As millions of people travel to Lourdes, France, every year in search of divine healing, some evangelical missionaries are warning that at the holy site venerated by Catholics, many are revering the Virgin Mary more than Jesus Christ.
"For followers of Jesus Christ, the atmosphere in Lourdes is dark and discouraging. Christians know that it is 'the Lord who heals you' (Exodus 15:26). The determination and expectation of 6 million pilgrims a year feels overwhelming," Pioneers, a missions agency that is based in Florida but has offices worldwide, said last week.
One Pioneers member in Lourdes said: "In my town Mary takes Jesus' place on the cross. People come from far and wide to bring honor to her, to ask her for healing, to pray to her. This is all the locals of this rural town in the mountains know: not Jesus, just millions of Catholic pilgrims from the whole world with their Mary statues, rosaries, and holy water. What should church look like for people who have been completely desensitized to the Gospel?"
As the article explains, every year over 6 million people — Catholics and people of other faiths — visit Lourdes where they believe Mary appeared in 1858 on several occasions. The Vatican has declared the location a holy site for worshipers, with many believing that a cave with a natural spring, where Mary is said to have appeared, has healing properties.
It noted that each year, 350,000 people bathe in the spring, while over 7,000 have asked the Vatican to confirm their healings as a miracle. The Catholic Church has authenticated 69 such miraculous healings in Lourdes.
"Masses of hopeful people come from all walks of life to visit the grotto. Buddhists and Hindus, Catholics and superstitious are there. The wealthy and poor are there. Young and old. Black and white. Western and eastern," Pioneers adds.
"They all walk together — unified in their hope and expectation of healing. They fly, drive, and walk far for their chance to be miraculously restored," the missionary group ads.
The missionaries said that they're looking to renovate a cafe in the center of Lourdes as a way to offer visitors who come for Mary an encounter with Jesus instead. They say that they are hoping that "those who seek the healing of a physical infirmity, would instead receive restoration for their souls."
The veneration of Mary continues to be one of the major points of disagreement between evangelicals and Catholics.
As the Our Lady of Lourdes website explains, the site in France is significant because it's a place "where Catholics can deepen their faith."
"Our Lady of Lourdes is a place where Catholic's can put their faith into their actions and journey across the pilgrim in order to deepen their faith," it states.
"Mary is not only the chosen mother of Jesus, but she was Mary Immaculate who was born without sin. Mary is the main reason why Lourdes is so significant because it is the site where she appeared to put herself forward to heal people and set miracles."
Back in May 2017, hundreds of evangelicals set out to preach the Bible to a mass gathering of Catholics in Fátima, Portugal, where Mary is also said to have visited and spoken to shepherd children 100 years ago.
António Calaim, pastor and president of the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance, explained at the time that evangelicals "do not agree with the idolatry of Mary, the worship of the saints and images, and the leadership of the Church in the whole world under one man."
Calaim insisted that evangelicals are not looking to confront Catholics, however, but "to give a hug and share the Word of God" with the people at the Fátima gathering.