E-pilgrimages, e-celebrations in the ongoing pandemic

Published July 20, 2020, 10:18 PM

by Manila Bulletin

In  1858, a peasant  girl in Lourdes, France, Bernadette  Soubirous,  saw a vision of the Virgin Mary standing next to a rose bush at  the entrance to a grotto. The  Lady appeared to Benadette  seven times from  February 11 to July 16. Pilgrims began to go to Lourdes, drinking  from  a spring in the grotto for its reputed  healing power.

An estimated 250 million pilgrims have visited  the shrine since 1860, coming the whole year round, but especially on February 11, the Feast of Our  Lady of Lourdes. This year, however,  all  pilgrimages to Lourdes  have now  been canceled  because  of  the  coronavirus  pandemic.

The daily Blessed Sacrament processions   at Lourdes  could not be held  at precisely the  period  — from February  to July – that Bernadette Soubirous  saw  the Virgin at Lourdes  in 1858.  Thus last Thursday, the Lourdes Shrine organized  its first-ever   e-pilgrimage,  drawing a virtual audience of 80 million around the world.

The sanctuary broadcast Mass  and  prayers  all day in five different  languages on television and social media.  Even  virtually,  there is a  real communion among  the pilgrims around the world, said Olivier  Ribadeau  Dumas,  rector of the Sanctuary of Lourdes.  “It was an opportunity for all those who are far to get together, even  if  it  will never  replace coming on a pilgrimage,” he said.

The  pandemic  has  led to many changes in religious celebrations and ceremonies around the world. Pope  Francis  himself  cancelled  his usual daily message from the second floor of his  home to the thousands of people  gathered  at  St.  Peter’s  Square  below.   He now reaches  out  to the faithful  via television.

Lourdes, like many other religious sites,  has  now  turned  to technology  to maintain its links with  its  devotees, reaching many more of them, in fact, with some 150,000 views per day. It is also on Facebook, on Twitter,  and  on  Instagram.  The special celebration last Thursday attracted a total audience of 80 million all over the world – in Europe, the Americas,  Asia, and Africa.

The pandemic continues to spread around the world,  with cases and deaths  rising most heavily in the United  States, in Brazil,  in the United Kingdom, in India and Indonesia. The Philippines  has not suffered as much  as these countries, but our own   cases   exceeded  60,000  last week  and  could reach 80,000 by the end of the month.  Vaccines  are  now  undergoing  final tests in many countries, but  the  expectation is  that  none will be ready before the end of this year.

With  this dire prospect and with  coronavirus  cases and deaths  continuing to rise around the world,  we must be ready to  face the rest  of  this year  with continuing restrictions on our daily activities,   on the workings of government, on  the operations of businesses, and on religious rites   like Sunday Masses and celebrations like our recent observance  of Lent and the Holy Week.

 We may have to  plan  for a Christmas  without  our traditional church rites  and holiday cheer  but  it could be a truly worldwide celebration  via  virtual ceremonies and programs, like the Lourdes  e-pilgrimage last Thursday.