Lourdes National Piglrimage

Mid-August I covered the six-day 2009 Lourdes national pilgrimage for CIRIC, the Bayard Presse photo agency. I travelled from Paris on the “White Train” chartered to transport 439 Assumptionist pilgrims -178 of which sick or disabled. It took three hours to board everyone, set-up the disabled on stretchers, stack all the wheelchairs in the restaurant wagon…

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The six-hour trip was rythmed over the train’s PA system by Father Marie-Bernard Kientz, preparing passengers for their pilgrimage with prayers and stories on Bernadette Soubirou.

In the White Train.

Lourdes is fellinian. It’s a well organized and very lucrative business. Amidst scores of cheap plastic religious memorabilia boutiques moves a crowd of tourists and pilgrims of all ages and origins. Daily processions, mass services, prayers at the Grotto, filling-up on water from the miraculous spring, stocking-up on souvenirs, the pilgrim’s day is packed with rituals. It can feel like Disneyland, trying all the rides.

But there’s obviousely more to Lourdes. During the time spent covering the pilgrimage I saw people genuinely care for each-other. A great human experience, even for a non-believer.





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