|The Pilgrimage and the Storm|
|Why do so many return to Chartres?|
Michael J. Matt
|Editor, The Remnant|
There’s no feeling quite like it—standing outside a Paris hotel in the pre-dawn gloom and looking up at a bank of black clouds rolling over the city. Only those who’ve previously walked the 70-mile Pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres can truly appreciate what those clouds can mean for pilgrims. In a word: misery.
By the time the Remnant chapter of some 55 Americans reached the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris the day before Pentecost this year, those same clouds had given way to a downpour, the worst I’d seen since the Pilgrimage of 1993. Once we’d raised the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the American flag, our ponchos were slick and we had to splash through puddles as we entered the Cathedral for the pilgrimage send-off ceremony.
Once out of the rain, the very thought of starting out on a 3-day walk in such inclement weather was more than daunting—it was downright depressing. All that mud, all those drenched forests, and for three days! After walking dozens of miles per day in waterlogged shoes, we’d have to sleep in wet sleeping bags and on soggy ground each night.
The spirit wasn’t even willing, to say nothing of the weakened flesh. As sheer dread overwhelmed us, my thoughts ran something like this: “What am I doing in France? After fourteen years of this, haven’t I learned? What’s the matter with me!” Not exactly vintage Chaucerian musings, admittedly.
But the grace of pilgrimage is a funny thing, and it manifests itself in all sorts of ways, both spiritual and temporal. Just when I was about to duck into a café and deny even knowing those wet pilgrims, a Frenchman whose name I don’t know but who has wished us “bon pelerinage” each and every year for fourteen years, slapped me on the back and shouted through the falling rain: “Once again, my friend, we meet. Who is crazier: me, the Frenchman, who should walk home rather than to Chartres? Or you, the American who travels 3,000 miles for this?” In an instant, the dread was eclipsed by a good laugh as I clasped the hand of my nameless friend. Veterans of the Chartres Pilgrimage are all brothers, you see, even if they don’t always know each others’ names. And, sometimes, such fraternal camaraderie is all that stands between the pilgrim and opting out of the grueling walk altogether.
Moments later, thousands of those brothers knelt on the stone floor of Notre-Dame—Frenchmen, Americans, Australians, Germans, Englishmen, Canadians, Spaniards, Poles, Swiss, Irish, Scots, Catholics one and all!— to receive the pilgrim’s blessing from traditionalist priests who stood before them in the sanctuary and sent them on their journey into the heart of what’s left of Christendom.
Just then, the storm outside the stone walls didn’t seem quite so fearsome; in fact, in a way, it seemed fitting. This was an old world pilgrimage, after all—why shouldn’t it be rained on by the new world which so despises the very idea of pilgrimage. And so the good spirit began to slowly return and, even despite the driving rain, an eagerness to get started set in once again. There in the few brief moments before the clamor of pilgrims on the move began in earnest, the pilgrimage and the storm became a sort of living metaphor for life itself. In the safety of the old church the raging storm outside seemed less threatening, even if the pilgrim must still walk through it in order to reach the other side.
The raised statue of Our Lady of Christianity was the first to venture out of the safety of the Cathedral. Behind her an army of thousands filed out into the driving rain. A column of Catholics miles long took to the streets of Paris. Christendom was on the move.
Rain? What rain!
And so it began: the 3-day walk into the past that is the Catholic training ground for the future. “Why do you go back every year for fourteen years,” they ask. But those who have to ask this question haven’t yet experienced praying the “Credo” with 10,000 Catholics. They have not yet heard Mass behind walls that are a thousand years old. They don’t know what it’s like to sing Ave Maria over and over again, with tears streaming down their faces. They do not know the Chartres Pilgrimage.
