At Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, people have been gathering for days, hoping to get a good spot to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. But they have been going there in huge numbers for years, with many sick and dying hoping for a miracle.
They come to bathe in the sacred spring that many believe can heal illnesses. One pilgrim said: “I think the most special thing about it is just Lourdes itself. Someone said to me it’s sort of a piece of heaven, and it is that.”
The Pope’s visit is part of commemorations for the 150th anniversary of when the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a peasant girl named Bernedette in 1858. She is said to have dug in the earth at the site and a spring later formed.
67 reports of miraculous healing have been officially recognised by a team of medical staff that examines all reported miracles.
Patrick Thellier, Director of the Lourde medical centre, said: “As a scientist with faith, I have a foot in both camps – reason and science on one side, and faith and belief on the other. And the two have to be managed together.”
It is estimated that more than six million pilgrims come here every year, which would explain why the city has the second largest number of hotels in France after Paris.