Light in Darkness
Thousands march on pilgrimage across France

Michael J. Matt

Editor, The Remnant



( In hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t wise to have attempted it.  With fifty of my compatriots (many of whom were students) in tow, I could hardly afford to fall off a 4,000-foot mountain.  But something drew all of us (the bulk of 65 Americans who’d walked the Pilgrimage to Chartres this past Pentecost weekend) towards the summit of Ireland’s holy mount.  

It is called Croagh Patrick. 

It’s not easy to sum up one’s thoughts as one looks skyward from the base of St. Patrick’s mountain…the place where the fourth-century Saint prayed and fasted for forty days before embarking on his mission to bring the old Faith to the Emerald Isle. From miles around, the traveler can see the magnificent crag, rising up out of the sea like a primordial monument to Patrick’s epic walk with God. Here he conquered demons who’d taken the form of vultures and tried every intimidation to try to force the Saint to abandon his mission. Here, in holy obedience to his guardian angel, Patrick had remained with nothing but hewn rock to shield him from the harsh elements.  On top of this mountain, whose peak reaches above the clouds, Patrick, like Jacob of old, wrestled with God for the soul of Erin. 

The ascent is alarmingly steep even at the base.  As the pilgrim picks his way up the rocky path, the little town of Westport and the Carrowbeg River rapidly fall away below him. A windblown silence envelops him almost immediately, disturbed only occasionally by the bleating of mountain sheep or the clatter of loose stones dislodged by pilgrims’ feet.

On the day we attempted to scale Croagh Patrick the sky was clear and we could see the summit looming high overhead at what seemed the top of the world.  I was not at all sure I’d reach it that day, and I became even less convinced when we encountered members of our own party who had turned back due to gale-force winds at the base of the summit.

Our hearts pounded in our chests as we traversed a steep river of loose flagstones over the first 3,000 feet.  From time to time, we’d stop to catch our breath.  From those heights, Westport seemed like a child’s toy sitting on the edge of the blue waters of the sea, surrounded by a hundred islands and bays on one side and the vast green of County Mayo on the other.  For the first time since landing here several days earlier, I sensed that we were seeing Ireland as it once was, not through the windshield of a bus or through Dublin’s polluted din, but as Patrick must have seen it.  Breathtaking is not a big enough word to describe what we saw.

As we walked in Patrick’s footsteps, I imagined the young Saint looking down at this land plagued with Druid paganism. What were his thoughts?  Were they similar to our own as we look today at the changing face of an Ireland that is yielding to neo-paganism?

“O holy youth, come back to Erin, and walk once more amongst us.”

It’s not just Ireland that bleeds souls these days. Europe herself is dying, her charm having been dashed against secular rocks, her steeple-lined cities eclipsed by ugly capitalist monuments to a world drunk with greed.  “Sophisticated” and all “grown up”, the grand lady is determined to take to her deathbed dressed in the bawdy costume of a harlot.  Conflicted and confused, she spends most of her remaining moments denying her past and apologizing for her youth.  She’s not at peace, and why should she be! She’s disowned her crusaders, beheaded her kings, banished her priests, and knocked her high altars into dust.  That we were visiting a Catholic graveyard in Europe was never more apparent than it was this year. 

Europe’s borders, not unlike our own here in the States, are being erased, and her countries have become like refugee camps overrun by foreigners—Middle Easterners, Africans, Indians, Hindus, Muslims.  The French, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Spaniards—they’re becoming strangers in their own lands, as a non-military invasion force of epic proportions conquers Europe without firing a single shot.  

As the “new order” insinuates itself into the fabric of European life via the machinations of the European Union (the latest gang of jackbooted thugs who seek to remake  Christendom in the image and likeness of Antichrist), her romance languages become corrupted and seem destined to be replaced by English, crime rates soar, surveillance cameras are omnipresent, and a new fascism sees to it that abominations such as homosexual “marriage” and abortion become the law of the land. 

