Thefts have greater than doubled as organised gangs turned their consideration to the city, attracted by the simple pickings there.

“Many people think that when they arrive in Lourdes nothing can happen, leaving their handbags open wider than they would have in Paris,” mentioned Philippe Subercaze, a metropolis councillor in cost of safety.

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“In Lourdes, they think the Virgin will protect them and that nothing will happen to them.”

Lourdes is likely one of the most revered websites for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics as a result of it’s mentioned to be the place the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant lady in a grotto in 1858.

The city, with a inhabitants of about 14,000, attracted greater than 770,000 guests final yr. Most got here from Italy, Spain, Britain and Ireland.

Local prosecutor Pierre Aurignac informed Internetthere has been a “statistical explosion” of pickpocketing incidents — from 117 in the primary 9 months of final yr to 274 to date in 2019.

“It is cash they are after.”

Most of the thefts occurred in the city centre in the shop-lined roads close to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, an space surrounding a shrine.

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The municipality has put up about 50 video cameras since final yr, including to these the Sanctuary itself has put in.

“These are very organised professionals,” Subercaze mentioned of the pickpockets. “They arrive in waves and change all the time. As soon as one is identified or arrested, they are replaced. It is a game of cat and mouse.”

Slowly however absolutely, the pilgrims are wising up.

“A couple had their things stolen a few days ago, so now I take more care,” mentioned Anna Maria, who got here to Lourdes from Naples, Italy.

“I keep my bag pressed close to my body.”

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