Story & photo by Stephanie Tumampos
France, one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, has received over 90,000 Filipino travelers in 2017 alone. While some went to famous landmarks around Paris, such as the iconic Eiffel Tower, and shopped at the beautiful Galeries Lafayette mall, 80 percent of Filipino tourists went on a religious pilgrimage outside the busy city.
“We started promoting the theme of religious tourism here in the Philippines because France has a lot of assets and destinations for Filipino [pilgrims],” said Morad Tayebi, Asean regional director of Atout France. There are more or less 23 destinations for religious pilgrims in France.
The Northwest side of the country has eight destinations: Paris, Alençon, Lisieux, Abbeys of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel, Sainte Anne D’Auray, Tours and Chartres.
Starting in Paris as the main entry point of most airlines and after going around the city churches, which inspired movies and plays, such as the Notre-Dame de Paris for the Hunchback of Notre Dame cartoon, pilgrims can travel next to Alençon in Normandy, where one can follow the footsteps of Saint Therese and her parents, Saints Louis and Zélie. Saint Therese was born in the place where the family had lived. Alençon also has notable churches, such as the Church of Notre-Dame.
On to the next stop, in Lisieux, is the second sanctuary in France after Lourdes with 1 million visitors every year.
Filipinos can also enjoy French gastronomy in side tours. Of course, the Norman Abbeys should not to be missed. The famous Mont Saint Michel, called the “Wonder of the West,” is one of the most important places of pilgrimage of Medieval west, garnering 2 million visitors every year.
Throughout the next stop is the spiritual capital of Brittany with Sainte Anne d’Auray, where the relics of Saint John Paul II are stored. Along the way are famous castles of Tours and Saint Martin’s tomb.
On the trip back to Paris is Chartres, where the famous Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame de Chartres is found. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It holds a unique light show called Chartres en Lumières from April to October. In the Northeast of France, four unique sites can be visited: Guebwiller, Vézelay, Nevers and Paray-Le-Monial.
This region boasts of beautiful cathedrals and churches like Paray-Le-Monial’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the site of apparitions of Jesus to Saint Marguerite.
Vézelay holds the relics of Maria Magdalene in a crypt. It is one of the starting points of Saint James Way. The pilgrimage place dedicated to Virgin Mary can be visited in the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Thierenbach in Guebwiller.
The place is also known for its Christmas markets. Nevers was where Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the saint of Lourdes, spent her last 13 years. Her body was stored in a glass-window coffin.
The Southwest side of France could be the most popular among Filipino pilgrims. It is where Lourdes is located. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrating its 160 anniversary this year and devotees are expected to flock there.
Lourdes offers many activities—torch light procession every 9 p.m. from April to October; visit to the Grotto of Apparitions; and a new musical in 2019 about the story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, the girl who witnessed the apparitions.
The Southeast of France has nine pilgrimage sites: the Notre-Dame de La Salette, Isére, Ars-Sur-Formans, Le Puy-en-Velay, Mende, Montpellier, Palace of the Popes in Avignon, Saint Maximin and Cotignac.
Starting at the cathedral Notre-Dame De La Salette, it could be followed by the Ars-Sur-Formans, which is dedicated to the patron saint of priests, Saint John Vianney.
Le Puy-en-Velay is also the starting route of the Saint James Way in the Auvergne region. In Avignon one can see the Cité des Papes.
In Provence one can visit the Basilica of Saint-Maximin, Saint Baume Basilica, where Maria Magdalena’s relics are kept, and Cotignac, where the apparition of Saint Joseph occurred.
As the Asean regional director for Atout France, Tayebi said there are many agencies in the country that offer packages for the pilgrimage tour.
“This year we’ll definitely reach 100,000 Filipino travelers, even 110,000 or maybe 120,000,” Tayebi said the recent news briefing. In 2017 the number of Filipino tourists visiting Franch increased by 35 percent.
Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos