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Online event: What is Happening to the Christians in Gaza

Program to help Christians in GazaIf you want to know the truth of what is happening to Christians in Gaza, we invite you to join this presentation by Select International Tours on March 14th at 8:00 PM Eastern time. Jeff Cavins and Fr. Leo Patalinghug will host a live online event Thursday, March 14, 2024 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time.

If you have traveled with Select International Tours, you may know that in addition to running a pilgrimage company, they also run a charitable foundation called Select to Give, an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) charity founded in 2014.

What you may not know is the purpose and the scope of their foundation. You may not know that their primary focus is to help the suffering Christians who live in Bethlehem and Gaza. Select to Give is a large part of their mission, and they are grateful to each of you who has taken the time to learn about the foundation and support their work in the past.

The online event will be hosted by Jeff Cavins and Fr. Leo Patalinghug, with guests including Gus Lloyd, Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Fr. David Michael Moses, as well as Christians from the Holy Land who share their personal experience of the current situation in the Holy Land.

You will hear from a Select to Give American volunteer who has chosen to live in Bethlehem during the last six months to help those in need the most. A very special guest will be the Pastor of Holy Family Church, the only Catholic Parish in Gaza. You can hear a first-hand testimonial from someone we can trust who lives in Gaza.

Click here to view the Live Presentation on March 14

The event will hosted on the Apostle website and will begin promptly at 8:00 PM. Please be sure to click the link above  and create a Free Login with your email beforehand.

Donations: If you would like to support this effort, they will be accepting tax-deductible donations via credit card during the event. If you wish to donate by mail, please make your check payable to Select to Give, Inc. and mail it to:

Select to Give, Inc.
c/o Select International Tours
85 Park Ave.
Flemington, NJ 08822

A tax letter confirming your donation will be sent via email within 10 business days of the event.

Please help us promote this exceptional chance to learn from Christians currently residing in the Holy Land. Utilize the image and links above on your social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or via emails and texts. By broadening this campaign’s reach, they can connect with more Christians concerned about the struggles of our brethren in the Holy Land.

 

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The future of pilgrimage travel 2024-2025

This article is courtesy of Select International Tours:

The Future of Pilgrimage Travel 2024-2025

A New Year is upon us again, and we are excited to see all that 2024 brings. We are seeing signs of hope for returning to Israel in 2024. Greece is becoming a very hot destination, and the coming Jubilee year in Italy is causing quite a stir. Read on to learn more.

Holy Land:  Signs of Hope

Of all the things we are hoping and praying for in 2024, the resolution of hostilities in the Holy Land is at the top of our list. Thankfully, we are seeing signs of life returning to normal in Israel, which makes us believe that travel there may be possible soon.

In the last few weeks, Israel has told citizens in the North to return to their homes after months living in hotels in and around Jerusalem. The northern checkpoint into Gaza has been opened, and people are returning to the area. Children returned to school, and hotels across the region reopened. Several European and Asian airlines have resumed regular flights in and out of Tel Aviv and US carriers have announced dates in February and March when they too will resume flights. Pilgrimage groups from Europe and Asia are on the ground and reporting having safe pilgrimages.

Encouraging Words from Our Guides in the Holy Land:  One of our chief guides, Hani Awwad, has been touring the US since January 1, speaking with Groups who are excited to return or visit the Holy Land for the first time. He tells us that he and other guides have been taking groups from Europe and Asia to most of the sites we regularly visit over the past month and a half or so. All the trips have been rewarding and without incident. The only major Christian sites still closed to tourists are in Bethlehem; however, they are expected to reopen in the next thirty days.

Travel to the Holy Land Resuming Shortly:  If you have a trip planned for May or later, plan on traveling. You will have an amazing experience as crowds will be reduced, and the people there will be very excited to welcome you to the Holy Land after being shut down for several months. If you, or someone you know, traveled to the Holy Land following the Pandemic, you will remember how easy and special it was to travel there before the crowds returned in force.

Greece: destination of choice for early 2024

Greece seems to be the destination of choice for early 2024. We have several groups departing to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul, and with good reason: the weather is mild, the scenery is breathtaking, the food is superb, and the places of spiritual significance are plentiful!

