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Annual Marian Pilgrimage in Benin Canceled, Pilgrims to “pray fervently” for Healing

Our Lady of Arigbo Marian Shrine in Dassa, Benin.

The annual Marian pilgrimage to Arigbo Grotto in Dassa in the Central part of Benin that had been scheduled to take place in August has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Bishops in the West African country announced Tuesday, July 21 and called on pilgrims to “pray fervently” through the intercession of Mary for “many graces of healing for the sick.”

In their July 21 collective statement, members of the Episcopal Conference of Benin (CEB) announce that the national Marian pilgrimage “initially scheduled to be held from August 21 to 23, 2020, will not take place due to the health crisis linked to COVID-19.”

The Bishops “exhort all the faithful to pray fervently to Mary, Our Lady of Arigbo, on this date, so that she may obtain from God, as usual, the many graces of healing for the sick, of conversion for the sinners, reconciliation for people in conflict and peace for all families.”

The Francophone country has recorded 1,694 cases of the novel coronavirus including 918 recoveries and 34 related deaths. 

The Chairman of the organizing committee of the pilgrimage and Rector of the sanctuary housing the Shrine, Fr. Fortuné Badou, applauded the decision to cancel pilgrimage.

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“It is to avoid this gathering being a source of contagion that the Bishops have taken this decision since the number of infected persons in the country continues to increase,” Fr. Fortuné said.

On his part, the Director of Communication at CEB, Fr. Eric Okpeitcha said, “It would be difficult to want to observe the preventive measures with thousands of pilgrims gathered in the same space.”

“The state already has its eyes riveted on the places of worship and is waiting for the slightest loophole before cracking down, and it would not be easy to apply preventive measures in a gathering like what we always experienced in Dassa in August,” the Vice-President of the Parish Pastoral Council in Cotonou, Athanase Gouhizoun was quoted as saying in reference to the resumption of public worship after months of closure due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This is the first time the annual Marian pilgrimage, which attracts over 80,000 pilgrims from Benin and neighboring Togo, Niger and Burkina-Faso, is being cancelled since its inauguration in 1954, Professor Jérôme Alladayè who is a historian of religion told La Croix.

Recalling the history of the pilgrimage, Prof. Alladayè said, “The year 1954 was to mark the centenary of the religious event of Lourdes. The Dahomean Episcopal Conference (now Episcopal Conference of Benin) decided to dedicate a place to the Virgin Mary, which could serve as a place of pilgrimage.”

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“The choice was made for Dassa-Zoumé because of the religious fervor of the population and the similarities of the place with Lourdes,” Prof. Alladayè explained.