There on that hallowed ground of Catholic France, Americans are removed from the modern world and set down in the heart of a Christendom they thought only existed in the pages of old history books. At every turn in those woods, at every genuflection in those cathedrals, at every peaceful night in those camps… the baggage of the modern world with all of its noise, consumerism, sex and sewage is purged away and stomped into the ground beneath the feet of 10,000 pilgrims. At Chartres, the soul is renewed again, not in the modern spirit of phony Renewal, but in that indomitable spirit of sacred, Catholic tradition that is as old as history itself.
Lying in a damp sleeping bag on the first night of the Pilgrimage and drifting off to sleep despite the throbbing sting of multiple blisters, one can quite easily imagine what it must have been like to be alive in the grand old days of holy Christendom. Through the walls of the tent, one hears the night sounds of 10,000 preparing for sleep. The hushed voices, the gentle pounding of tent stakes into the ground, rain drops tapping against tent flaps. Somewhere across the camp, French scouts sing their evening prayers while, on the other side, Swiss scouts sing themselves to sleep with their nocturnal shepherd song. With the stress of the modern world having been barred at the gates, a peace fills the soul with inexplicable contentedness. There are no cell phones, no laptops, no TVs, no Blackberries—it’s a night filled with Catholic hope. Blisters notwithstanding, sleep comes easily on the Pilgrimage to Chartres.
On the second night of the Pilgrimage, the camp plays host to a special Guest. Exposition of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament runs from dusk to dawn, all night, and begins in the usual way—with Benediction. As one kneels in wet grass, the sun having long since set and the shades of night fast falling, it again becomes a simple thing to return to the days when the old Faith ruled Europe. Up on top of a little slope and beneath a white canopy, the shadowy figure of a priest, flanked by two candle-bearing altar servers, could be seen raising a golden monstrance over a sea of kneeling, mud-spattered pilgrims. Except for the lonely sound of a single bell, utter silence reigned over that “cathedral.”
The King had entered the camp.
A thousand children and young adults, many with feet freshly bandaged after the grueling march, knelt on the ground. The look on their faces was the same from one to the next—serene but deadly serious. It wasn’t difficult to imagine them just then with bloodied swords secured to their belts and soiled red crosses emblazoned across their chests, having just limped in from the battlefield. And why not…these were no less the crusaders than the ones of old about whom we read in history books; they too fight for the survival of the old Faith and for the protection of the holy places, especially those inside their hearts. They were cross-bearers in every sense of the word and it was a privilege to pray with them!
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, knelt quietly before Our Lord, but they didn’t have to be there. Their tents, comparatively warm and dry, were waiting for them, scattered over the nearby hillside and beyond. They were wounded and exhausted; no one would have even noticed, let alone blamed them, for staying back and seeing to their blisters. And, yet, there they were, in the rain and on their knees, consecrating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
…And you think that there is no hope?
“Pardonnez moi, Monsieur.” I turned to see three jeannettes—little scouts from the famous Catholic village of Riaumont. They were dressed in the traditional navy blue skirts and berets of their Catholic troop, and they couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. Two of them were assisting a third, their “fallen comrade,” whose ankle and one knee had been carefully wrapped in a bandage. It was painful to look at the suffering little one as she grimaced with each step she took. They were returning from the medical tent, obviously, and I surmised that they were taking the injured girl back to her tent. But I was wrong. In actuality, they were looking for a place to kneel down, and, when one was found, that’s exactly what they did. The injured girl kept her arm around the neck of her patient friend, and there she remained for the duration of the vigil, her little shoulders shaking in the cold night air.
“I remember these little ones from many years ago,” I thought. But, no, that’s not true. The first time I walked this Pilgrimage these hadn’t even been born yet. The ones I’d first seen years ago are now married and have children of their own—traditional Catholic children. I know some of them personally. They make up the families who are the heart and soul of the traditionalist movement in France; they are among those who recently rejected the diabolic Constitution of the European Union. They are militant Catholic monarchists who have little regard for the EU, thank God.
