In reality, Le Pèlerin had two births. It began in 1873 as a simple liaison bulletin for the General Council of Pilgrimages, hence its name. At the end of 1876, it bounced back thanks to the know-how of the Assumptionist Father Vincent de Paul Bailly, who then gave it a “new coat”: at the beginning of January 1877, Le Pèlerin, – the first title of what was to become La Bonne Presse then the Bayard group – always concerned with evangelization, was transformed into an information weekly aimed at a Catholic, family and popular audience. What it is still today, even if, over the years, it has changed enormously.
“Father Bailly thus went from only 400 subscriptions in 1877 to nearly 40,000 in 1883 – from among whom we recruited the first subscribers to La Croix! is still surprised today by Father Patrick Zago, curator of the archives of the Province of Europe of the Congregation of the Assumption It is true that from the start, this son of a printer understood that it was necessary to publish short educational articles, accessible to the popular circles he wanted to win back and make an important place to illustration. He was a journalistic visionary.” To last, despite all the crises that France has gone through, Le Pèlerin has been able to transform itself at the same time as its readers so as not to lose contact with them. And it was no small feat. Created when the anticlerical parties came to power in the first decades of the Third Republic, it was at first very political, even violent, in its desire to defend the Church during major secular battles.
At the time of the Dreyfus affair, he even played an anti-Semitic score at odds with the values he promotes today. “In 1928, explains Father Zago, Pope Pius XI asked Father Léon Merklen, a reformist Assumptionist, to take over the Bonne Presse where too many priests remained involved in the reactionary movement of Action Française which had just been prohibited. The editorial line of Le Pèlerin and La Croix is changing to support readers towards a better understanding of the modern world.”
In 1935, under the influence of a new editor very committed against the rise of Nazism, Father Roger Guichardan, Le Pèlerin left politics and devoted himself to family life. Then appear headings relating to the house, the kitchen or the garden, and pages “recreation” not yet named “leisures”. That year, L’Almanach du Pèlerin, an annual special edition, distributed in 1,200,000 copies, gives the measure of the considerable influence of the weekly, especially in the rural world. The programs of the “TSF”, the radio, appeared in 1934 and, in March 1938, the famous comic strip Pat’Apouf by designer Gervy.
While Father Guichardan joined the Resistance, Le Pèlerin suspended publication during the German occupation, replaced by Le Foyer, an apolitical title, published in Limoges, in the free zone. It was reborn in June 1945, first as a fortnightly, with a limited circulation, because the country lacked paper. Faced with the new Catholic weeklies born with the post-war period, more in tune with the younger generations, the magazine evolved in order to maintain its leading position. He has never left it in half a century, always ahead of his colleagues and competitors La Vie et Famillechristian today.
In an increasingly secularized society, the newspaper adapts. Betting on quality, it has opened its pages wide to news photography, expanded its Culture and Television sections, developed computer graphics and major photo reports. With a website since 2004, present on Facebook and Twitter, it still aims to help its readers to remain players in an increasingly complex world. Above all, “the positive weekly” – its 1984 slogan – is more than ever committed to promoting a “journalism of solutions”, faithful to the hope that inhabits it.