Lourdes underwater


The grotto, untouched before the damaging floods.
The grotto at Lourdes previous to the torrential rain storms.
courtesy of Catherine Considine ’13

After several days of heavy rain in Lourdes, France, the Gave de Pau River barriers collapsed, causing damaging flooding to the religious haven.  Lourdes, a place of pilgrimage for many Roman Catholics, has been deeply affected by this unexpected natural disaster.
Hundreds of pilgrims have been evacuated from the sanctuary as a result of the massive flooding.  According to a statement by hotel owner Pierre Barrere in the APF news agency, this is the worst flooding Lourdes has seen in nearly 40 years.  Many sacred parts of the shrine are now underwater, including the altar at the grotto where the Virgin Mary was believed to have appeared.  The grotto, one of the most essential parts of Lourdes, is a place where pilgrims are known for drinking spring waters famous for their miraculous healing powers.  Convent of the Sacred Heart senior Marguerite Sommer made the pilgrimage to Lourdes this past summer, and is unsettled by these recent events.
“It’s really sad because it’s filling up the entire grotto area which is really sacred and beautiful.  Hopefully it can be cleaned up and restored to how it was before, but right now it looks pretty destroyed,” Marguerite said.
However, some parts of the Lourdes sanctuary still remain untouched by the floods.  The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, located on higher ground at the grotto, has not suffered any damage, according to BBC News. Because of its fragile state and the impending forecasts of heavy rain, visits to the grotto have been temporarily suspended.
The pilgrims who were rescued from the flooding areas are currently recovering from the natural disaster after being evacuated from waterlogged hotels by various rescue teams.  The Red Cross is supplying these individuals with food and shelter because of the impending forecasts of continued rain, according to Irish Independent.  Sacred Heart senior Emma Burke, who also made the pilgrimage to Lourdes this past summer, feels for the many disappointed escapees.
“It’s upsetting because all the people came there to be at the shrine and they had to be evacuated,” Emma said.  “They were all probably so happy and excited to be there, and now they have to leave during such a special time.”
Upper s School theology teacher Mrs. Pregiato is especially concerned about the recent events, as she has been leading the Sacred Heart pilgrimage to Lourdes for many years.  Because of her experience with Lourdes, she has found the damage done to this sacred place difficult to grasp in light of her memories at the grotto and the baths.
“When we are in Lourdes, the girls and I actually stand in front of the grotto for mass,” Mrs. Pregiato said.  “We pass through it to see the waters of the spring discovered by Bernadette and we often just sit there to pray.  It is a very sacred place and people try to maintain silence.  Behind us is the River Gave, which, though swift, has always seemed benign.  I will never think of it in quite the same way again.”
Though many are praying for a successful restoration of Lourdes, it is a long road to recovery for the Roman Catholic sanctuary.  Even with help from the Red Cross and many volunteers, it will take nothing short of a miracle to renew this sacred place.  Mrs. Pregiato, along with many hopeful others, will be storming heaven for Lourdes.
“I will be with them in spirit, praying that this flood has left no permanent damage and that the cleanup proceeds quickly,” Mrs. Pregiato said.
– Devon Hoffman, Opinions Editor