pilgrims waiting for a miracle have been left â€˜devastatedâ€™ by heavy flooding in Lourdes which has caused the cancellation of the Limerick trip to south west France.
Over 500 people were due to depart this Thursday and Friday from Shannon to Lourdes as part of the Limerick Diocesan Pilgrimage but flooding has caused havoc in the area, resulting in the cancellation of the trip.
A large group from the diocese of Cashel and Emly are currently in Lourdes and have seen their pilgrimage severely disrupted, with several hotels in the area evacuated early on Wednesday morning.
Heavy rain and flash flooding in the area - exacerbated by warm temperatures which melted snow on nearby mountains - has caused the grotto at Lourdes to be closed, as are roads in the area, while access to hospitals is restricted.
Emergency services in the area are working to restore services, with widespread electricity outages, while the torrential river has caused widespread damage but is not being described by local authorities as catastrophic.
The diocesan office and Fr Donal McNamara took the difficult decision to cancel the Limerick pilgrimage this Wednesday afternoon.
â€œWe had no choice, unfortunately,â€ explained Fr McNamara from Stansted airport this Wednesday.
â€œIt is awfully disappointing for the invalids, the pilgrims, the youth - everybody concerned, because there is so much work goes into preparing it. The amount of work done in advance is huge, and it is disappointing for all concerned.
â€œThe latest is that it is beginning to clear up, the river is beginning to drop, the sun is shining, but there is still a huge amount of devastation,â€ he added. Those present in Lourdes painted a grim picture.
â€œIt is chaos at the moment,â€ said Fergal Deegan, who arrived with 17 others on a fundraising cycle to Lourdes this Wednesday.
â€œThe Alba hotel is under water and closed. The roads down there are closed. The emergency services are all over the place pumping water, trying to get the place back to normality.â€
Eddie Golden, director of the youth group with the Cashel and Emly diocese - 20 of whom are from the Limerick area - said the group had been â€œdisplaced, but were never in any danger and were still looking after the sick in hospitalâ€.
The group will return this Friday with the Pilgrimages Abroad travel group.
Fr McNamara said he had to go along with the advice issued from France.
â€œI am so genuinely sorry for all of those who were due to travel, but having got the advice of the medical staff, I had to be guided by them. They would have grave concerns, a lot of areas are still closed off,â€ he explained.
â€œThere were no guarantees that it would be ok by Friday. The latest news from Lourdes is that it is beginning to clear up, the river is beginning to drop, the sun is shining, but there is still a huge amount of devastation.â€
Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy, who was due to lead the pilgrimage from Limerick, said: â€œOur prayers and thoughts are now with the people of the Lourdes and pilgrims and invalids, including the many Irish who were so looking forward to this trip.â€
Those due to travel this Friday will be given a full refund of monies they have already committed to the pilgrimage.
The diocese confirmed that Bishop Leahy will celebrate 5.30pm Mass at St. Josephâ€™s Church on Sunday for the intentions of all the pilgrims and invalids, with all welcome to attend.