Next to the Holy Land, no place on Earth will change how you read the Holy Scriptures more than Greece. Most of St. Paul’s letters were written there. He spent a lot of time in the area ministering, and it is easy to imagine yourself standing alongside him as you tour through the well-preserved ancient cities mentioned in scripture.

If you’re looking to shake off the cold of Winter in the US, we have several trips to Greece departing this Spring and early Summer. Check them out HERE.

Italy:  New Property near the Vatican

We have just secured a new property in a Religious House within walking distance of the Vatican. This location will give pilgrims an incredible opportunity to explore and pray on their own during free time. Finding accommodations this close to the Vatican is always challenging, so we are very excited to offer another fabulous place to stay. A bonus is a garden, a private chapel, and dinners in restaurants, as the sisters are only serving breakfast at this time.

Just imagine stepping out the door of your hotel and strolling over to Saint Peter’s Square!

We are very happy about this new option for accommodations, especially with the lack of hotel space we are already seeing for travel in 2025.

2025 is going to be a Jubilee Year!

If you are hoping to plan a trip for 2025, Italy should be high on your list. 2025 is a Jubilee Year! What does that mean?

A Jubilee year is a “special year of grace.” The Jubilee starts on December 24, 2024 and goes until December 14, 2025. During the Jubilee, pilgrims who pass through the Holy Doors opened for the occasion have an opportunity to ask for a plenary indulgence. While the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica marks the beginning of the Jubilee, the Holy Doors of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica of St. Mary Major will also open their Holy Doors for the Jubilee. Many of our tours will include an opportunity to walk through all four!

Shroud of Turin on Display?

Normally the Shroud of Turin, kept in Turin, Italy is not on display.  While no official notice has been given, we believe that the Shroud of Turin may be displayed during the Jubilee year. This was the case 10 years ago, during the last Jubilee. If this chance comes up again, you can be sure that pilgrims will be flocking to see it. It will be another experience that will make a pilgrimage to Italy in 2025 extra special.

Restrictions for travel in Venice:

Due to incredible crowds and large groups, Venice is taking new measures to restrict the number of visitors daily. New regulations are set to take place starting in June, limiting group size to 25 per group in addition to other restrictions. Florence, Portofino, and Rome are also in the process of announcing new restrictions.

Eucharistic Miracles:

Add to all this the fact that the Catholic Church is going through a Eucharistic revival, and Italy is loaded with Eucharistic miracles, like those at Lanciano, Bolsena-Orvieto, and Sienna! It has us wondering what God might have planned for this Jubilee year.

We already have trips in the works for 2025. You can see them HERE, as they open for registration….. but with so much happening in Italy in 2025, you might consider running a pilgrimage for your group or Parish. If you have a group of 20 or more people, give us a call at 1-800-842-4842, and let’s talk about planning your trip.

In Conclusion

There is a lot to look forward to in 2024 and 2025. But it all starts by saying, “Yes!” So assemble your family and friends, pull out a calendar, and start planning your pilgrimage trip! Remember, we only need 10 participants to start a group!

With over 100 trips on our website, and more being added each week, there are plenty of opportunities to travel somewhere extraordinary. We hope you’ll join us and we can’t wait to see you out there.

Note from the Catholic travel guide:  We like the idea of these restrictions in Rome, Venice and elsewhere.  It means smaller crowds and more access to the sites you want to visit…not to mention helping to preserve some of these precious sites.  Just be sure to book with Select International for the best group travel possible!

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Forget the Pilgrims…..the first Thanksgivings Were Catholic

The image of the puritans, a decidedly non-Catholic bunch, sitting down with the Indians for the first Thanksgiving in 1622 is fairly well-documented in most U.S. history books.  However, there were at least two Catholic Thanksgivings that pre-dated this event by at least 20 years.

As I was growing up in San Antonio, Texas, our Thanksgiving dinners were always prefaced by a prayer that had been passed down over generations. I never paid much attention to the origin of that prayer, having other things on my mind.  But as I look back on it I realize this prayer came from what was probably one of the first Thanksgivings on the newly-discovered continent.

