.- Tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate the Marian Sanctuary in Lourdes on Sunday because of a bomb threat. Allowed to return later in the day, the faithful resumed with the programmed schedule of worship and took part in the traditional afternoon procession.
The estimated number of pilgrims in Lourdes on Sunday was put at about 30,000 by local media, with large delegations coming particularly from France and Italy.
According to Agence France Presse (AFP), at around noon an anonymous call was made to the local police station warning that four bombs would explode at 3 p.m., the time that Mass was scheduled to start.
Having evacuated the sanctuary, police and bomb-sniffing dogs conducted a search of the site. It was reopened to the masses at around 4 p.m. when no explosives were found.
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year at the sanctuary, for its importance as a Marian celebration and also for the practical reason that it takes place during the summer holidays of August. Many French Catholics take part in the National Pilgrimage organized every year to coincide with the solemnity.
Speaking about the bomb scare, a local police spokesman called it a "cruel hoax," saying that the caller did nothing more than cause additional problems for those already suffering from illnesses and handicaps.
While a prayer for France and the world and a chaplet originally scheduled to be said at the grotto had to be observed from outside the gates of the sanctuary, the evacuation did not keep people from taking part in the National Pilgrimage-organized Eucharistic procession at 5 p.m.