until it reaches 30,000 to 40,000 on Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

This Aug. 15, officials expect 300,000 pilgrims in Lourdes.

The national pilgrimage has been organized by the Assumptionist Fathers since 1873. On this occasion, before the announcement of the Pope’s arrival, the celebration was to be presided over by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon.

When receiving the news, «we reacted immediately,» said Ghislain Lafont, president of the Notre Dame de Salut Association, which organizes the pilgrimage following the spirituality of the Assumptionists.

«The Pope’s visit offers us a marvelous opportunity. We mobilize the hospitality teams of Notre Dame de Salut and the diocesan committees,» he added. «We multiply the messages to encourage and welcome new pilgrims, and we have organized additional transport from Paris, Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseilles.»

«We have adjusted our program with great pleasure,» said Assumptionist Father Noel Le Bousse, director of the national pilgrimage. «According to the authorities of the diocese and the shrine, we have been entrusted, in fact, with the animation of the moments between the ceremonies and the celebrations.»

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