Pilgrimage to the Marist Places
Each night of our pilgrimage to the Marist places ended in a group reflection and discussion about the experiences of that day. So rather than bore you with an extended travelogue of where we went, whom we met and what we ate (basically just bread, wine and cheese!), these are some reflections on the three aspects of the pilgrimage that had the most significant impact on us individually, and as a group. These are: the places, the people, and the faith.
“By your place in the world, I will know who you are.” In these words, Tina Makereti (2016) captures perfectly the way in which our identity, and the way in which we perceive the identity of others, is informed by our place of origin. Physically experiencing the Marist places not only allowed for a deeper personal understanding of what it means to be Marist, but also provided insights into the people who began the Marist movement over two hundred years ago. When writing about place, it is hard to brush over the shrine of Fourvière and the Cathedral at Le Puy – both significant to the Marists, and magnificent architectural structures in themselves. However, the physical reality of the early Marist missions encourages true reflection on what it means to be hidden and unknown. The architecture (or lack of it) speaks for itself. To stand in a dank cellar where once a faithful French priest hid in fear of religious persecution is to understand commitment to faith in the face of adversity. To stand in the mountains of the Bugey is to understand resilience and belief, despite isolation, harsh weather and rugged terrain. To stand at the humble resting place of Jean Claude Colin is to understand what he meant when he said “Unknown before, unknown after: that is my story.” These places, these humble beginnings, are the physical spaces that influenced the development and expression of Marist spirit through the people that inhabited them.
There is a saying in te reo Māori: “ko te whakaiti te whare o te whakaaro nui” – that humility and service is the home of compassion. The people we met on our pilgrimage were the embodiment of this. The community at General House, Sister Teri, the community at La
Neyliere and the ‘welcoming committee’ in Coutouvre (among many others), were not only blessed with the gift of hospitality, but also the gift of cultivating it further in others. They believe that hospitality is love in action, and that is how they live and interact with others. In spite of the language barrier, the universal language of hospitality, vino and kai reminded us of the power of communion: to bring people together, sit around a table and share in a meal. The people we met breathed life into our journey, responding to our little group with energy, curiosity and passion for our shared religious heritage. Some travelled hours to meet us, open up their homes and museums, and share with us history and knowledge. They reminded us of the importance of not only looking after our history, but also in sharing it and continuing the work that began with the pledge at Fourvière. It is amazing to think that through the actions of those twelve people over two hundred years ago, we are all connected on this faith journey together, today.
Those twelve people could not have foreseen the extent of their influence, but from humble beginnings, they have influenced the lives of everyone reading this. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead’s words rang in our ears one night as we sat and reflected on a long and special time away from normalcy. We reflected that if it weren’t for that small group of courageous and faithful people laying down their lives in imitation of their patrons, Mary, Our Mother, and her son, Jesus, none of us would have known each other… the many experiences that we shared would have never come to pass… and our faith journeys would be on a completely different trajectory. That same night we reflected on how the stories of many of those people were not of sunshine and rainbows, but of calloused hands, tired feet, aching backs and broken hearts; stories that sometimes revealed flaws in their heroines and heroes, but stories that were all interlinked by faith; faith that brought so many disjointed communities together, and faith that survives in people of these places today.
Our trip was a truly special time. It reminded us that we are all custodians of an unflinching faith and that we have a responsibility to be signposts pointing towards Christ, informed by the early Marists and those who carry that name today.