A happy priest? I met one this week. But if ! We had coffee together in a Parisian bistro near his presbytery. Still in his fifties, with his hair disheveled in jeans and a matching Roman collar, he told me in detail about his last pilgrimage to Lourdes. What was so explosive and exciting about this pilgrimage? After all, going to Lourdes to be a priest, what could be more normal and even banal? But my interlocutor explained to me that it was an innovation.
We may be surprised, but in Catholic memory we have never seen more than three hundred Parisian priests gather for a four-day retreat in the sanctuary of the Pyrenees! Not only did it happen from November 13th to 16th, 2023, but it went well. Very good, in fact, judging by the echoes that this event gives in various parish bulletins in the capital. “This retreat”, rejoices my priest friend, “for me marked the end of a cycle of diocesan misadventures that seriously divided the clergy and damaged the morale of the priests, starting with mine! »
The sun of a rediscovered fraternity
But what happened during this retreat to make the clergy’s discouragement disappear a little or, in any case, give way again to joy and optimism? ” Oh! nothing spectacular, my Parisian priest replies. Simply, as Jeanne Moreau sang, “in the whirlwind of life”, we had lost sight of each other, and there in Lourdes we found each other again, we warmed up. It’s very silly, but having the opportunity to pray together, to walk together, to play together, to meet for free, we broke down the generational, ideological, cultural and psychological walls that seemed insurmountable to us like mountains. »
In Lourdes, the walls of separation between priests melted before the sun of a rediscovered fraternity.
This situation was even more bitter to live with, he continues, because it was necessary at the same time to bear the changed image of the priest due to the abuse scandal, but also the indifference of society that generates great sadness and loneliness among ecclesiastics. In Lourdes, the walls of separation between priests seem to melt in a sun that no longer rises over the Parisian clergy: the sun of a rediscovered fraternity. “This experience consoled me deeply. Now it must not become a beautiful archive, but open a process that gives new life to the Church of Paris! », says my priest friend as he swallows the last sip of coffee.
Pass through the desert
This priestly retreat in Lourdes, today part of the history of the Parisian clergy, was imagined and desired by the Archbishop of Paris, Laurent Ulrich. She allowed the one who everyday life Release nicknamed “the sphinx of Notre Dame de Paris » show himself as he is and as perhaps we didn’t know him: simple, accessible, attentive and relaxed among a significant part of the diocesan clergy. He knew how to “have a word of comfort and the words of a ruler”, reported the participants who enjoyed being called by their first name. But a pilgrimage, even on the banks of the Gave, will not be enough to solve the problems and challenges that the Church must face in a capital that is going through major demographic and social changes. It must be followed by choices and actions. However, this pastoral initiative had the advantage of working to strengthen human ties, refocusing on the essential and giving new life to a common vocation and ideal.
Nothing beautiful, solid or effective can be accomplished without a preliminary time of preparation and contemplation: “It isThere is a time for everything and a season for everything under heaven” (Qo 3, 1). In this, the diocese of Paris courageously follows the last synod in Rome on synodality in the Church: it opened with four days of spiritual retreat. “You have to go through the desert and stay there to receive God’s grace; It is there that we empty ourselves, that we expel from ourselves everything that is not God,” he said. Charles de Foucaud which we celebrate this December 1st.