Lourdes is to offer a digital pilgrimage this week to pray for the sick on the anniversary of its final Marian apparition.

The shrine will livestream the rosary in 10 languages, hold Masses for multiple time zones, and have a procession with the relics of St Bernadette this Thursday.

The sanctuary is facing losses of €8 million and is struggling to preserve the jobs of its 320 employees, after months without pilgrims, CNA reports. It will be appealing for funds during the virtual pilgrimage.

The shrine’s rector, Mgr Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, said: “For 162 years, Lourdes has been a place of friendship centred on the poor and sick, an unparalleled school of life, service and prayer. It is a spiritual jewel that never ceases to give meaning and hope to our lives.”

“The resources of the sanctuary are reliant on the pilgrims who visit the site. Without them, without their offerings and donations, Lourdes cannot exist. The sanctuary was hit by these economic difficulties just after it had returned to financial equilibrium.”

Vice-rector Fr Xavier d’Arodes de Peyriague told Catholic News Service that the shrine’s closure was unprecedented.

“This shrine has never closed previously – not even during two world wars and other major traumas, and it’s been extraordinary to stand alone at its normally crowded grotto,” he said.

“We’ve had to adjust our prayers from a focus on individual healing to the challenges of a pandemic. But five times the normal numbers are now following us on social networks, while we’re broadcast on Catholic channels worldwide.”

Fr d’Arodes added that it was still unclear when pilgrims will be allowed to return.

“For now, it’s recommended the fragile and vulnerable remain at home – though some handicapped people have come, we’ve had to change the way things are done here, closing the sanctuary’s baths, suspending processions and restricting torchlight rosaries.

“But people are in need of faith and hope, and we’ve instead been animating the digital community, which is building amazingly all the time.”

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