Big Brother controls and monitors nearly every aspect of European life now, and yet he still has the gall to speak of this totalitarianism-in-the-making as “freedom” and the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as examples of Christian “tyranny”.  From mandatory diversity training in the work place to sodomite indoctrination in the grammar schools, Europe is undergoing a massive brainwashing program that would have made Stalin proud.

There was such manifest sadness in the eyes of the few “old Irish” we encountered. Their homeland is becoming unrecognizable to them. The EU has been pouring in enough money to build the Celtic Tiger to a level of “prosperity” no one can afford.  Even the quaint Irish countryside is being raped by developers intent on using bulldozers to carve their precious market principles into the old sod.

Tempted by the allure of “easy money”, the simple people are being saddled with “necessities” they don’t need and mortgages they’ll never pay off.  The usual bread and circuses serve to induce the young to abandon the old ways in favor of new ones exported by Hollywood and MTV.  Their souls, their birthright, their Faith, their innocence are being devoured by capitalist snakes with an insatiable appetite for destruction of the good and the beautiful. 

As an old Irish woman in Ennistymon noted, “When we had no money we shared and were content. Now we have money and no one knows how to share.  We’re at war with ourselves.”

Meanwhile the churches empty, the old-world pubs are forced to close their doors to make room for the ubiquitous McDonalds and Burger Kings, the folk music that defined a people for a thousand years is gradually being drowned out by the monotonous din of rock ‘n’ roll, and the fashions and customs of much better days are fading into a sulfuric steam generated by the machine of luciferian “progress”.

“In ten years,” our guide noted, “the Irish will be a minority in Ireland. And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  The EU is here to stay.”

Poor, hapless Europe…what’s to become of her!  Her cathedrals still stand strong but only as granite reminders of the great Catholic civilization that once flourished here.  Even Notre-Dame in Paris is rumored to be in danger of losing her ecclesial status and turned into a full-fledged museum.  Will this really happen?  To me it seems inevitable.  The Faith is dying in Europe…what need is there of cathedrals!

My thoughts were interrupted just then. We had reached the pass at the base of a dramatic rise to the summit some thousand feet above, but the wind was blowing off the Atlantic with such fury that just putting one foot in front of the other became somewhat of a challenge. It whipped over the ridge, picking up dust as it went which stung our eyes and forced us to practically crawl on our hands and knees over the pass.

At last we began to climb the face. The valley below and on both sides was so vast that one couldn’t shake a feeling of profound littleness and vulnerability as he navigated the treacherous terrain far above the disappearing world below.  Prayer came easily just then.

We came upon the first “Summit Station”—a small stone pillar of rock upon which were written the conditions necessary to attain the plenary indulgence on Croagh Patrick.  “Say seven Our Fathers and seven Hail Marys as you walk around this marker twelve times.  Then kneel and say the creed.”  This we did in the face of 60-mile-an-hour gusts. It was a Catholic moment!

View of Clew Bay from Croagh Patrick

The summit was just above us now, but the face was so steep that we still couldn’t see the top.  A half hour later, however, a small cross, silhouetted against the cloud-swept blue sky, slowly emerged above the rock face just ahead of us. Soon, the rest of the little stone chapel on Croagh Patrick revealed itself. We’d reached the summit! Another station instructed us to kneel again.  With Erin at our feet and heaven just above us, we prayed the creed, the Aves and the Paters.  Paradise didn’t seem so far away just then.

Nearby a marker indicated the holy place that pilgrims for seventeen centuries have venerated—St. Patrick’s bed.  Here in this shallow rock basin the Saint had slept a few short hours each night as he prayed and fasted, while commanding demons to cast themselves into the Irish sea.  We knelt again, and then rose to cross the summit towards the precipice, trying to absorb the magnificence that was unfolding before us with each step. 

The Clew Bay glistened like a jewel far below, and, stretching out from there on three sides the green fields of County Mayo, crisscrossed by black ribbons of narrow Irish road, formed a vast carpet that seemed to sprawl to the four corners of the earth.  The sky itself formed the dome of this celestial cathedral, descending into Erin far off to our right and becoming one with the blue sea on the horizon to the left. 

