At the request of Pope Francis, a prayer marathon has been organized during the month of May to pray for an end to the pandemic. On May 18, it was the Lourdes shrine’s turn to pray the rosary, with the specific intention being for doctors and nurses. Dr. Alessandro de Franciscis, who represented the medical profession in the grotto on that occasion, explains to I.MEDIA how the issue of health is at the heart of the spirituality of the Pyrenean shrine.
Why does praying for the end of the pandemic make sense in a special way at the sanctuary of Lourdes?
Because with the apparitions, Lourdes became simultaneously a place of healing for the heart and the body. Seven miracles of healing were observed even before the end of the Marian apparitions. The physical healings were so significant that ten days after the last apparition the bishop at the time, Bishop Laurence, asked an episcopal commission to rule on the healings. The physical healings were recognized in 1865 at the same time as the apparitions.
For a year now the sanctuary has been deserted and the sick cannot go there. How have you adapted to the situation?
At present, the shrine is no longer receiving its usual millions of pilgrims. It’s a time of suffering, of withdrawal and of reconstruction as if after a war. People’s ability to travel is what is primarily being affected. We have therefore taken advantage of this period to carry out an immense amount of work in order to welcome pilgrims, both sick and healthy. We have heard the cry and tears of the faithful.
In addition to the sick, is the shrine of Lourdes also in some ways dedicated to the caregivers?
Yes, we’re particularly attentive to the pain of caregivers, who’ve also suffered during the health crisis and who continue to suffer. Under the direction of the rector, Fr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, prayer at the Grotto has been uninterrupted and continuous, especially for the nursing staff. Last year they were applauded, but now they’re somewhat left out. This is also the reason why the Shrine is joining in the recitation of the rosary requested by the Pope to pray for an end to the pandemic—with a special intention for doctors and nurses—in which I will participate. So in the grotto, I will humbly represent the medical profession.
Is vaccination helping your efforts to reopen the doors to sanctuary?
The vaccination campaign is showing its effects. Of course, we’re in favor of vaccination campaigns. Welcoming vaccinated people to the Shrine is a way to implement the Pope’s exhortation to live vaccination as an act of charity. Getting vaccinated is a way to reduce transmission and especially the possibility of getting sick. This is beautiful! Thanks to this, we’ll be able to welcome some 350 military personnel and their sick in the coming days and we’ve just received confirmation that the national pilgrimage on August 15 will take place.
Interview by Arthur Herlin