My family on my mother’s side came from Spain, landed in Mexico (then called Zacatecas, Nueva Espana).   My ancestor, Pedro Gomez Duran y Chavez, joined a group, led by Don Juan de Onate, northward on a quest to claim New Mexico for the King of Spain in 1598.  Such journeys were undertaken with the purpose of both gaining territory and spreading Christianity.

Mission Concepcion in San Antonio Texas
Mission Cencepcion in San Antonio, Texas

The expedition traveled over 800 miles through unknown territory and  finally came to the banks of El Rio Bravo (the Rio Grande River) almost exhausted. Onate  nailed a cross to a tree and took formal possession of the new land, called New Mexico, “in the name of the Heavenly Lord, God Almighty, and the earthly lord King Philip II”.  On April 30, 1598, Father Alfonso Martínez, the Commissary Apostolic, led the members of the expedition in a Mass of Thanksgiving.

After the Mass that day, the Franciscan priests blessed the tables laden with fish, ducks, geese and items from the expeditions’ stores.  No mention of Turkey though, as it was not likely a local staple.  As they feasted, a play was performed recounting the conversion and baptism of the local Indians.

The prayer of Thanksgiving that I heard growing up goes like this:

“Open the door to these heathens, establish the church altars where the Body and Blood of the Son of God may be offered, open to us the way to security and peace for their preservation and ours, and give to our king and to me in his royal name, peaceful possession of these kingdoms and provinces for His blessed Glory.  Amen“.

There are still some descendants of the Chavez clan in New Mexico that celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving on April 30th each year…. not necessarily with feasting but at least with a remembrance.

Although often disputed among some members of our clan, there is another claim to the first Thanksgiving, and that is Saint Augustine, Florida.  Again, it was a Catholic event: a celebration between the Spanish and the local Timucuan Indians on September 8, 1565. Sadly, my ancestors and I will have to settle for second billing, as St Augustine would appear to be the real first Thanksgiving in the New World.  

So….as Paul Harvey used to say….now you know the rest of the story!

 

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U.S. State Department issues a world-wide travel warning…what does that mean?

The U.S. State Department has issued a World-Wide Travel Warning….but what does that really mean to you?

While this sounds rather ominous, Travel Advisories have become the norm for the U.S. State Department, especially since the pandemic.  In the beginning stages of the pandemic the State Department issued a “Worldwide Caution” warning that was lifted in August 2020.

The current warning comes amidst major geopolitical tensions over the war in the Middle East, and, of course, the ongoing war in Ukraine.

These advisories are numbered according to importance, with Level 1 (Exercise normal precautions) ranging up to Level 4 (Do not travel).

The current advisory is not advice to avoid travel. Rather, it’s advice to exercise increased caution and “stay alert” in locations that are frequented by tourists. In most cases where travel to another country is involved, that is always good advice regardless of any travel warnings.

You can find the various warnings on the U.S. State Department website here.

The State Department is also advising all travelers going abroad to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive alerts in case of an emergency.  This can help in many ways, such as arranging evacuation flights in some cases.  Canada and other countries have similar programs.  Bear in mind there are no guarantees, as independent travelers coming home from Israel will testify (evacuation flights were not available and most had to buy their own tickets at fairly high prices).

Of course, if you are traveling with a group such as Select International Tours, and if problems should arise,  and you need to return home, you can rely on their team of professionals to make those arrangements for you.  This was the case most recently for several of their groups traveling in Israel….and they all made it home safely.

Those of us who travel often….and especially tour operators….have been through this before.  We’ll never forget the chaotic days of 9/11 when troops were stationed in airports as the burning Twin Towers were being shown on the TV screens all over the airport.  Since that event, it goes without saying that travel has changed significantly. Today, we tend to check out locations a bit more carefully than before (realizing that the news media will always try to find the worst stories possible).

Well, our decision is to keep traveling….with certain precautions in mind.  Traveling with a group is a pretty good idea…..most everything is handled for you and a lot of the details are up to them.  And, of course, certain destinations may not be advisable.  For now, Israel trips have been cancelled by almost all tour operators.

