The recently ordained priest, Patrick Rabarison, CM (Province of France) shares with us the story of the pilgrimage of the heart of Saint Vincent de Paul, an event that provided a framework for his ordination. We refer, of course, to a special occurrence in the life of the people of Amiens during which time countless individuals were able to experience the tenderness of charity. Indeed, it was precisely this charity which Saint Vincent exhorted his followers to give witness to and at the same time exhorts us to fill the world with that same charity.
In order to introduce the program of the pilgrimage of the reliquary of the heart of Saint Vincent in Amiens (June 13-18, 2017), the members of the Congregation of the Mission, at the initiative of their superior, Father Alexis Cerquera, CM, chose as the theme for this event an expression that Vincent often used at the conclusion of his letters: live with tenderness toward the neighbor. Those words became the theme of pilgrimage, a theme a reflection as the heart of Saint Vincent continued its pilgrimage through Amiens.
Five months after the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the sermon of the mission in Folleville, the reliquary traveled from Picardy and was solemnly received by Bishop Leborgne in the cathedral at Amiens.
In his homily, the bishop emphasized the fact that the Jubilee Year was an opportunity for him to discover the vitality and the relevance of the Vincentian charism which makes it clear that the universal proclamation of the Gospel should not be constituted as a sign of God’s presence, rather this presence is made clear through the poor (cf. Luke 4:18).
The eucharistic celebration in the cathedral included a time for the veneration of the relic and this enabled the people from Somme, who had traveled to the cathedral for this celebration, to have a “heart to heart conversation” with Saint Vincent, the patron of charity.
The reliquary was then brought to the Chapel of Saint Vincent de Paul in the church of Saint Anne where the faithful were able to venerate the relic until June 18th. During this time, Father Yves Danjou took responsibility for all the various celebrations that took place during those days.
The local newspaper, Le Courier Picard, continued to provide the community with information and many people came to the chapel in order to participate in the various activities that had been planned by the Vincentian Family in Amiens: morning prayer was celebrated each day, people were provided with the opportunity to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation, there was a daily celebration of the Eucharist, and during the evening hours’ dialogue about various themes.
On June 14th, a roundtable discussion brought together representatives from the various branches of the Vincentian Family (two Daughters of Charity [Sister Stanislawa and Sister Lallemant], Father Didier Mahieu, CM, Charles Martre, [president of the Vincent de Paul Society in Bouches-du-Rhône] and Father Patrick Vigneras [pastor in Gannes]). The focus of the dialogue revolved around the question: Vincent de Pau, who is he? The exchange of ideas was most enriching for all the participants. Father Mahieu highlighted the fact that the question that was posed to the member of the roundtable discussion reminded everyone that the heart of Vincent de Paul is a welcoming heart and therefore we do not honor or venerate someone is dead but one who is alive … and the heritage that the members of the Vincentian Family has received must now be passed on to future generations.
The participants in this event spoke about the relevance of the Vincentian virtues: humility, simplicity, meekness, mortification and apostolic zeal. It was noted that these virtues are highlighted in the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity as well as the Constitutions of the members of the Congregation of the Mission. In addition to those virtues we could add another virtue that Vincent frequently referenced, namely, the virtue of tenderness. This attitude of tenderness was manifested to us in the person of Jesus Christ and Sister Stanislawa stated several times that the violent world needs to experience the warmth of God’s tenderness. The following day the word tenderness was echoed once again in a conference that was given by Charles Marte, a conference that was entitled: Frederic Ozanam: a witness of God’s mercy and tenderness.
On June 16th, a liturgy for the sick and infirm was celebrated. Hands were imposed on those who wished to receive this sacrament and at the same time people were able to venerate the relic. In the evening, there was a light and sound spectacular which was prepared by Father Pierre Marionneau in collaboration with some resident of the social outreach program, Monsieur Vicente.
On June 17th there was a pilgrimage to Folleville, an event that was organized by the parish of Our Lady of Pentecost. This pilgrimage concluded with a prayer service for vocations. Jean Baptiste Gning, a young man who is studying at the inter-diocesan seminary in Orleans shared his vocation story with the participants.
The departure of the reliquary of Vincent’s heart coincided with the priestly ordination of Patrick Rabarison (Sunday, June 18th) in the church of Saint Anne. Once again, the theme of the celebration was tenderness. In a letter from the Vatican Secretary of State it was stated that the newly ordained should reveal in his life God’s mercy and tenderness. In a conference on charity, Vincent de Paul stated: If we had only a little of that love, would we stand around with our arms folded? … such love causes people to enter one another’s hearts and to feel what they feel, far from those persons who have no feeling for the anguish of the afflicted, or the suffering of poor persons. Ah, how tenderhearted the Son of God was! They call him to go see Lazarus and he goes; Magdalen gets up and goes to meet him in tears; the Jews follow her, and they are also crying; everyone begins to weep. What does our Lord do? He is so tenderhearted and compassionate that he weeps along with therm. It is this sensitivity that caused him to come down from heaven. He saw that people were deprived of his glory and he was moved by their misfortune. We must likewise be moved by our neighbor’s suffering and share their sorrow (CCD:216, 221).
We pray that the sacred fire of charity as well as God’s very tenderness might become ever more present in the midst of our world which is in such a need of that charity and tenderness.
Following the example of Saint Vincent and in response to the invitation of the Holy Father, let us not be afraid to give witness to the tenderness of God.