.- News among Pope John Paul II’s upcoming pilgrimage to Lourdes has raised interest among Asia’s Christians, and an ever-growing number of them are visiting the renowned Catholic sanctuary, reported AsiaNews.
Last year about 9,000 pilgrims from Asia visited Lourdes. The largest group, which numbered 1,179 people, came from South Korea. Surprisingly, a contingent of 934 North Korean refugees, living in different parts of Asia, also made the trip.
The second largest group came from Lebanon (1,099), followed by Japan (1,086), China (368), Vietnam (224), Thailand (198), Singapore (135), United Arab Emirates (80), and Taiwan (66).
Fr. José De Antonio is a Spanish oblate in charge of Lourdes pilgrimages from outside of Europe. Back in July, he welcomed three European-based Indian Tamil pilgrims.
“The Tamils pray and make their plea to Mary so that she may help their loved ones who are ill,” Fr. De Antonio told AsiaNews. “It is common for them to take home Lourdes water for their relatives or friends who are ill and unable to come.”
Christians from the Middle East also come to Lourdes in great numbers, especially from Lebanon. Many of them are young people, who are moved by a devotion to Mary, which is strong among Maronites, said Fr. De Antonio.
Lourdes is also an important stop for those Asians who are only starting to discover Christianity. Some Japanese tour operators offer Lourdes in their European tour packages. “Japanese tourists who come to Lourdes are often on a spiritual quest, drawn to Christianity, wanting to know it better,” Fr. De Antonio said. “Coming to Lourdes is a way for them to discover what Christian devotion to Mary is all about.”