But if you want to travel to Europe there are good options:  The one we like best at the moment is Poland…a traditional Catholic country that has survived Communism and kept the Faith.  And, of course, river cruises are another great choice.

Finally, for those in the U.S. and Canada who might wish to stay on the North American Continent, we suggest Mexico (yes, it is in North America).  Although parts of the country are not safe, tours to Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine and the area around it pose little threat to pilgrims.  The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe makes a great pilgrimage.

Like everyone else, we continue to monitor the situation and pray for peace.

 

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Thinking of cancelling your trip to Israel? What about refunds?

With the current war (we’re not calling it “unrest” any more) in Israel, most tour companies have postponed their trips to Israel for at least the next few weeks…..while others have cancelled all scheduled trips remaining in 2023.

We do not expect a quick resolution to this conflict, so we certainly agree with those decisions.  Here is what we have been able to find out so far….but you need to check with the tour operator for exact terms and conditions.

Will I get a refund if I cancel my trip to Israel?

If the tour company cancels the tour to Israel, then you should be entitled to a full refund in most cases.  Postponement is something different, you are not likely to  be offered a refund, even if the dates are not convenient for you.  Most of the tour companies we have looked at will offer to transfer the funds you have paid and apply them to a trip to a different destination or to Israel on a different date in the future.

If you cancel, you probably won’t get all your money Back.    The situation there is so volatile that we are not sure how things will develop.  If you do decide to cancel, will you get a refund of what you have paid?

Most tour companies have cancellation policies that go in to effect almost immediately after you make your first payment and get steeper the closer you get to your departure date.  Let’s face it, most people don’t read the fine print regarding cancellation policies.  So, if you decide to cancel, you may get a partial refund depending upon that companies cancellation policy, and whether you have paid a deposit or the full amount.  You will need to check with your tour company for the exact terms and conditions.

This is not because the tour companies are greedy, but they have to put deposits down with various suppliers that are likewise subject to cancellation fees.

What about travel insurance….won’t that cover my cancellation?

Some time ago, we put a page on our website titled “Travel Insurance….don’t leave home without it!”

That is still good advice…..but not all travel insurance policies are the same.  There are various terms and conditions that must be met in order to get a refund, and, (the cost of the insurance itself will not be refunded).

Even if you have travel insurance, you still might not get a full refund if you decide to cancel.

Under most travel insurance policies, war, acts of war, and political unrest are excluded from cancellation coverage, meaning any resulting claims likely will not be paid.  The problem is that most travel insurance policies typically do not have specific definitions for war.  These are very vague terms, and give the insurance companies plenty of latitude to deny a claim.  We’re not beating up on travel insurance companies….just stating our observations.  Certainly what is going on in Israel right now would be considered a war by most people, but that doesn’t mean that the insurance companies will look at it that way.

There is a type of travel insurance that will cover this…..”Cancel for Any Reason“.  But hold on….you have to meet certain conditions and some of you may have already lost the opportunity.

In order for a traveler to be eligible for Cancel For Any Reason, many travel insurance companies require that certain conditions must be met. 

According to Traveldefenders.com, there are typically three conditions that must be met to purchase a Cancel For Any Reason Rider:

  1.   Purchase the policy within 10 – 21 days of First Trip Payment
  2.   Insure ALL prepaid and non-refundable travel expenses prior to departure;
  3.   Trip arrangements must be canceled more than 48 -72 hours prior to the departure date.

If you have already passed that first date, then you will most likely not be eligible to purchase a “Cancel for any Reason” insurance policy.  Again, you should check with your insurance provider, since companies may vary in their terms and conditions.

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Travel to Israel Cancelled Due to War

Not long ago we wrote a blog article pointing out how safe it was for pilgrims to travel to Israel. At the time, that was true….pilgrims found, to their surprise, that they were perfectly safe.  Although there have been long-simmering calls for the elimination of Israel by Hamas, there was did not appear any imminent threat.

