Ten years ago Marcellin Champagnat’s was canonized and so, to honour his sanctity and relics, the six-storeyed stone buildings begun by him in 1824 have been renovated to become a sanctuary for pilgrims. Since Easter, 2000 people, including many Kiwis, have come and stayed here at L’Hermitage, Saint-Chamond, near Lyon, France.
I live as a Brother in and with the community and Priest for it. My command of French is sufficient to allow me to celebrate Mass publicly and present homilies and people say they understand. My inability to converse widely in French has been a blessing for all. (I do miss your banter). I get exercise in this monastic setting by mowing slopping paddocks with a huge, power steered, motor mower which I have dubbed Le Dinosaur. The summer here has been excellent but we are preparing for a winter rather like that of Reefton.
And, why should a NZ Marist be here and not in Okaihau or Canterbury, Russell or Reefton? Our first Missionaries in NZ, Bishop Pompallier, Brother Michel Collomb and Father Catherin Servant, lived here in this house with St Marcellin before they left for Oceania in 1836. All three knew Okaihau/ Russell; Pompallier visited Canterbury setting up the Marist Mission in Akaroa. Michel Collombon is buried in Reefton and Catherin Servant is buried at Futuna where he went to replace Peter Chanel who was buried in Russell for seven years. Also Fr. Garin who lived in St-Chamond sent Francis Redwood here as a schoolboy to the Marist College. So those men from here are our NZ Church’s foundation stones. This is heartland stuff with a dose of cyclic karma.
Let’s leap to today. At breakfast there was a typical cross-section of visitors: 24 lay people from various Marist-heritage schools in France are completing a week’s intensive formation in keeping alive the Marist Charism. It is a way forward for this province that hasn’t had a Brother’s vocation for thirty years. This energy to transfer the charism to the laity has given birth to a movement known as Champagnat Marist Laity, especially in Latin America. It is a new branch on our Marist tree. Two senior Mexican Brothers, after a month’s sabbatical in and around our Marist places, are on their way back home today. We also host a Filipino doctor, friend of the Brothers in Manila and an Australian Brother who has reached retirement age and has come here for a break and discernment of his next stage in life. Several folk, lay and religious, have arrived from Barcelona (Catalonia is part of this province) to animate our project. Seven laity from The United States, due today, have postponed for a month because of threats from recent strikes and protests. Yesterday, there were three hundred diocesan Social Services personnel here for a day’s planning.
Next week, we await 20 Anglophones on a Marist Third Age pilgrimage. Our task is to animate these pilgrims with a sense of belonging and an admiration for the Marist heritage.
Come have a look at what we are doing here? You can visit on line at www.champagnat.org; but more importantly, come and see this part of our Marist Origins. Fr. Colin visited here regularly, especially after St Marcellin, on his death bed, bequeathed him our Little Brothers of Mary. Jean Coste said Champagnat deserves the title of co-founder of the Society of Mary