Defeated at last, the wind that had hampered us for nearly three hours refined itself into a gentle breeze, allowing the sun to warm both body and soul as we fumbled to put words to the majesty of God’s creation.  It became a simple matter to see why Patrick had come here first…he’d come to talk to God.  This was just the place for it!  It’s still the place for it. There are no surveillance cameras on Croagh Patrick; no EU, no tourists…just silence. One half expected to hear the words Patrick must have heard centuries ago: “Go back down the mountain into the pagan world and bring the little candle of the old Faith with you.” 

If he was not daunted by his task, by what strange logic should we be daunted by ours? The work, after all, is the same.

After forty days on this mountain, Patrick had obtained from God what Ireland needed then and what the whole world needs now. He’d even received specific promises which have been preserved to this day:

- many souls would be free from the pains of purgatory through his intercession;

- whoever in the spirit of penance would recite his hymn before death would attain the heavenly reward;

- barbarian hordes would never obtain sway in his Church;

- seven years before the Judgment Day, the sea would spread over Ireland to save its people from the temptations and terrors of the Antichrist; and

- greatest blessing of all, Patrick himself should be deputed to judge the whole Irish race on the last day.

Such were the extraordinary favors which St. Patrick had gained for a world dominated by paganism.  Such were the results of prayer and penance then, and such could be the results of prayer and penance again now if we can only muster the courage to believe as he did, despite the stench of paganism all around us.

At that moment I looked over my shoulder, over the sea and beyond… towards the fields of France; it was comforting to think that we are not one against the world. Blistered feet and sunburned skin reminded us that, just days earlier, we’d walked with a band 10,000 strong in the name of Catholic restoration. We were not alone as Patrick had been.

At the very heart of what was once Christendom, a Catholic army had formed a column five miles long, at the head of which was a lone statue of the Virgin Mary.  Our Lady of Christendom, our Queen, and our Mother had led a holy pilgrimage for three days, and in her wake hundreds of banners of the angels and saints had been held aloft by thousands of dust-covered pilgrims from all over the world. Countless priests in surplice and stole had trudged all that way with their young flocks, the mud-spattered hems of their black cassocks telling the whole story; they had heard thousands of confessions, offered Masses, and encouraged the sheep to keep the same Faith that Patrick had brought to Ireland and Clovis had brought to France.  Nothing has really changed.  Again, the task is the same.

On Pentecost Monday, after the Pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Chretiente had drawn to its magnificent conclusion, I found myself sitting in a hotel room looking through an open-air window at Notre-Dame de Chartres.  The hour was late but the cathedral was bathed in moonlight.  By leaving the shutters open and placing a pillow at the foot of the bed, I discovered that I would be able to drift off to sleep with “Our Lady’s Playhouse”—the great Gothic cathedral—in full view.  It was a singular honor to be able to do so.

Silence had fallen over the little town of Chartres, which, for many hours earlier that day, had echoed with the clamor of church bells and pilgrims’ song. 

I looked at the Cathedral’s stony visage as one might look into the face of an old and revered friend…with awe and affection. Down through the ages, how many saints and kings have passed their eyes over these same stones?  What royal lips had touched them in reverence at pilgrimage end? Which consecrated hand had first blessed these stones centuries ago?  What prayer did Joan of Arc loose to heaven in the shadow of this granite sermon on the limitless faith of our fathers? Did St. Louis fall to his knees and sing the Salve Regina at the mere sight of this place? Think of the history this place has seen!

So much has changed now. The grand, old Cathedral tells a different story today, a sad story. But, as was often noted during the days of the Arian heresy, “they may have our buildings but we have the Faith.” For one glorious day on Pentecost Monday we had the building, too!

As the moon continued its peaceful climb high over her spires, the images of all we’d seen over the previous three days of pilgrimage replayed themselves  again and again in my mind.  I could still hear the voices of a thousand 10-year-olds singing at the top of their lungs: “et unam, sanctam, Catholicam et apolostolicam ecclesiam.”

I could see five thousand teenagers kneeling on stones, waiting to receive Our Lord in the traditional manner.

