A report from Fr. Patrick Rutledge on days 1 and 2 of the SSPX's Youth Pilgrimage to France.
Youth Pilgrimage 2014: Days 1 and 2
Every year the youth pilgrimage draws young adults from all around the United States and even from abroad. This means that it takes many different flights for everyone to rendezvous at the starting point, which, depending on the weather and mechanical problems, can mean a late start for some. As the travel day came under way, all of the flights were on time except for one—and this one was carrying two of the chaperones. With a six-hour delayed first flight, they were going to miss their international connection with a different airline, but thanks to a prayer to the Guardian Angels, some teamwork from Regina Pilgrimages, another chaperone’s backup and a premium line with Delta, another flight plan was arranged. This plan was a risk, but the couple were able to make their first flight, get their checked bag, recheck it with the other airline, change terminals and board their international flight seconds before they closed the door. Nothing in life is easy, but Guardian Angels make it easier.
A handful of pilgrims arrived early and waited for the main bulk of the group to touch down from Iceland, but the overnight flight and long hours of waiting led to bobbing heads and heavy eyes. But there is no rest for the weary and as always we hit the ground running. Just hours after landing in a foreign land, already the pilgrims entered a church that contained two incorruptibles. St. Catherine Laboure, to whom Our Lady gave the Miraculous Medal, and St. Louise de Marillac rest on either side of the sanctuary like two angels guarding the Holy of Holies. The heart of St. Vincent de Paul likewise can be found in a reliquary under a statue of his on the epistle side. What treasures of holiness and yet they can only be found in a small chapel that is accessed from an alley off of a side road (Rue du Bac).
Just down the street from this side road can be found the church of St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Sisters of Charity. Above the main altar pilgrims may venerate his remains which lay under a wax figure of him, which looks very realistic and makes one truly seem to be in his presence. The figure seems so real that some pilgrims were almost heatedly disputing whether he was incorruptible or not. It is funny what elevated subjects become the matter for discussion and disputation on the youth pilgrimage.
Having drunk these very strong aperitifs to Catholic Paris, we were ready to check in at the hotel and say Mass to end day one. The plan was to arrive with plenty of time at the SSPX church in Paris, St. Nicolas du Chardonnet, since the prior had graciously offered for us to celebrate the 6:30pm public Mass. We took every precaution to arrive in advance, but thanks to some mistakes on the part of the hotel, a very long-winded person at the metro ticket station and almost taking the wrong metro line to the church, we arrived fifteen minutes late. What an embarrassment that this American priest cannot show up on time for a public Mass. But just as proof that we should never get impatient when all goes wrong, we arrived to find that the sacristan was not even expecting us! In fact, there was a sung Mass being offered since it was the anniversary of the dedication of the [Notre Dame] Cathedral in Paris—a first class feast with a special Mass for those offering it in Paris.
Refreshed after a long day one, the pilgrims were granted another day in the beautiful city of Paris. But since it was Sunday, one of the two priests with the youth was allowed to offer the 8:00am parish Low Mass at St. Nicolas. Fr. Frank Riccomini, prior in Phoenix, was honored to offer Mass in this beautiful church that belongs to the SSPX. After Mass we began our day, but not after enjoying some delicious delicacies from Parisian pastry shops.
From there we arrived at Montmartre, the highest point of the city, where a church is built in honor of the Sacred Heart. Though tour guides are afraid to say so, this church was built after the Prussians had invaded France since the French were afraid that it was their country’s liberalization and the rejection of the Sacred Heart’s requests that brought this catastrophe upon them. This is why everywhere in the church one sees words imbued with repentance, sorrow and gratitude to the Sacred Heart. Likewise, engraved in marble in the back of the church is a text of consecration of France to the Sacred Heart, which speaks of a contrite nation, ready once again to accept His dominion and rid themselves of their sins.
Doing our best to avoid the cabarets and sleazy shops that can be found at the foot of Montmartre, we headed across town to a museum that contained artifacts of the Middle Ages. The Museum of Cluny used to be a monastery in Paris where the Abbot of Cluny would stay when his duties brought him to the city. Here and at St. Stephen on the Mount and Notre Dame, we were told of the disastrous effects of the French Revolution. This monastery, like all monasteries at that time, was stolen and the religious disbanded. Now the monastery serves as a museum of many beautiful works of art, paintings, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts and stained glass. There was even an official liturgical hand-warmer for the priest on display. Do not forget that they did not have heat in those days and so sometimes the priest may have been obliged to pull out this golden brazier and thaw his hands to be able to offer the Holy Sacrifice.
Up the street from the monastery-museum could be found the church of St. Stephen on the Mount. Its spiral staircases lead to a catwalk above and around the sanctuary. Obviously nothing appealed to our youth more than taking such a risk, but fortunately, and for the chaplain’s peace of mind, the staircase was closed off. But this church is better known to have housed the relics of St. Genevieve, who saved Paris from the barbarians by her prayers and by sneaking food into the city when they were being starved. Unfortunately, the blind hatred of the sans culottes [literally, “without knee-breeches”, referring to a group of left-wing revolutionaries] in 1789 led to the destruction of most of her relics. Why attack a saint who did so much for her fellow starving Parisians? It can only be explained by the fact that all revolutions are merely a trading of “tyranny” for another tyranny. Simple folk do not just rise up to take back power, they are the mere pawns of those who have an agenda and, in this case, the enemies of the Church played the part of the tyrants.
Finally, our tour of Paris ended with perhaps its most famous religious destination—Notre Dame Cathedral. Amongst many of its treasures, it is here at Notre Dame that every Friday the crown of thorns is exposed after an evening Mass as well as an all-day exposition on Good Friday. Notre Dame is also known for its flying buttresses which support its walls enough to allow for the stained-glass windows. But being in Paris, this church also suffered from the revolutionaries when all of the kings who are lined up above the main portals of the cathedral were destroyed. Even though new statues line the niches now, the loss of what once was cannot be fixed.
As some pilgrims walked out and around the cathedral, they noticed a stark contrast. On a bridge that led to the cathedral some street performers were playing what was tantamount to rap music and entertaining the crowds with tricks. Similarly, behind the cathedral a stage was being used by some “musicians” who were spasmodically jumping around on stage and groaning out some eerie-sounding caterwauls. Not only did it seem as though they were meant to be distractions from the house of God, but the contrast between the stability of the massive structure and the insanity of the jongleurs made one want to seek refuge within the walls of Notre Dame. Thank God for the faith.
Our pilgrims are all doing very well and they have a wonderful spirit. Thanks be to God who is continuing to give us future generations of faithful Catholics. Now we are off to Normandy…