~from CNS via Catholic Online
Church officials have called for more clergy to work at France's Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, after a sharp rise in visitors wanting to make confessions.
"Several priests have already asked to come, but we need more for the coming jubilee year," said Father Yvon Peschet, who is in charge of the shrine's Reconciliation Chapel. "It's especially with French-speaking clergy that we really need reinforcements now. But there's a shortage in the dioceses now, and it isn't easy for them to take time off for pastoral work down here."
Father Peschet said July 12 that the 30 priests permanently on hand at 40 confessionals in Lourdes were having to cope with 400,000 requested confessions each year. He said he expected the demand to increase in 2008, the 150th anniversary of Marian apparitions at Lourdes, which already attracts 6 million visitors annually.
"The Francophone confessionals are literally under siege," said the priest. "We need ... men of prayer, at ease with their vocation, happy in their priesthood and faithful to the Catholic Church's magisterium. Our team will then consider them as auxiliary confessors for a period of 15-30 days."
Lourdes has been a place of pilgrimage since 1858, when St. Bernadette Soubirous, 14, experienced the first of 18 visions of Mary while gathering firewood.
Although approximately 7,000 miracles have been claimed at the shrine, which is famed as a place of healing, 68 cures have been confirmed as scientifically inexplicable by the International Medical Committee of Lourdes, established by the church in 1947.
Pope Benedict XVI has been invited to visit the shrine for the anniversary celebrations in 2008.
In a statement on the diocesan Web site, Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes circulated a special prayer for the shrine's jubilee and also urged more priests to help.
"I ask priests of all ages to come and render this service to the innumerable people who are coming to Lourdes outside organized pilgrimages and asking to be listened to," said Bishop Perrier. "I appeal particularly for this year, which is under the sign of reconciliation, and for 2008, which will undoubtedly see increased pilgrims. Don't hesitate to come."