FRANCE – Paris

“Basilica of the Sacred Heart “ Montmartre Paris (France)

After having told you about my Canadian experience of Mont-Tremblant and having described my approach of the Amerindians (see Sacred Mountain Canada Quebec N°4) I invite you now to discover the Hill Montmartre with its Sacred Heart Basilica on top … This hill that is overlooking Paris from the north and lets us admire Paris the Capital, a beautiful city, who’s urban development has not yet been too much blighted. There is such a contrast between the liveliness at the foot of the church, with all the tourists around, and the silence one discovers when entering the Sacred Heart Basilica, a particularly spiritual place of reverence, that is devoted to Jesus Christ’s Heart.

When searching the history of this “Holy place”, it is almost certain that before the Romaine conquest, the Gauls honored their divinities on this hill or mound. Then temples in honor of March and Mercury were set up here (there are some archeological vestiges left). While searching in the historical archives of the archbishop of Paris one discovers that Saint Denis, first Christian apostle of the capital to be, was sent out to Christianize this part of Gaul. He most likely stayed with his followers in the plaster quarries of the Mount of Martyrs, original name of Montmartre (etymology; Mons Martyrum). It seems indeed likely, that Saint Denis became a victim of martyrdom by decapitation in this place. Thereafter, Montmartre’s abbey was sanctified in 1147. In the small guide Sacré-Coeur of Montmartre, Lescuyer Edition, one discovers a summary of its history and one is invited to visit Saint Pierre church, a place that testifies of the once glorious times of this abbey, whose last vestiges disappeared in 1843. So when Saint Ignace, Saint François Xavier as well as their friends climbed up Montmartre they appreciated the solitary character of Sacred Heart. Those first Jesuits fathers committed themselves wholly to God and founded in 1534 the “Society of Jesus”. Since then a great number of the most prestigious personalities of French History have passed at Montmartre. The reason for this is that the French Catholics feel very strongly about the invasion of France after its military defeat in 1870. In fact when, his Lordship Guibert, was meditating and pondering over the reasons why to choose this particular hill, he saw all of a sudden the sun pushing through the clouds and all of Paris being revealed to him: “it is here, he claimed, it is here, that Sacred Heart must reign, and draw to it all the attention. It is on top of this very hill where Christianity, among us, was first born, in the blood of our first apostles, the monument for our religious regeneration must be raised.” “The idea was born and the project took place after a vote in 1873 at the National Assembly according to a law proclaiming the construction of a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Public Interest. The first stone was laid down on June 16th, 1875 and the project was mainly financed through small donations from all dioceses. It was on April 21st, 1881 that Cardinal Guibert celebrated the first mass, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart was sanctified on October 16th, 1919. It is this very church we do have the honor and the pleasure to visit today. Indeed, the godliness of Sacred Heart has become popular; poet-artists such as Verlaine and Claudel have written songs about it… Christians concerned with social justice find in this place principles for their actions. In fact, this cult does correspond to a religion of Love: “He gave us his whole heart to be a home for us. In exchange, he is claiming our whole heart to remain there.”

Sacred Heart has become since 1885, a sanctuary for the permanent prayer night and day carried out without interruption by the faithful. It survived the invasion of Paris in 1940, and even the bombarding of April 1944. The Benedictine nuns of Sacred Heart of Montmartre, present in the Basilica, have for mission the daily adoration of the Eucharist and the welcoming of visitors. Faithful come from all sorts of horizons and I am one of them, we come here to pray in turns for the church and the world’s salvation.

You will find thereafter my own process and my emotions during my visit of Sacred Heart of Montmartre, sacred mountain, on Friday 5th and Saturday 6th October, 2012.

I am visiting the Basilica of Sacred Heart; I join in at the end of the morning mass and a sung prayer by the Benedictine nuns. After having discovered the Basilica at the top of Montmartre, place that the city has little by little occupied; I can feel an emotion, a spiritual calling. The nuns sing along with an instrument, with horizontal strings, called zither and the faithful repeat after them… One can feel a strong collective fervor.

The nuns, about 16 of them arrive all dressed in white and wearing a black veil. They walk across the corridor that leads to the monastery. Tourists are visiting and walk around in the Basilica… The organ as it begins to play brings up vivid emotions and leads us to reverence. It is 2:56 p.m. on October 5th, first Friday of the month.

The organ’s play is majestic, the sounds touch us deeply. It is powerful, intense; it is the beginning of the celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

As the bells mark the beginning of the mass, we stand up, 4 priests arrive with incense, the altar is being blessed with incense: Basilica of mercy, now is the time to donate us entirely to the Lord, a time for intimacy with the Christ, to receive one’s mercy and forgiveness, veneration of the beloved son’s heart is sung and prayed…

The sermon is being pronounced: The Lord’s blessings endow us with a mission (blessings that are not only aimed towards oneself), the Lord is witness of peace and guidance to liberty if one cherishes him deeply in one’s heart. One should bear witness of the Lord. The Benedictine nuns liven up the songs along with the organ. This is particularly beautiful, magical, ceremonial, captivating, touching… We take the Eucharist around 4:OO p.m., the are doors opened, the organ’s play brings about reverence. Next week the priest will announce us the year of faith, a way of celebrating the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. We are recommended to show social skills, charity and to bear witness of our Faith.