In other words, what’s been happening each year on the road to Chartres cannot now be undone. I saw proof of that again during Benediction this year—it took the form of a whole new generation of traditional Catholics kneeling in the rain.
France is not going to lose the Faith. Generations of traditional Catholics are being confirmed in the old Faith each year along the plain of La Beauce between Chartres and Paris. And it’s not just the Pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Chrétiente. Going in the opposite direction at the same time—from Chartres to Sacre Coeur in Paris—is yet another traditionalist throng of thousands making the Pentecost Pilgrimage. That one is held under the auspices of the Society of St. Pius X. So, this means that, every spring on Pentecost weekend, over 20,000 traditional Catholics shut down the city of Chartres, Montmartre and a significant portion of Paris over the course of three days in order to bring the old Faith back into the public square. Does anyone actually believe, then, that all this has nothing to do with the French government’s recent efforts to remove Pentecost from the list of France’s national holidays? Of course it does!
In his excellent article elsewhere in this issue, John Rao points out that “no Catholic can ever deny the fact that the omnipresent danger of sin makes even the most finely-honed pilgrimage a permanently threatened enterprise.” I know I’m not alone in the belief that these pilgrimages are the sole reason why Pentecost is no longer a national holiday in France. On this year’s Pilgrimage it was obvious that the measure has had some success—the number of pilgrims was noticeably down due to the fact that students had to be in school and many people had to work. The new regime in France cannot close its eyes to what is happening, and so a campaign has begun to contain the “insurgents”—a small army of traditional Catholic pilgrims.
This is happening even in our own country with respect to Auriesville—the place of destination for pilgrimages (including the traditionalist Pilgrimage of Restoration) every year since its establishment in 1885. We have been reliably informed that an offer is presently being considered whereby a group of rabbis would purchase the retreat house at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. The Auriesville shrine is sacred ground, consecrated by the blood of Catholic martyrs and saints: St. Rene Goupil, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John Lalande. It is also the birthplace of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, one of the most revered converts in Church history. The Shrine grounds are among the holiest and most Catholic in North America. And now some of those grounds are to be sold off to those who reject all things Catholic? And we are to believe that this too is just a coincidence?
In his article, John Rao describes how, in the past, knights were called upon to protect the pilgrims on their way to the holy places. It seems that we have need once again of just such “pilgrim-soldiers” who will see to it that these holy “marches toward the light of God” are not shut down by the diabolical hands of Moslems, democratic governments, Jesuits who’ve lost the Faith, and the rest of the worldly rabble.
Especially in France, to see the Church Militant coming together in the cities and in the countryside to pray and suffer and offer reparation—to re-form Christendom, not on paper, but in physical reality—all this means everything to soul and sanity and to the very future of the Church itself. And this is why it’s under attack. The Revolution can quite easily handle our “rightful aspirations” for the Mass “we prefer,” but when traditionalists take to the streets, under the mantle of prayer and public penance, and put into play a Catholic counterrevolutionary idea that is larger than the Revolution itself…well, this is something else entirely and it must be stopped!
The theme of this year’s Chartres Pilgrimage was “Our Lady, Rampart of Christendom”, and, indeed, that is precisely what she is—she is the last rampart standing…standing against the modern world, protecting those who seek refuge with her. She leads them through this “storm” and they follow her, not out of obligation, but out of love…the tender love of a child for his mother—something the Revolution has spent five hundred years trying to destroy. But in France, happily, the idea is roaring back.
Let’s face it: the Chastisement is already here. The powers of hell are directing their energies every day at each and every one of us with one solitary temptation: There is no God, and the Catholic Church is a medieval collection of superstitious myths! But with God’s good grace this temptation will remain impotent, especially if enough Catholics are made to realize that throughout the whole world the ember of the old Faith continues to burn brightly here and there, even underground—in France, America, Australia, Germany, England, Canada, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, and in every other country. The old Faith is alive and well in the growing world-wide traditionalist movement, a movement which is in love with the Mother of the same God the world says no longer exists.