Airstrike in IsraelBut now, everything has changed….and perhaps permanently.   We seem to have reached a tipping point.  Obviously this will go down as one Israel’s rare intelligence failures.  Mossad, Israel’s Intelligence agency, has had a reputation as perhaps the premiere intelligence agency in the world.  Apparently they were not prepared for a wide ranging attack by Hamas within the borders of Israel, even though this attack took place not only on the Jewish Sabbath, but also on the Festival of Sukkot, which is one of the major feast days and often a time when militants have been known to attack, it would have called for the highest alert on the part of Israeli defense forces….and yet, they were caught by surprise. Our guess is that there will be a lot of second-guessing amongst the intelligence staff of Mossad.

This situation is too complicated to cover in depth in this blog post….there are many parties involved and many moving parts.  Some progress was recently reported in the effort to get Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel…something that would have changed the dynamics in the region significantly. And that may be why Hamas schedule this attack at this time…to disrupt these talks.  And, Iran has been known to fund activities of both Hezzbollah and Hamas….but little is known specifically about the Iran’s involvement in these attacks.

The Israeli military response will undoubtedly result in civilian casualties in the occupied territories, which of course will be held against them…..despite the fact that they were attacked in the first place.  And so the cycle of violence will continue.

The danger of this spreading in what is a volatile region (to say the least) is worrisome.  Already, in Egypt, two Israeli tourists and their Egyptian tour guide were shot dead in Alexandria, apparently by a policeman.

Israel is at War

When you have armed militants in your country kidnapping innocent civilians, executing them at will, then this is now more than just a brief incursion, and must be considered an act of war. as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Sunday October 8.  Just how far things will go we cannot say, but the outlook as of today (October 9) does not look good.  Israel has issued a complete blockade of the West Bank, cutting off water and electricity as well.

Meantime….rockets continue to be launched not only from the West Bank, but…even more worrying….from Lebanon.  The latter threatens to expand the hostilities further than just Israel, Hezbollah (consisting mainly of Sunni Muslims aligned with Iran) controls most of Lebanon and Iran provides Hezbollah with most of its funding, training, and weapons.

And….there are still some fighting going on within Israel between the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas in occupied towns and buildings.

 

Status of pilgrims scheduled to travel to or return from Israel:

Pilgrims in Israel looking for flights home
Photo courtesy Times of Israel

So far as we can tell, all tour companies have cancelled their scheduled trips to Israel through the end of 2023, and have worked feverishly to bring any pilgrims already in Israel home as quickly as possible You can read one such response here from Select International Tours.

As a side note, many people on various blogs were talking about something happening in October. We cannot say…only time will tell.  In the meantime, please pray for peace in the Middle East.  Events like this have been known to spiral out of control beyond what we see now.

 

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Latest News on the Baths at Lourdes Sanctuary

One of the most desired activities when visiting Lourdes is, of course, the baths.  Being immersed in the baths is something most pilgrims look forward to. However, as of November 2023, the baths remain closed for actual immersion, but they have developed an alternative plan.

Here is what they say on their official site:

Getting water from the spring at Lourdes, FranceFor health reasons and to respect physical and social distancing, bathing is not possible at the moment.  Accompanied by the Hospitallers of Our Lady of Lourdes, the spiritual approach of the gesture of water consists of drinking Lourdes water and washing your face, in this symbolic place of swimming pools, full of stories, prayers and of thanks.

The official website calls this the Water gesture” and as of November 10, 2023 is scheduled at  10:00am-11:30am and 2:00pm-3:30pm

 

Furthermore, there is this information about the water from the taps at Lourdes:

The Taps

The Water taps at Lourdes
The water taps at Lourdes

Located at the bridge next to the arches, these taps have sufficient pressure to allow you to fill any containers that you might want to take back for yourself or your loved ones. Note that many souvenir-type bottles, although attractive, are not necessarily the best quality and could leak during travel.  We recommend used commercial bottled water bottles as more durable for travel…then when you get home you can transfer into the souvenir bottles.

Be aware, for those traveling by air, most airlines and countries will not allow you to carry liquids on board.  Rules vary, and in many cases a small bottle inside a secure plastic bag may be allowed.

