Recalling His Third Visit to France

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 15 October 1986, the Holy Father interrupted his catechesis on original sin to reflect on his recent Visit to France.

1. In this audience, my thoughts go with profound joy to the stages of the third visit to France : a trip that began on Saturday, October 4, and ended the following Tuesday. From Rome to Lyon, from Lyon to Taizé and Paray-le-Monial, then to Ars and finally to Annecy; I have made a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Blessed Antonio Chevrier, of Saint Francis de Sales, of Saint Joan of Chantal, of Saint Margaret Mary of Alacoque, and above all of the Holy Cure of Ars.

It was precisely the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Jean-Marie Vianney that gave the French Episcopate the opportune occasion to invite me back to their country. To him, and in particular to Cardinal Albert Decourtray, Archbishop of Lyon, and to the Bishops of the Apostolic Region of Centre-East, I wish to express my gratitude for such an important meeting.

In this way I have been given the opportunity to participate in celebrations that have brought together not only French bishops and priests, but also delegations from sixty different countries. The figure of the Holy Curé of Ars does not cease to speak also to the man of today. His extraordinary life full of prayer and mortification, his heroic service to the Word of God and to the sacraments, especially that of penance, continue to be a living point of reference for the priests of the contemporary Church.

2. Allow me at the same time to thank the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and all the French civil authorities for the consent given to this trip, for their cordial welcome and for the arrangements they have made for the visit to take place with order and serenity.

3. Saint John Mary Vianney lived his youth at the time of the French Revolution. In that period he clandestinely began his preparation for the priesthood, following the voice of his vocation. With emotion I turn my thoughts to the peasant family of the Saint, who lived in Dardilly, and to the spirit that reigned in them. The pilgrimage I have made has also helped me become more aware of the existence of a more distant "genealogy" of the Cure of Ars. It was in effect, the "Amphitheater of the Three Gauls", place of the martyrdom of the Christians in 177. This is a particular reminder of the vitality of the Church in the capital of that ancient Roman province. Another memory is also the figure of Saint Irenaeus, one of those great Fathers of the Church, to whom Catholic doctrine and theology owes so much since its inception.

I am also pleased to recall that an ecumenical meeting took place in the "Three Gauls Amphitheater", an act also consistent with the heritage of the Church in Lyon. It is enough to recall, in this regard, the Council held there in 1274, in order to make an attempt at ecclesial reconciliation between East and West, and all the ecumenical initiatives taken during this century in the furrow opened by the priest Couturier.

4. The genealogy of holiness was further developed over the centuries. At the end of the 16th century and in the first years of the following, Saint Francis de Sales developed his important pastoral and magisterial activity, who, with Saint Joan of Chantal, founded the Order of the Visitation. The relics of both saints are in Annecy, one of the stages of my pastoral visit.

A few decades after the founding of the "visitandinas", one of them, Sr. Margherita Maria de Alacoque, in Paray-le-Monial, was a great sign of love for Jesus and a zealous witness to the mystery of his Sacred Heart . Precisely because of her, the city of Paray-le-Monial was included in the program of the visit.

Thus, the pilgrimage, related to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Holy Curé of Ars, has developed in a certain way following the footsteps of holiness , imprinted on this fortunate land during centuries of Christianity.

5. Cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians gathered in Ars, coming from all over France and also from many other countries on various continents.

The meditation that I developed before them in three successive moments, alternated with silence, sung prayer and readings, highlighted the greatness of the irreplaceable mission of the priest, with his specific identity, his collaboration in the salvation of souls, through the preaching of conversion, the ministry of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. In the face of various difficulties, I indicated there the means for spiritual renewal, constant intellectual nourishment, fraternal help, missionary ministry, underlining that the demands of priestly commitments ensure freedom and apostolic courage. The formation of seminarians and the ministry of deacons were also the object of special attention.

6. Therefore, the ministerial priesthood of Christ has been at the center of the pilgrimage to Ars. Certainly the fundamental theme of this unforgettable meeting of October 6, 1986 was projected on the priests, to whom I solemnly paid homage of gratitude by making them an urgent invitation to fidelity, while keeping in mind and in my heart the priests of the entire world.

In this light, all the other themes, which were addressed in the program of those intense days, assume full meaning: especially the theme of religious life.

7. A particular message was addressed, moreover, on the occasion of the meetings:

—to the Christian families, who came in large numbers to the Eucharistic celebration of Paray-le-Monial to achieve a deepening of their love together with the Heart of Jesus;

—to the young people who, during a significant stage performance at the Gerland stadium in Lyon, confidently raised their questions about God, about the Church, about their commitment in the world;

—again to the young people gathered in prayer in Taizé, around the Brothers of the Community;

—to the sick gathered in the cathedral of Lyons;

—to prisoners;

—to the members of the Pastoral Council and the Priestly Council of Lyons, who informed me of the multiform and indispensable apostolate of the laity, organically articulated with that of the priests;

—to the theologians, professors and students of the "Catholic Institute" of Lyons, who cannot forget the great example of Saint Irenaeus;

—to those who are responsible for the common good of the nation, the region and the city, whom I visited in the Prefecture of Lyon;

—and also and above all, to my brothers in the Episcopate, who came from all the dioceses of France.

It was to his faithful and to all the Christian people of France that I made a call from Lyons to spiritual renewal. Also from Lyons, at the beginning of my trip, I invited the peoples or the warring parties to observe a truce on October 27, the day on which representatives of the various religions of the world will be together in Assisi to pray.

8. On the very first day of my visit to Lyon, I was able to proclaim Blessed Father Antonio Chevrier, founder of the Prado, a contemporary of the Cure of Ars. Clinging to Christ, this priest who was poor and sensitive to the great misery of the young workers of his time, became an apostle of the poor. He deeply took into account their dignity as men loved by God, shared their condition of poverty, gave them school instruction and faith, founded the Prado Family with priests, brothers and sisters available to bring them the Good News. I have thus had the opportunity to reflect on the ways of caring for and helping the poor of today, according to the beatitudes of the Gospel.

9. "The harvest is great, but the workers are few! Pray then to the Owner of the harvest...".

On the altar of the Holy Mass celebrated in the open air in Ars, these words of Christ resounded once again, so timely for the Church and for the contemporary world.

The harvest of the Lord is great.

Workers are needed: Priests are needed. Saints are needed .

It has been a significant pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Saints.

"Where the Saints pass... God passes with them".

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