We are not alone, and those who bear witness to the Truth—to the Light that the darkness cannot comprehend—will continue to believe and will not cease believing. At Chartres this reality becomes overwhelmingly obvious, which is why we not only return ourselves each year, but also bring with us as many young Catholic Americans as possible…so that they might see a physical manifestation of that Truth in all of its glory… so that they will remember the light of pilgrimage even in the days of darkness that are to come.
Let the storm hammer against the “rampart of Christendom”, it will have no effect. The Pilgrimage to Chartres, with its emphasis on prayer and penance and the necessity of clinging to the mantle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is larger and more powerful than the storm. By Pentecost Monday this year, the rain had ceased, the skies had cleared, a glorious new day had dawned, and the storm had passed. And so it will again if we have the courage to stay on the rocky, muddy path that leads to the light of God; if we remain on Catholic pilgrimage no matter how hard the rains fall or how low the darkness descends, in the end a new day will dawn.
Thanks and Looking Ahead to Next Year
I’d like to thank all those who made the Pilgrimage to Chartres possible, starting, of course, with our brothers in the Faith at Notre-Dame de Chretiente—the lay-run organization which is responsible for the Pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Chretiente to Chartres every Pentecost. It goes without saying that we are forever in their debt for all they have done and continue to do for American traditional Catholics.
Secondly, we wish to thank those Remnant readers who sponsored over 20 young American traditionalists this year. Please read the letters from some of those same pilgrims elsewhere in this issue to see how worthwhile your support was.
Many thanks also to our chaplain, Father Paul McDonald, who this year offered traditional Masses in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur in Paris), at the chapel of Saint-Michel high atop the main basilica at Lourdes, at the magnificent Cathedral at Burgos, Spain, at a most prominent altar at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and in the Cathedral in Avila. The Remnant Tours, thanks to Fr. McDonald, has now successfully restored the traditional Latin Mass to altars of many of the most significant shrines in Europe. The Mass that Father celebrated for The Remnant pilgrims just last year at the high altar at La Salette was nothing short of a small but glorious miracle that will never be forgotten.
So, those who support The Remnant Tours each year should know that the fight for the Catholic restoration manifests itself in many different ways during these pilgrimages to what’s left of Catholic Europe. Restoring the true Mass to desecrated sanctuaries is a specific objective.
This year we tried something a little different during our pilgrimage to France/Spain. Rather than making use of trains or planes over the long distances between the holy places we visited, we used a motor coach. The reason for this is that we wished to conduct a sort of Catholic immersion program on wheels. The hours that were required to cross the large tracts of formerly Catholic land between France and Spain, for example, were devoted to first-rate Catholic history lectures, followed by lively Q&A sessions. Dr. John Rao, Jamie Bogle and Christopher Ferrara delivered talks that varied in topic from the history of Catholic Spain, to the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the Holy Roman Empire, to the true definition of Catholic liberty, all the way to the evils of modern dating and rock music. There was even some semi-serious discussion on board the bus about the idea of going back to Catholic, arranged marriages. This induced not a few bemused reactions but also plenty of fun and fodder for discussion.
One person remarked that the Remnant Tour bus had itself become a rolling microcosm of Christendom. This could not have been possible without the invaluable help and selfless dedication of Fr. McDonald, John Rao, Chris Ferrara and Jamie Bogle.
Our first effort at organized Catholic immersion was successful enough as to prompt us to try to conduct something similar next year. Our plan is to try to rent an isolated castle or monastery in Ireland (rather than a hotel, complete with TVs, mini-bars and the rest), far removed from the noise of the big cities of Europe, and there to try to recreate some semblance of medieval Catholic civilization for the week following the Chartres Pilgrimage.
