By Sarah Mac Donald - 04 March, 2020
Lourdes Shrine in France has shut its baths temporarily in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Shrine’s website explains that the move is precautionary because no cases of the Coronavirus have been identified in Lourdes or the Hautes-Pyrénées to date.
The latest update says the Shrine’s season will begin as planned on Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020.
The French Ministry of Health has indicated that pilgrimages can take place, with the adoption of preventive measures.
A monitoring cell within the French sanctuary is keeping abreast of the situation and adapting measures as the situation changes.
A message from the Shrine said, “This epidemic is … an opportunity to pray more and to ask for the intercession of Our Lady.”
The Shrine information says that though it is “highly unlikely that the Coronavirus will spread through the water”, nonetheless, the baths where sick pilgrims normally bathe in the hope of healing, are closed because they “are a place where people are more exposed because they are bare”.
Instead, the Sanctuary encourages pilgrims to undertake an individual gesture of water, which consists of personally wetting one’s face and hands with the water from the Cave flowing from the fountains. The faucets are treated with viricide several times a day.
On the question of whether pilgrims should fear visiting the Grotto in Lourdes and touching the rock, the Shrine information states, “The virus is shortly resistant to inert materials such as stone and frequent hand washing is recommended in all circumstances.”
At Mass in Lourdes, there will be no sign of peace between the faithful (shaking hands), that communion will not be distributed in the mouth. All the holy water fonts have been emptied. The concelebrant priests commune by intinction.
“Our first concern will always be the safety and health of the pilgrims and the shrine’s working community,” the shrine’s website stated.
Separately, a French priest has been hospitalised in Paris after testing positive for Covid-19 Coronavirus.
Forty-three-year-old Fr Alexandre Comte had recently returned to France from Italy.
There have been 130 confirmed cases of coronavirus reported in France, and two deaths.
In Italy, more than 2,000 people have contracted Coronavirus according to the Italian Ministry of Health, mostly in the regions around Milan, Bologna, and Venice. So far, 52 people who contracted the virus have died in Italy.
The French embassy closed the Church of St Louis of the French in Rome on Friday and placed its 24 resident priests under quarantine as Fr Comte had stayed there in mid February.
The church is located near Piazza Navona is the national church of France in Rome.
However, on Monday, the French Embassy to the Holy See announced that “any risk of possible contagion by the priest” had been ruled out by Rome’s regional health system, and the precautionary measures that led to the quarantine of the French priests had been revoked.
The Church of St Louis of the French is famous for its three Caravaggio paintings of the life of St Matthew. It reopens to the public today.
Meanwhile, according to The Tablet, the Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales has told parishes to suspend Masses if there is a large number of cases of Coronavirus in the local community.
Catholics are being asked not to kiss or touch the Cross on Good Friday if the situation worsens or if there is a case specifically linked to a parish community.