Lourdes forced to close as bomb threat hits shrine
700 Irish pilgrims evacuated by police
UP TO 30,000 pilgrims, among them more than 700 Irish, were evacuated from Lourdes yesterday after a bomb alert closed down the French shrine on one of the busiest days of the year.
Police evacuated the shrine after receiving an anonymous telephone warning that four bombs would explode at the site at 3pm local time.
Thousands of pilgrims were escorted from the shrine just before midday Mass was due to begin, with around 900 seriously ill people taken away on stretchers.
Despite the specified time passing without any explosion, police said it was still too early to say whether the bomb alert was a prank or a real threat.
The shrine was re-opened at 5pm for the Blessed Sacrament procession and a blessing of the sick ceremony.
Tens of thousands of people were in Lourdes yesterday to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption, one of the shrine's busiest days of the year.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Irish Embassy in Paris had been in touch with the authorities in Lourdes after the bomb alert and that no Irish people had been affected apart from having to evacuate.
A group of 50 pilgrims from St Patrick's Church in Lucan, Dublin, had been leaving their hotel en route for the shrine yesterday morning when they were told that the whole area was being closed down.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Breeda Meyler, one of the group, said: "We got word in the hotel later on to say the five o'clock procession was going ahead so we're down here now heading to the crypt.
"August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption and Lourdes is very, very packed and I think that's what they were focusing on -- disrupting the afternoon.
"We're leaving tomorrow morning at 9am. We had a lovely week and everything was perfect up until today, but we're having a lovely evening now. It was just disappointing for those people who were on day-trips and couldn't get into the shrine," she added.
Fionnuala Brua, who is a manager with Joe Walsh tours and is based in Lourdes, said the travel operator had 700 pilgrims in the town last night.
"They were a little bit shocked today but everything has returned to calm . . . I think it was shock more than panic because bomb alerts are not something we associate with Lourdes.
"But no bomb went off. In fact, at three o'clock there were thousands of people waiting at the three or four entrances into the grotto to get back in. I don't think people really believed a bomb would go off," she added.