25,000 pilgrims take part in Lourdes Assumption Day procession amid tight security
Catholics from around the world descended on Lourdes, France Monday for the Feast of the Assumption Procession, which took place amid an unprecedented security operation by French authorities.
This year, following months of deadly terrorist attacks throughout the country, authorities upped security measures with a heavy police and army presence visible in the southern French city.
More than 500 personnel descended on Lourdes - 300 more than usual - including undercover agents and bomb disposal teams.
Security checkpoints were set up along the route of the procession, which is understood to have attracted 25,000 people.
Police helicopters patrolled overhead to protect against any possible attack.
A focal point for Catholic pilgrims across the globe, around 6 million pilgrims, many sick, disabled, and elders, flock to the shrine of the Virgin Mary seeking cures for their ailments from the holy water at the site’s natural spring.
"It's important to show that life goes on," said Lourdes official Matthieu Guignard. "It's not because a few fanatics try to sow fear that we should abandon our faith, our way of life."
Lourdes was the scene of an apparent apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the first time in 1858. Local teenager Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see her at a cave near the town and subsequently experienced more visions, with the Virgin Mary asking her to build a chapel at the scene.
Celebrating the Solemnity of the Assumption at Lourdes. What a nice experience. HEAVENLY! Praying for all your intentions since Saturday.— joekaniu (@joekaniu) August 15, 2016
After initial skepticism by the Catholic Church, the Vatican eventually accepted the provenance of the visions and has since formally recognized a number of ‘miracles’, where sick pilgrims have been cured after visiting the shrine. Soubirous was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933.
This week’s celebrations mark the Virgin Mary’s ascension into heaven and involve many outdoor masses and processions to and from the Underground Basilica of St Pius and the grotto.