I saw a platoon of young men dip their flags emblazoned with the emblem of the Sacred Heart at the moment of Consecration at a pontifical high Mass inside the greatest Gothic cathedral in Europe.

I’d see ten thousand pilgrims sleep on rocky ground, and then, rising with the sun, walk across the fields of France.

I saw young and old on their knees in the pre-dawn light worshipping in silence before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

I could see and hear and smell the restoration of Christendom in the making.  I saw my Church, my people, our past and our future.  What happened here each Pentecost weekend for the past 24 years can never be undone. Between the Pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de Chretiente from Paris to Chartres and the Pilgrimage of Tradition (operated by the Society of St. Pius X) from Chartres to the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, more than twenty thousand traditional Catholics take to the streets and French countryside each Pentecost in the name of the old Faith.

From all over Europe they come, proving that despite all that’s gone wrong—the EU, the New World Order and the rest—the old Faith is thriving in microcosm in every country in the world. Tradition is not only the past…it is the future.  There is nothing else.  Tradition is the hope of the world.

Why do we go back to Chartres every year?  Why did Patrick climb the mountain? Why did Ignatius walk to Rome?  Why did the Vandeans take up arms?  Why did Campion return to England?  Why did More refuse to take the Oath?  Why? So that, at least on their watch, the light of the old Faith would not be extinguished.  On the road to Chartres, that light shines like the sun…. And so we will return (God willing) until, from this pilgrim parade, Christendom will rise again and the darkness will be no more.

Thanks and Looking Ahead to Next Year

I must thank all those who made the Pilgrimage to Chartres possible, starting, of course, with the folks at Notre-Dame de Chretiente—the lay-run organization which is responsible for the pilgrimage to Chartres.  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.  I wish you could have seen the tears in some of their eyes as they sang the Chez Nous (a love song to Our Lady) at Notre-Dame de Chartres with 15,000 fellow traditional Catholics.

Many thanks also to our chaplain, Father Paul McDonald, who offered traditional Masses in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur  in Paris) as well as at the shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland. The Remnant Tours has now successfully restored the traditional Latin Mass to altars of many of the most significant altars in Europe.  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.

The Remnant Tours' 2006 Chapter

Once again this year, we conducted a sort of traditional Catholic immersion program by tapping into the expertise of Dr. John Rao, Dr. David Allen White, Christopher Ferrara and Jamie Bogle who delivered first-rate lectures on Catholic history, the French Revolution, Irish literature and a wide variety of other topics relevant to the Catholic restoration.  Our thanks to these men who did so much to make this year’s tour a success.

Next year we plan to repeat this only in the south of France, where we’ll follow in the footsteps of St. Mary Magdalene and even visit the holy cave where she spent her final years on this earth.  We’re hoping to also arrange a night or two at the great Marian shrine of Notre-Dame de Laus in the French Alps, as well. The plan is to combine daily Tridentine Mass and Rosary (as well as visits to the holy places) with wholesome, Catholic recreation, e.g., mountain climbing (wholly optional), dramatic readings, singing, recitation of poetry, acts of plays etc. All of  this will 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 castle or monastery in France that will facilitate this effort.  In any event, the post-Chartres destination next year will be the south of France. It is also our intention to bring together a good mix of Catholics from different age groups—say, 15 young people (over 18), and 35 folks of more substantial age and wisdom. 

The Remnant Tours Youth Fund will 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 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 be remembered in the official Masses throughout.

Lastly, I want to thank all of the young traditionalist Catholics who joined us this year and who succeeded in restoring our hope in the future of the movement in this country.  To all the young pilgrims—from the Robinson sisters, to the Zignego sisters, the Bogowiths, Therese Vander Putten (who never let a mere pilgrimage “cramp her style”), Holly Shaw,  Emily Alexander, Joe Mahar, Random Giles,  Milissa McGuirk, the unflappable Tinning family, Megan Ryan and Angela Rogers, to the indomitable Russel Kargel 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 the south of France (and either Lourdes or Laus).  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

PO Box 1117

Forest Lake, MN 55025

I hope to see you on the road to Chartres!