why did they walk?

why did they walk?

The 42nd edition of the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté Pilgrimage brought together more than 18,000 people. Regulars of the “traditional” sphere but not only. This 97 km walk between Paris and Chartres, whose success is growing year after year, sees an influx of young people with increasingly varied profiles. Report on the road to Beauce.

Saturday May 18, 6 a.m. The “tradis” are early morning people. The arteries leading to Place Saint-Sulpice, in Paris, on this eve of Pentecost are teeming with people. Pilgrims to Notre-Dame de Chrétienté must jostle to remove their bracelets at the dedicated stand. Behind us, two participants, brown backpacks emblazoned with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, are already talking about the picnic break earlier. “As long as we can talk about red wine and sausage in our country, that’s fine!”, jokes one of them. Here and there, a few people took out their sweatshirts with the Manif pour Tous logo. In an adjacent axis, rue Bonaparte, several “chapters”, these groups of forty to fifty people, are formed. We will walk with “The Pilgrims of Emmaüs”. Xavier, 25, is chapter leader for the second year in a row. “Who will carry the cross and the banner?” he asks everyone, with a serious air. A few minutes later, Father Vincent Marie-Jeanne of Divine Mercy, wearing sandals, pectoral cross and white cassock, gives instructions for the group which will leave, in the first part of the morning, on an evangelization mission. It involves listening to questions from passers-by in Paris and the surrounding suburbs, and delivering a testimony of faith, with particular attention paid to people of the Muslim faith. This group of volunteers will join the rest of the procession by RER a little later.

A few songs and a blessing later, the chapter hurries on to reach Place Saint-Sulpice. It's 7 a.m., mass begins. The building is full, our chapter follows the celebration outside, in front of the giant screen. The readings – the Gospel in particular – are read in Latin and French. The prayers are exclusively in Latin, “the language of the Church” as Astrid, 27, project manager in the pharmaceutical industry, says. Prayers unknown to those accustomed to the ordinary rite follow one another: the offering of the chalice, the prayer of humility, the washing of hands, the prayer of the Holy Trinity… Suddenly, the canon of the mass, all the faithful 'kneel on the square. A silence grips the place for long minutes. “Even if I almost always go to the Mass of Paul VI (1), I love this traditional liturgy,” confides Astrid. I find there a real sense of the sacred, body and mind united. By kneeling, we bow our soul before God, like a child before his Father who gave his Son on the Cross.”

Sacha-Samuel, a young English teacher from Lyon, broad shoulders and hair in a ponytail, is a regular at the Tridentine mass (2). Converted, he was baptized five years ago and goes every Sunday to the Saint-Georges church, in the 5th arrondissement of the capital of Gaul where the extraordinary rite is practiced. “I can go to an ordinary rite mass if there is a certain amount of reverence. But I prefer traditional celebrations because I am sensitive to Beauty, to silence, to meditation,” confides the man who has several religious tattoos on his right arm: crown of thorns, cross, quotes from the epistles of Saint Paul and a large Virgin Mary. format on the back.

Among the pilgrims in the chapter, we also find Pierre, 48 years old, who calls himself a “non-believer”. “Rather a faithful atheist,” he himself immediately corrects. Why did he come? “Because my 19-year-old son is walking, like last year. He told me so much about it…I think he has a secret hope that I will become a true believer.” He is more accustomed to the ordinary rite of mass, when he accompanies his wife from time to time. “In French, at least, I understand.”

Once mass is over, the chapters are called one by one to take to the road. Most of them bear the names of saints. Some are decorated with the colors of a country. Germans, British, Slovenes, Spaniards and even Americans: there are no fewer than 1,800 foreign pilgrims, many of whom came especially for this religious and spiritual event. In the United States, the Chartres pilgrimage has also been emulated: two itineraries have emerged in recent years, in claimed connection with the French initiative. In France, it all started in 1983, on the advice of Bernard Antony, former FN MEP and one of the main figures of the traditionalist Catholic sensibility in France.

The march starts off with a bang. In the streets of Paris, pilgrims reach 6 km/h. At times, we have to run to “close together towards the cross” as the volunteers invite us to do, that is to say, to form a roughly grouped chapter. The rosaries are told through a megaphone, held by a young abbot in a black cassock from the Fraternity of Saint-Pierre. Spiritual meditations follow one another, sometimes on the defense of life and euthanasia. On the road, passers-by wave small French flags and applaud, shouting “bravo!” ; others, in the Plessis-Robinson park (Hauts-de-Seine) take photos and film, with their phone.

Some pilgrims from other chapters – a minority – stick Action Française stickers along the way into town. A Maurassian, royalist lineage, which some participants are unaware of. The “Christianity” contained in the name of the association? “That’s part of being a Christian, right? » tries Pierre, who does not yet know the environment well. The political project aimed at remaking the Church as the institution governing the social and political order, far from any secularism, is often not identified.

Many pilgrims went to the WYD in Lisbon last year, with the joy of finding themselves, as today, “together, members of the universal Church”, remembers Astrid. The young project manager also really enjoys going to the Lourdes sanctuary. “Faith is simple there. And then, there is such a love of suffering.”

When Pope Francis is mentioned, the reactions are extremely varied, from the classic “He is the successor of Peter, he is the Holy Father, he ensures the unity of the Church” to more engaging declarations like that of the head of the chapter, Xavier: “I pray for him every day so that God gives him the graces necessary to lead the Church.” In a nod to Francis' comments regarding homosexual people, he adds: “I say to myself: who am I to judge the pope?” His calls to welcome migrants? “Every believer, at their level, has a duty to welcome migrants,” assures Xavier. For my part, I gave French lessons every Wednesday to unaccompanied minors when I was a student in Châlons-en-Champagne (Marne).”

But not everyone is on the same line. The apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes of July 16, 2021 by which the Pope restricted the use of the Tridentine Mass has had difficulty getting through to many. “It shocked me,” says Brice, a real estate agent, in his forties. We politicize the 'tradis' too much. Yet they are the future of the Church. They are not fascists” before adding: “It’s certain, the Pélé de Chartres, these are not the outskirts of François!” Sacha-Samuel, the convert, adds: “I had difficulty understanding the decision of Traditionis Custodes. I strive to distinguish the dogma pronounced ex cathedra (3) some of the Pope's teachings and speeches which I find more confusing. Even if his way of qualifying things can undoubtedly be useful for certain people far from the Church.

Forty minutes lunch break, no more. We have to leave again. Still more than 70 km to travel in two and a half days to the “Morning Star, inaccessible queen” celebrated by Charles Péguy in his long song “Presentation of Beauce to Notre Dame des Chartres.” The road is long, the pace is sustained but the fervor and joy are definitely there. And the “little girl hope” dear to the native poet of Orléans will know how to make her way through the fields.

(1) Mass in the ordinary rite, in the vernacular language, the priest facing the assembly, as desired by the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

(2) Mass in the extraordinary rite, in Latin, the priest with his back to the assembly, also called “mass according to the rite of Saint Pius V” or “mass according to the missal of John XXIII”, as resulting from the Council of Trent (1545-1563)

(3) From the pulpit. The truths spoken by the pope with a special status of authority.

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