We have already obtained commitments from Fr. McDonald, Dr. Rao, Chris Ferrara and Jamie Bogle, and we’re now working on a certain well known professor of English literature (and rock solid traditional Catholic spokesman) to also join the effort. The plan is to combine daily Tridentine Mass and Rosary (as well as the usual visits to the holy places) with wholesome, Catholic recreation, e.g., dramatic readings, singing, recitation of poetry, acts of plays etc. All of this would be interspersed with outstanding lectures on history and Catholic culture which will again be presented in an informal and conversational style.
It is our hope to find a place in Ireland that will facilitate this effort. In any event, the post-Chartres destination next year will absolutely be Ireland. It is also our intention to bring together a good mix of Catholics from different age groups—say, 25 young people (folks over 17) and 25 folks of, shall we say, more substantial age, wisdom and experience.
The Remnant Tours Youth Fund will again be open this summer. Those who decide to help sponsor young traditional Catholics will, in effect, be sending a personal representative on pilgrimage who will, in their names, pray for them and carry their intentions to the holy places. In addition, sponsors will be prayed for by name every day of the Pilgrimage and will be remembered in the official Masses throughout.
Lastly, I want to thank all of the young traditionalist Catholics who joined us this year. Because of several factors, I found myself with a rather lopsided group, one which, for the first time, was made up of more people under 25 than over. In addition, my main youth coordinator, Gerry Matatics, and I had at the last minute decided, for reasons which will not be discussed here, that our 9-year partnership on these pilgrimages was to come to an end. I scrambled to find a replacement chaperone and was successful in this, but still very concerned about bringing so many young people with only 1 chaplain, 3 guides and 3 chaperones.
Rather than taking advantage of the situation, however, the young people succeeded in beautifully restoring my hope in the future of our movement in this country. Many of our French friends, in fact, made a point to comment most enthusiastically on the wonderful spirit of our chapter, which was so young this year. I too was impressed. As I made my nightly rounds to make sure the young people were in at curfew (yes, even the 21-year-olds gladly submitted to a curfew throughout the week), I just couldn’t believe my eyes when I’d find groups of them gathered for the nightly rosary or engaged in wholesome discussions on countercultural topics. I know I’ll not soon forget a scene on the last night in Madrid, in fact, when I entered the main lobby of the Hotel Florida and found 25 of our young American pilgrims kneeling there and praying the rosary.
These were wonderful, fun-loving Catholic young people who are proud of who and what they are and who are serious about their Faith. They also know how to enjoy life and were not “prudes” in any sense. There were too many stand-out examples to name here, but certainly 22-year-old Maria Mahoney, who carried the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe single-handedly for 70 miles and who then acted as dorm mother for many of the younger pilgrims, must be heartily thanked. So, too, 21-year-old Nathan Cyr who, like some sort of shepherd-knight, must be acknowledged for his invaluable assistance in helping us keep all the young people together and safe as we made our way across Europe.
To all the young people—from Mary Robinson, to the Drew sisters, to the Bogowith brothers, to Maria Sanders, to Christina Bourbeau, to Holly Shaw, to Ashley Crouch, to Arron Foshee, to John David Sonnier, to Brittany Vasalik, to Zachary Liebert, to the indomitable Tim Strandquist and all the rest—it was a pleasure to be “in the trenches” with you. Keep the old Faith and never surrender!
My sister (and fellow coordinator) Christina Matt and I would like to invite Remnant readers to join us again next year on the Pilgrimage to Chartres and then to continue on to Knock and other places of significance in Catholic Ireland. The dates are yet to be announced but will run roughly from the Wednesday before Pentecost through the second Monday after Pentecost. The full price will also be announced soon but should be between $2000 and $2500, which includes airfare, hotels and two meals per day. To join us, please send a nonrefundable down payment of $400 to:
The Remnant Tours
21170 W. Linwood Drive NE
Wyoming, MN 55092
Notre Dame de Chretiente, Reine de France, Mere du Sauveur,
Priez pour nous!