vatican insider

Bethlehem and Lourdes strengthen their connections

Mrs Bourdeu, for what profound reasons did you want to twin the Marian city of Lourdes with that of Bethlehem, where Christ was born?  

I will start by clarifying that the idea came a while ago from Josette Durrieu senator of Hautes- Pyrénées and Bernard Sabella deputy of East Jerusalem. I answered even more favourably because this twining comes, according to me, with an extra dimension. In the form of a natural intimacy which surpasses the traditional results of a cooperation between two cities. I am speaking of course of what abides in the heart of Bethlehem as of that of Lourdes: the grottos, which each in their own manner, in very different époques, have changed forever the face of faith; Bethlehem is the cradle, Lourdes, the mother’s gaze over those who have become her children. Strong symbols of a human-shaped spirituality. Universal symbols which overcome all divisions, and which, for the elect of the republic that I am, freed themselves easily from the simple religious fact to deliver a message of fraternal peace and tolerance to our world which suffers under the harshest turbulence. 

So this is why, in my opinion, we shouldn’t reduce this signature to just a simple twinning of towns; I earnestly hope that what will rapidly follow is a page of history which we will write with the authorities of Bethlehem, based on all that gathers us together. 

We are at this meeting during an important period of history, as we have already been with Czestochowa, in Poland, with which the town of Lourdes is also twinned. This is because that which we have sealed at Bethlehem is a pact of exemplary friendship, one of unfailing mutual support. A message which makes sense far beyond the perimeters of our two cities. 

Lourdes was not spared from the economic crisis, and despite the steep drop in visitors you are promoting another place of pilgrimage, much more cruelly touched due to the political context in the Holy Land. This generosity honours the municipality. Concretely, in practice, including the economic level, how is solidarity between the two towns manifested?  

Together with Vera Baboun, the Mayor of Bethlehem whom I received at Lourdes end May 2015 with her team, and Rula Maaya the Palestinian Minister of Tourism, we have defined some leads of cooperation which we can very quickly put into action. 

For example, we propose that starting from this season we will welcome to Lourdes for professional formation, interns from the Hotel Management School of Bethlehem University, specifically working in the welcome of pilgrims and the sick. 

Also, we are working towards putting into place a joint event for Christmas celebrations for 2016 but we are not waiting just for this date in order to realise exchanges on a cultural level. 

On an aside note, the town is going to contribute to the Bethlehem French singing contest: first prize will be a trip to Lourdes.  

Moreover we are launching a reflection on how to favourise locally the circulation of Bethlehem crafts under the form of a fair trade approach, a bit like the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes which, for example had their official rosary made in Bethlehem. 

Finally, we have invited the Mayor of Bethlehem to Lourdes for the first workshop SPIRITUAL TOUR which will be held from September 29 to October 4, 2016. This exhibition is a first in France and an occasion to exchange with them the experience and good practices on the subject of tourist development amongst other things, posing questions on international strategy, promotion and marketing but also diversification of financial resources, with the setting up of a tourist tax like we have done at Lourdes. 

Clearly we have common interests in the subject of religious tourism, notably in the new markets such as those of South America and Asia. Our common goal is to propose to those countries a “European” ladder circuit which could include for example Lourdes, Czestochowa, Fatima and the Holy Land. These are only first steps but I am sincerely persuaded that we are at the beginning of a very beautiful human adventure, a very beautiful lesson in solidarity. 

A delegation you were driving came to the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, what did you observe there, what urgent message from the inhabitants of Bethlehem would you like to relay to France and the rest of Europe?  

There are I believe, in the elected life and in the exercising of a mandate, gestures and events which engage us far beyond a simple signature. Each twinning is in itself a human adventure. And Bethlehem, despite the hindrances which onsite we cannot ignore, over the past few years has built the foundations of true international recognition through an extraordinary network of cities worldwide. This recent twinning between Lourdes and Bethlehem solemnly registers itself on this long list. And know this; I am particularly proud of it. It is a beacon of solidarity, a form of justice which no wall can stop. 

In collaboration with the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre