Heading to France

On August 5th, I will be boarding a flight to Paris, where I will catch a high speed train headed south to Lyon. My final destination is the town of Paray-le-Monial, in the heart of Romanesque Burgundy. With the aid of simultaneous translation, I will be speaking briefly to a gathering of over 3,000 youths at an event sponsored by the Emmanuel Community. I will also be giving my “poverty and prayer” presentation one evening to about 150 volunteers who will be giving one or two years of their lives to live with the poor around the world through the auspices of Fidesco.

Paray-le-Monial is world famous because of something special that happened there more than 300 years ago. Between 1673 and 1675, Jesus appeared many times to a young nun living in the Visitation Monastery. Her name was Margaret-Mary Alacoque, and Jesus showed her his heart, which he said loved men and women very much. Fr. Claude la Colombière, the Jesuit’s superior, authenticated the young nun’s mystical experience. Sr. Margaret-Mary was subsequently canonized a saint by the Church. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus quickly took root in the town of Paray. Almost two centuries after the apparitions, Pope Pious X instituted the Feast of the Sacred Heart for all the Church in 1856, triggering an even greater interest in pilgrimages to Paray-le-Monial, and the magnificent 11th Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilique du Sacré-Coeur). Pope John-Paul II made a personal pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial on October 5, 1986, drawing even more attention to the town. Since the Pope’s visit the number of pilgrims visiting Paray-le-Monial has risen steadily, making it today second only to Lourdes as a pilgrimage center in France.

Since 1975, the Emmanuel Community has organized and conducted international sessions which attract more and more people every year. These crowds are made of families and young people as well. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists come to Paray every year to discover (or rediscover) God’s immense love for humanity.

Paray-le-Monial is a commune in the Saône-et-Loire department in the region of Bourgogne in eastern France. Paray-le-Monial is located fifty kilometres west of Cluny, across countryside that becomes ever gentler and flatter as you approach the broad valley of the Loire. The town itself is the archetypical country town, quiet and unpretentious, straddling the slow waters of the River Bourbince and the Canal du Centre. The façade of the Renaissance style Hôtel de Ville is adorned with a large statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Paray-le-Monial, with its Romanesque and Clunisian architecture, is an artistic landmark. The town was built round a monastery, in about 970 AD. The famous monk-and-builder Hugh of Semur, Abbot of Cluny, laid the foundations of the church that we know today. This parish church was promoted to the rank of Basilica by Pious IX in 1875. Basilique du Sacré-Coeur is a magnificent building, with a marvelously satisfying arrangement of apses and chapels stacking up in sturdy symmetry to its fine octagonal belfry; it’s the best place to get an idea of what the famous Abbey of Cluny looked like, as it was built shortly afterwards in devoted imitation of the mother church.

I will return from France on August 14th.

Here is some information on the Emmanual Community and Fidesco.

Emmanuel Community

The Emmanuel Community brings together couples, families, single people, priests and men and women consecrated to a life of celibacy, working within the Catholic Church to respond to God’s call to serve and proclaim Christ in today’s world. Community members are imbued with a desire to proclaim the Gospel through their lives and in new ways that respond to the needs of their contemporaries. They have over 8,000 members in five countries, including about 200 priests and over 200 consecrated sisters.

The Emmanuel Community is deeply committed to the Catholic Church, its pastors, its teaching and tradition. The Emmanuel Community is one of the founding members of the Catholic Fraternity of the Pontifical Counsel for the Laity at the Vatican to which it is answerable under cannon law. The statutes and the relationship to the Holy See ensure the ecclesial character and the unity of the Community throughout the world.

Three essential ingredients form the core of the Emmanuel Community: adoration, compassion, evangelization. The grace of Emmanuel has its source in the Eucharistic Adoration of Jesus truly present in our midst. From this Adoration is born compassion for all people and the desire to evangelize the poor and those who do not know God. The lives of the members are founded on prayer.

Fidesco

Essentially Fidesco means faith in action. Founded in 1981 by the Emmanuel Community, following a meeting in the Vatican with African bishops, Fidesco is an NGO for international solidarity which sends volunteers to countries in the southern hemisphere to put their professional skills at the service of development projects, to help local populations or humanitarian actions. Volunteers with Fidesco are singles, couples or families, young people, adults or retired, wishing in the name of their faith to work for the marginalized: this explains the name of FIDES – CO : faith and co-operation.

They put themselves at the service of partners of the local Catholic Church, in answer to a need and a request. These partners already work for the good of disadvantaged populations, regardless of religion, ethnicity or culture, in very diverse fields: education,
teaching, management, construction, health… and in varied establishments: dispensaries, refugee camps, centers for street children, agricultural schools. The local churches have
unique experience with the service of the poor, the defense of their rights and good management of the means which are devoted to them. Fidesco is surrounded by a network of experts (doctors, agronomists, economists, ex-volunteers, local partners) to study the projects and to ensure the technical follow-up on mission.

More than 130 Fidesco volunteers are spread throughout world, giving one or two years of their lives to serve the poor in 30 countries. They live in teams amongst the poor, sharing their skills and faith on a daily basis. Fidesco is a school of life. Volunteers leave their homes to give their time and talent to the poor, but return home richer themselves because of what they learned in a different culture and from the people they served.

Peace and blessings,

Gerry Straub

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