Lourdes: pilgrims from Asia among the many

North Korean defectors among the faithful.

Lourdes (AsiaNews) – John Paul II's coming pilgrimage to Lourdes is raising interest among Asia's Christians and encouraging them to pray.

Last year about 9,000 pilgrims from Asia visited Lourdes, the largest group (1179) coming 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 the Lebanon (1099) followed by Japan (1086), China (368), Vietnam (224), Thailand (198), Singapore (135), United Arab Emirates (80), and Taiwan (66).

Father 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. They were among the 1,100 or so faithful, including a few sick elderly people, who made the journey to the sanctuary.

"The Tamils pray and make their plea to Mary so that she may help their loved ones who are ill," Father De Antonio told AsiaNews. "It is common for them to take home –whether in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, or Switzerland– 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 those from the Lebanon, many young people too, moved by a devotion to Mary, which is strong among Maronites. There is often a Maronite confessor in Lourdes.

Lourdes is also an important stop in the European tour a Japanese operator offers in his home market. "Japanese tourists who come to Lourdes are often on a spiritual quest," Father De Antonio said, "drawn to Christianity, wanting to know it better. Coming to Lourdes, the most famous Catholic sanctuary in the world, is a way for them to discover what Christian devotion to Mary is all about."