For U.S.A. travelers, 3.4-ounce containers (or smaller) and then placed in one clear, quart-sized bag.  Check with your airline first.

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New European Visa Requirements Starting Early 2024.

New European Visa Requirements Starting Early 2024. Are You Prepared for ETIAS?

Starting early in 2024, US travelers will need a new document called “ETIAS” to enter the European Union. If you are a US citizen traveling to the EU as a tourist, you will need this ETIAS documentation to enter.

While it is being called by many a “visa requirement,” technically, it is a new pre-arrival authorization.

What is the ETIAS?

The European Travel Information and Authorization System, or ETIAS, is a new required document for entry to the EU. The online application for tourists and travelers entering the European Union is expected to open in 2024. However, no specific date has been set. Still, we expect this to begin early in the year,

Check out this video from Select International Tours for all the information you need.

 

 

So you will want to watch our website and Social Media for more information as it becomes available.

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August 1st & 2nd The Great Pardon of Assisi

About the Great Pardon of Assisi:

Starting the evening of August 1st until sundown on August 2nd each year, you may take part in the Great Pardon of Assisi.

Origin of the Great Pardon of Assisi:

The tiny portiuncula the chapel built by St. Francis
The portiuncula, or “little portion”

When Jesus and the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Francis in the year 1216 in the tiny Portuincula (the chapel he built), Jesus asked Francis what he wanted for the salvation of souls. Francis humbly replied that he would like to obtain a plenary indulgence (elimination of temporal punishment due to sin) for all those who entered the Portuincula, so long as they were truly contrite and had confessed their sins.

Up until that point in history there were only three such places to receive a plenary indulgence:  the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or the shrine of Saint James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Most people could not afford to undertake such travel.

Jesus granted Francis this wish, but stipulated he should first present his request to the Pope.  He obtained approval from Pope Honorius III in 1216 and this became  known as the Portuincula Indulgence, or the Great Pardon of Assisi. 

 

You can obtain the Plenary Indulgence of Assisi in any Parish church throughout the world.

If you happen to be in Assisi on August 1st or 2nd,  you can also earn this pardon for yourself or for any departed family member by visiting the Portuincula or any parish church in Assisi.  Originally this also included any Franciscan church throughout the world, but was extended to include any Catholic church (subject to the conditions as shown below).

 

The conditions to obtain the Plenary Indulgence of the Forgiveness of Assisi, as it is properly called, are as follows:

 1.  Sacramental Confession within 8 days either before or after visiting the Portuincuca or any Franciscan Church in Assisi or anywhere else in the world.

2.  Participation in Holy Mass and Eucharist within 8 days at any church before or after visiting the Portuincuca or any Franciscan Church in Assisi or anywhere else in the world..

3.  Recitation of the Apostles Creed, Our Father, and a prayer for the Holy Father’s intention.

The Portiuncula or Tiny Portion inside the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels AssisiThe Portuincula is now inside the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels at the foot of the town of Assisi.

Almost all tours stop here either on the way to Assisi or upon leaving.  The Basilica is immense and the Portuincula is actually inside the Basilica.  We wonder what St. Francis, who loved simplicity, would have thought of such an immense Basilica being built here…but of course the Portuincula would probably not have lasted if it were not inside the Basilica.

As you can see here, it is quite small but open to visitors.

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Andrea Bocelli to Sing in Lourdes on July 16

On July 16, Andrea Bocelli will be singing to celebrate the last apparition of the Virgin to Bernadette

On July 16, to celebrate the 18th and final Apparition in Lourdes, Dançar Marketing and Colégio Vértice (BR) will be offering pilgrims in the Sanctuary of Lourdes a special concert by Andrea Bocelli entitled “Prayers for life” for families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.

After the Marian procession, which will begin at 8:30 p.m., Andrea Bocelli will perform, accompanied by the Choir and Orchestra of Pau Pays de Béarn, from the city of Pau, conducted by the Italian maestro Carlo Bernini and accompanied by the Ukrainian violinist, Anastasiya Petryshak and by French soprano, Clara Barbier Serrano.