Lourdes (AFP)

The relaxation of health measures allowed the return to Lourdes of the pilgrims, but the many closed shops or hotels testify to an affluence still much lower than in the pre-Covid years.

The procession of foreign pilgrims, often elderly, remains small, in a context of limited border movements.

This city and its sanctuary, where many sick people go in search of recovery, "is not a trivial destination. With the Delta variant, these people in fragile situations are not motivated", estimates the president of the Union. jobs in the hotel industries (Umih) in the Hautes-Pyrénées, Christian Gélis.

Thus, instead of 3.5 million visitors, the sanctuary plans to welcome around one million this year, a figure deemed too optimistic by the president of Umih, Christian Gélis.

Thus, the sanctuary, which received up to 30,000 sick per year, plans to welcome only about 3,000 this year, while the organized pilgrimages would mobilize 100,000 people, instead of 600,000.

- "Looking for hope" -

Sylvie Mayeux, 56, was impatiently awaiting the end of the sanitary constraints to finally come to Lourdes: "I have always dreamed of coming and I had never been able to do it. I have come to look for hope. I am happy, as soon as we arrived at the entrance, I felt good ".

Come to accompany her mother-in-law who wanted to know the sanctuary, Valérie Creuza, who lives near Lourdes, finds the city "very empty": "So much the better because we have fewer people around us, but we need pilgrims and tourists ".

# photo2

A point of view shared by the manager of a piety store near the sanctuary who prefers to remain anonymous: "We don't have much choice. We depend a lot on foreigners", she says, alone in her store. .

This lower influx is inevitably felt almost everywhere in Lourdes, the second hotel town in France, after Paris, which has 14,000 inhabitants and 90% depends on tourism.

# photo3

- Virus deterrent -

At the Grand Hôtel Gallia et Londres, a few hundred meters from the sanctuary, there are also "much less foreigners", confirms its director, Jerôme Tremblet, while "all groups, pilgrimages, are canceled".

On the same street where this hotel is located, the stores that remain open have few, if any, customers.

# photo4

Although this restart is "still shy" compared to the influx of 2019, some foreigners, in particular Spaniards and Italians, "are starting to come back", notes the rector of the sanctuary, Olivier Ribadeau Dumas.

Indeed, after waiting impatiently, some foreigners continue to arrive from afar to visit this place, where, according to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

Marcelo Zamora and his family have just arrived from Ecuador.

They say they are "very moved" to finally be in Lourdes, for the first time.

"We had planned to come last year, but we couldn't do it because of the pandemic. We wanted to come to this historic and holy place to say thank you for all that we have received in life. and also pray for the family. Thanks be to God, we can do it now ", explains the 60-year-old Ecuadorian.

# photo5

For their part, the Brazilian Paulo da Silva, 54, and his family, are coming to Lourdes for the second time: "This time, we came to say thank you for being able to get through this pandemic. We were watching the news all the time. time. As soon as we saw that France would open its borders, we decided to come ".

© 2021 AFP