Brexit may put British pilgrimages to Lourdes under threat

Disabled pilgrims face the Basilica of the Rosary during a Mass for the sick celebrated by Benedict XVI in Lourdes in 2008 (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

As Britain packs its bags and gets ready to leave the EU, whose flag is said to have been borrowed from the image of Our Lady in the Book of Revelation, there is a fundamental problem that may evolve for our faithful: the pilgrimage.

The UK has sent millions of people on pilgrimages to Europe over the years, in particular those who are sick, disabled and elderly. Take Lourdes for example: since 1858 pilgrims have been answering a call to come in procession and to wash in the waters. This shrine has become a beautiful place of solace for the faithful and, here more than anywhere, those with additional care needs are looked after with remarkable love and affection.

In the advent of Brexit, as someone who is working on a professional level to ensure that travel of the pilgrims with special needs can continue into the future, I have become concerned about the implications of the British EU referendum result. Although not as high impact as millions of pounds dropping from the FTSE, the care of the sick in Lourdes is nonetheless important for those who need it most, and for whom many other foreign holidays are not possible.

Pilgrimages to Lourdes are currently dependent on the European Health Insurance Card, which we could stand to lose if we leave the EEA as part of Brexit. If full costs are to be borne for healthcare abroad, Lourdes, for UK pilgrims, is likely to become a domain for the fit, well and wealthy.

So in the trade deals and politicking, let’s not forget equitable access to health care for people with illness and disability, and make sure that Lourdes and other pilgrimage sites continue to be able to welcome the sick for many years to come.

Dr Michael Moran is a member of the International Medical Committee of Lourdes and Chief Medical Officer of the Down and Connor diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes