Catholic pilgrims from around the world, many sick or disabled, converge Monday at a shrine in the French town of Lourdes under exceptional security after recent extremist attacks.
Armed soldiers and police patrol the train station, town center and inside the sanctuary at Lourdes, where a 19th-century village girl said she had visions of the Virgin Mary. The site in southern France near the Spanish border draws pilgrims of all kinds, some hoping for a cure from the famous spring water in the Lourdes grotto.
As a helicopter circles overhead, visitors bearing candles and banners stream toward the grotto and the sprawling plaza of the basilica, apparently undeterred by new security restrictions or the recent attacks.
French authorities had already been planning extra security for the annual holiday, but concerns mounted after a series of attacks in July around Europe — notably one July 26 in northwest France, in which two extremists claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group stormed a morning Mass, slit an elderly priest’s throat and took nuns and parishioners hostage.
Lourdes officials refused to cancel this year’s pilgrimage, although some other summer festivals around France have been dropped.