Friday, October 2, 2009

International Priests Retreat in Ars, France - 3

High on the wall of the lower Basilica in Ars, the banner proclaiming the Year for Priests overlooks the week long International Retreat for priests. It is a moving and encouraging sight to see 1200 priests gathered from all over the world to come together to pray, deepen their spirituality and intensify their vocations.

As I was walking over to the celebration of The Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer, I walked along with a priest from India. He said he had a class mate from the Seminary "somewhere in Canada." I mentioned I had some priests from India in my Archdiocese and asked him his friend's name. He said Fr. Sathiadas Antony. I told him that Fr. Antony is parish priest in Swift Current. He was quite amazed, and so was I. Out of all the priests in the world and out of the huge number gathered here in Ars we find friends of friends. So Fr. Sathi, Fr. Xavier Raj says "Hello!"

One central point of devotion in the church is this Relic of St. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. The relic is the uncorrupt heart of the saint. It was a heart that beat with dedication and compassion, devotion and mercy throughout the priesthood of the Saint.

Throughout this week it has continually drawn the priests to prayer and devotion to this admirable and saintly priest. They kneel in prayer, put their hands on the relic's case and sense a closeness to the Patron Saint of Parish Priests.
Yesterday was also the feast of St. Theresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower. At Morning Prayer her relics were brought into the church and placed in the Sanctuary near those of St. John Vianney.

Now for the remainder of the week, we have the special presence in a physical way of these two saints who give much spiritual guidance to all Parish Priests in their writings and in their lives.

The talk for the day by Cardinal Schonborn was entitled "The Eucharist and Pastoral Charity." His conference was based on chapter 22 of Luke's Gospel which narrates the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. This telling of this founding moment of the Church also clearly presents the weakness and failings of the Apostles. Judas will betray him, and on the evening of his death, the Apostles jostle for the positions of favour and power. Jesus shows his love for these followers of his. He does not berate them for their shallowness and refusal to understand Him, he simply thess them that the "greatest must be the least: if they are to be his disciples. Jesus is the example of the One who Serves. He then not only feeds them but he feeds them with himself and the Eucharistic Bread of Heaven. The washing of the disciples feet is the primary example of how we are to understand the "eucharistic life" of the Church. This is our school of life.

The conference was followed by an hour of Adoration of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Again, the music was provided by the Community of the Beatitudes. The music during this retreat has been wonderful. It has been reflective at times, and joyful and exuberant at others. And always sung in many languages. This retreat has been an amazing manifestation of our universal church family: many languages, many cultures, from all over the world - but one in prayer, song and fraternity.

In the afternoon we were blessed with the presence of Jean Vanier whose father was Governor General of Canada and who is the founder of L'Arche Houses for people suffering from disabilities around the world. I had the great pleasure of being able to greet him on behalf of his fellow Canadians.

In the afternoon he spoke to the group on St. John's Gospel and the Washing of the Feet at the Last Supper. He said that while societies in the world are organized like a triangle with the most powerful at the top and the poorest and weakest at the botton, in the community formed by Jesus, it is the opposite, it is the poor and the powerless who are at the top and they are served and cared for with compassion and mercy by those who follow Jesus. The symbol of Jesus Church is not the triangle of power but the washing of feet.

So following Jean Vanier's talk, all the priests processed outside to the lawn behind the basilica, formed small circles and washed each others feet.
It was an experience of prayer and a moving moment of reminder of our lives of service as priests.
We all returned to the Basilica where the Eucharist was celebrated, presided by Cardinal Schonborn and concelebrated by all the priests. During the Mass, all the priests solemnly renewed their priestly promises. At the conclusion of the Mass a procession was formed with the Blessed Sacrament and all the priests processed through the streets of Ars to the main Basilica with the Blessed Sacrament with the procession concluding with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I have never been part of a procession with 1200 priests. To say that it was moving is not really conveying the true emotion and witness of prayer that was being given.

Following the Procession we had supper together in the large tent which formed the dining room. Here is the Regina contingent to the Retreat.

While it is indeed a tent, as you can see, it is a very nice tent with a hardwood laminate floor and very nice windows. Not at all like the tent I used to eat in when I was a boy in Scouts! Because of the special focus on the Eucharist and the Priesthood, rather than going through the cafeteria line, we were served by the volunteers. And, seeing that we are in the Beaujolais region of France, we had some very nice Beaujolais wine on the tables as well. Another very special day with a warm and celebratory ending.
More to come.

1 comment:

St. Michael's Squire said...

Wow Jean Vanier! That's really inspiring. I've just recently come to apreciate the work that he's done.

There is a school named after him in Regina, and for some reason when I was a kid I always thought that they only named schools after people who had lived great lives, but who were now dead. I was pleasantly surprised a couple years ago to realize that, Jean Vanier is one of the few people I know that has a school named after him while still being alive. Cool stuff.

Kevin O'Byrne