Europe

Tight security at Lourdes for Assumption Day celebrations

an armed soldier in full camouflage walking past a woman in a nun's habit, 15 August 2016 Image copyright AFP

Thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims are celebrating the Feast of the Assumption at the famous Lourdes pilgrimage site in France.

This year, security has been increased because fears of a violent attack are high. There have been three large-scale Islamist terrorist attacks in France in the last year and a half. In July, armed men stormed a Catholic church in northern France and cut a priest's throat while he was saying Mass.

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Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was lifted into heaven completely - body and soul. That is what the Feast of the Assumption celebrates, and it is one of the most important feasts in the Catholic calendar.

Lourdes became a site of Catholic pilgrimage after 1858, when a shepherd girl said she saw a vision of Mary there.

Image copyright AFP
Image copyright AFP

The Lourdes area became a place for Catholics to visit especially when they are sick, as they believe water from a local spring has healing properties.

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About 25,000 people visited Lourdes on Monday to celebrate Mass. Streets were closed to traffic, to avoid a copy of the Nice attack on 14 July, when a man drove a lorry through a crowd, killing 85 people.

Some 500 security force members patrolled the area and sniffer dogs were on standby.

Image copyright AFP
Image copyright AP
Image copyright AFP

Organisers said there had been a late surge in bookings, possibly from people who were seeking solace in faith. One believer told the AFP news agency: "We've come to pray for peace in the world, which seems to be in chaos."

Image copyright AP

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the Archbishop of Lyon, dedicated his homily to his country and addressed "all the faithful" including Jews and Muslims.

Church leaders have asked Catholics to light a candle in remembrance of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed at the end of July.

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