By Writing Cahors
the Marian sanctuary of Rocamadour in the Batch has just suffered the full brunt of a two-year health crisis. Powerful economic lung of the town and the department, it greatly reduced its activity from March 2020 during the first confinement. Squares and streets remained deserted for months. Same observation in hotels and restaurants under infusion thanks to state aid.
And, in this summer of 2022, as we hear in the shopping street of the city: “Little by little, tourists are coming back”. And on her doorstep, this welcoming shopkeeper insists: “Rocamadour will always remain Rocamadour”.
The number of Catholics present for August 15, 2022 on the rise
Gradually holidaymakers and retirees reappeared as health restrictions were lifted. In the restaurants of the town and Lhospitalet, customers are there again, with a flow similar to that before the crisis. Up to now recovering, this news gives color to Rocamadour.
Today, France needs hope
For the feasts of L’Assomption, a return to normal floated in the sanctuary. Better still, the number of Catholics present was noted to be on the rise.
A thousand people followed the procession of Sunday August 14 in the evening, from the Holy Way to the Grand Staircase and the chapel of the Black Virgin. The following day, some 800 pilgrims attended the mass at L’Assomption presided over by the Bishop of Autun, Mgr Benoît Rivière, a local child.
If the tourists come back, the pilgrims also come back.
Believers have a thirst to find the sanctuary of Rocamadour and to put themselves under the protection of Mary. As the new Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseilles, wrote on August 15 in the newspaper La Croix: “Today, France needs hope”.
Discussion with Francis Kovacs, lay volunteer committed to the sanctuary, present daily in the field during the summer months.
News: Have you observed a change in the behavior of tourists and pilgrims since 2019?
Francis Kovacs: We can indeed detect some incriminable developments with different causes. In social life, opinions are radicalized and confront each other more strongly (the example of the Yellow Vests) leading to fractures in society.
Combined with the pandemic, wars or political tensions, the ground is favorable to collective expressions to which the religious domain does not escape. Expressing together during ceremonies, one’s religious convictions makes it possible to feel less isolated.
Moreover, don’t the disturbing societal excesses encourage a more practiced spirituality?
Francis Kovacs: It is often when we realize that we are hitting rock bottom that an awakening reaction occurs.
This year, as a guide, I have noticed greater attention, even an attraction to Catholic catechesis, including on the part of non-believers. We are more attentive, we don’t just listen, we want to understand, we ask questions, all age groups included. The discussions are deeper.
Another phenomenon that is emerging more and more: people want to preserve the sacred and want their convictions to be respected.
Do you feel today a deeper attitude of Christians who come to the sanctuary?
Francis Kovacs: Yes, I see a healthy evolution towards a renunciation of a certain form of relativism, even if this is far from complete.
This is obviously linked to the quality of the accompanying persons (priests, deacons, volunteers) but also associated with the practice of assiduous prayer by all the actors. The quality of the apostolate is closely linked to it.
Moreover, we are all convinced that we are not here to convert but to bear witness to our faith. There are of course those who are motivated and those who pass on their way but I have the feeling that the indifferent are less numerous. Including followers of other religions, see alleged atheists. I am personally impressed by the respect of Muslims.
In your opinion, is the covid crisis leading to a change in religious practice?
Francis Kovacs: I don’t know if it’s only the Covid that is generating this development, but certainly the restrictions linked to the health crisis have contributed to it.
Other parameters lead to a search for meaning in one’s life and to an awareness of realities. Man is naturally a religious being who carries within him an aspiration to transcendence. He perceives that this hope is not carried by power, money, debauchery, selfishness and nihilism. After a negative experience, one may experience a phase in which the clouds dissipate to reveal the true light of the sun.
The history of humanity is filled with these changes linked to the search for happiness, linking periods down and then up. Just read the Bible.
To let oneself be loved by God and to love one’s neighbor is a long river which is not calm at all but rather a battle with oneself.
Many Christians were present at the August 15 procession and mass. How do you interpret this increase compared to the years 2015-2019?
Francis Kovacs: Indeed, this year, the celebrations of the Assumption at Notre Dame de Rocamadour experienced an astonishing attendance, greater than in previous years. The mass on Sunday 14, the traditional night procession with the vigil mass, the mass on August 15 on the Sainte Véronique esplanade exceeded the usual attendance for this feast in honor of the Virgin Mary.
The Christians came more in families and in groups. Without forgetting the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in number this year also more substantial.
From the 11th to the 16th century, Rocamadour was the largest Marian shrine in Christianity, with pilgrims coming from all over France and all of Europe. In 1546 (June 23), the Grand Pardon brought together more than 20,000 people.
It is undoubtedly important to correlate “this revival” with the 19,000 people present at the Lourdes procession and the thousands who converged on Sainte-Anne d’Auray as well as in many other sanctuaries. Let’s not forget either that the feast of the Assumption has been deeply rooted in France since the 4th century and that August 15 was the National Day until the Revolution.
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