Directors of religious studies and principals from four Sacred Heart colleges (Napier, Whanganui, New Plymouth, Lower Hutt) spent the last school holidays on a heartland tour of France, a pilgrimage to places of significance for the Congregation of Our Lady of the Missions (RNDM).
Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt, principal, Lisl Prendergast, says it was moving to visit places associated with the particularly French tradition that reverences the heart of Jesus.
The group attended Mass in the little chapel where the 17th century saint, Margaret Mary Alacoque, is buried in Paray le Monial. Her visionary experiences were of Jesus’ loving heart. A series of lectures from Sr Marie Benedicte in St Rambert en Bugey on the order’s foundress Mother Mary of the Heart of Jesus (Euphrasie Barbier) were significant particularly for her ideas on education and the order itself.
The group spent a day in Lyons from where came the founders of the New Zealand Catholic tradition, Bishop Pompalier, Suzanne Aubert, the Marist fathers and brothers as well as the RNDM sisters.
They also renewed links with the pilgrims who came to New Zealand in July ‘sur les traces d’eveque Pompalier’ to see where Bishop Pompalier founded his mission. The Bishop of Pontoise, Jean-Yves Riocreux, invited the group to celebrate Mass with Cardinal Lustiger on his 80th birthday in Notre Dame de Paris.
Lisl says a highlight for her was opening the shutters in the morning onto a beautiful rose garden with a statue of Our Lady with the mist-filled valley in the Jura mountains beyond. This was at St Rambert en Bugey where the Sisters were ‘wonderfully hospitable’.
The group also included art historians, Chloe King and Digby Edgecumbe, and Anglican pilgrims from the Diocese of Waiapu and covered some 4,300 kilometres of French road taking in vineyards along the way.
Other highlights were attending Mass in the 1,000-year-old St Jacques in Reims and hearing a beautiful new Mass conducted by the composer in St Sernin, Toulouse, the largest Romanesque church in France. A candle-lit procession in Lourdes and a visit to the home of St Therese of Lisieux also captured the pilgrims’ hearts.
‘For me it was often the little things that made me think most, like standing in the tiny room where M and Mme Soubirous raised their four children including St Bernadette’ (one of the three who, as children, saw the vision of Our Lady of Lourdes).
‘At St Jean Pied le Port in the Basque country (just 10 kilometres from the Spanish border) we looked toward the mountains at the pass that the medieval pilgrims took to S Iago di Compostela.’
The gospel stories are depicted in stone on the capitals in the cloisters of Moissac, in the stained glass windows, on the great facades of the churches and in the small houses of the famous and celebrated, like the house of St Jeanne d’Arc in Orl√¢ÀÜ≈°√É¬†ans. ‘You are surrounded by stories.’
The task for the pilgrims now is to ‘make a move in our internal journey’. They are also committed to a powerpoint presentation of the trip for the mission schools. This task will be guided by Euphrasie Barbier’s vision: for the visible God seen in Jesus to be visible to all through mission’.
Sr Marie Benedicte talked to the pilgrims of the Visitation [Lk 1:39-56] which Euphrasie saw as a special indication of how it all works. God visits Mary who visits Elizabeth.
‘We can only visit others if we have been visited ourselves,’ Sr Marie Benedicte said.
‘This is a poignant message for all of us who are teachers. Out there is a whole continent to evangelise as the process begins anew with each generation,’ Lisl said. It fits with the belief that all were called to be witnesses, as with the gospel story of Peter and John seeing the lame man and saying: ‘I have neither silver nor gold but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stand up and walk’ (Acts 3:6).
Euphrasie wanted the power of this name known to all ‘so at the heart of this journey was