After the mass, the faithful, about one million, follow the sacred body of the Christ in a procession.

Distress, anxiety, danger, hunger, ordeal, Evil Spirits all these won’t keep us away from God’s Love. We go in procession and singing downstairs of the Basilica to the crypt by the inside stairs. The size and volume of it are impressive. The priest got down the shiny monstrance from its ciborium above the altar, place where it is usually exposed so it can be seen by all. It is the symbol of the communion bread, symbolizing the transubstantiation (real presence) of the Christ Body who died and was resuscitated. This Eucharistic Contemplation is called adoration. Finally we pray together: Death has come from jealousy of the demon tells us the priest, he invites us to look for ways to increase our faith…

We go singing in procession to another chapel underneath of Sacred Heart. The priest puts down the monstrance on the altar. We listen to the prayer by a nun and a priest: “We are weak, temped, and fragile; we need the Lord who saved us.” Incense is being projected again. We walk towards a third altar with a monumental, open armed Christ. We listen to the good news said by a nun and the priest: “The joy of giving, please Lord make us more generous”, says the prayer. And it is the end of the procession, we go back upstairs and the priest replaces the monstrance in the ciborium, underneath a remarkable vault from where one can see a magnificent representation of the Christ in mosaic. (see photographe)

Around 6:00 p.m. the vespers begin led by the nuns and their zither. They sing begging the Lord, stand up, sit or kneel down depending on the prayer sung: “the Lord is justice and pity… Blessed be the savior, son of God.” Our father is being sung and the nuns leave the choir in procession around 6:25 p.m. The organ’s play follows. It is magnificent, emotional, moving of sensitivity, of spirituality, of Faith for those who belief, but I believe no one can stay incentive to such an atmosphere… Another mass starts at 6:30 p.m. led by 2 priests and sung by a nun.

After the mass around 7:30 p.m., I go to the reception desk of the monastery, taking the very same corridor by which the Benedictine nuns have arrived, in order to confirm the reservation of my room, I then go to the refectory. There I meet the organist with an Irishman and a woman from Martinique. The place was renovated recently, the furnitures are made out of light colored wood, simple but beautiful, from the large windows one can the backyard with splendid trees; the atmosphere is relaxed and communication comes easily, the meal prepared by a catering service is good and plentiful. The lady from Martinique tells me that she comes every first Friday of the month to take part at the “Perpetual Adoration”. I question her, because this is an unknown subject to me. She invites me to go back to the reception desk to fill out the time schedule, time slots on which I am able to take part at the “Perpetual Adoration” prayer. I learn from the organist that she is a well experienced musician and that she has led masses with soaring lyricism for many years knowing how to get out of the classical register, such as I have been able to appreciate. Her music is creating the perfect atmosphere for reverence and prayer. She is a very devoted and interesting person and she shares the animation of the masses with another organist.

After supper I bring my things up to my room. At 9:00 p.m. I take part at a prayer led by the Benedictine nuns. It is the same kind of prayer described earlier, sung or recited alternatively by each one. The voices are soft and naturally lead to reverence, the nuns are not necessarily accompanied by the zither and moments of silence are punctuating prayers, thus creating a positive introspective, such as meditation.

I go to bed around 10:00 p.m., take a shower and I set the alarm clock at 1:00 a.m., I want to get up and take part at the perpetual prayer, holding hands with other anonymous. I go to the middle of the Basilica where several persons “creatures”, are present, according to their time signed up for on the schedule, some are in a state of deep devotion. This is very moving, these “creatures” intensely live and believe in their prayer and they numerous. I am personally impressed to encounter such vivid devotion and faith. I am not choked at all; on the contrary, all I feel is respect. To help me with my own prayer I take again a few leaflets handed out by the nuns at the prayer at 9:00 p.m. I completely forget my tiredness, the joy of being part of this is prevailing, and time passes by very fast. I decide to get back to my room at 2:00 a.m. only to start praying again at 4:00 a.m. It is again the same experience; people are full of devotion… Then I get back to my room to rest and get up to have breakfast at 8:00 a.m. I tidy up my room. I leave the monastery and walk across the Basilica once more; I reach the square with all its sculptures and settings (see photographs) and the crowd of “creatures” coming from all parts of the world to admire Paris below, and for some of them to venerate Jesus Christ…

A prayer’s one can read in the basilica

United to those we don’t know, We pray to you
United to those who look for you with uprightness, We pray to you
United to those who lost trust in you, We pray to you
United to those that suffering has kept away from you, We pray to you
United to all the people of the earth, We pray to you
With the Holy Father, our archbishop and the bishops, the priests and all the Christians, We pray to you
Jesus Christ, your kind and humble heart, make our heart reassemble yours

Footprints in the Sand by Adémas De Barras

One night, I dreamed a dream; I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints. I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma. "Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don’t understand why, when I need you most, you leave me”.
He whispered “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you…”