by Natalie Salameh
Our pilgrimage in Paris began with a memorable visit to France’s most celebrated Cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris. The French Gothic architecture and stunning stained glass windows of the Cathedral were marvelous to behold. Our Lady had a special gift awaiting the Maronite Servants upon their arrival. It so happened that the day of our visit was the first Friday of the month and the relics of Our Lord’s Crown of Thorns are presented for veneration. The Crown is a circle of canes bundled together and held by gold threads. The thorns were divided up over the centuries by the Byzantine emperors and the Kings of France. There are seventy, all of the same type, which have been confirmed as the original thorns. The Maronite Servants had the great privilege of venerating the Crown (with great eagerness and enthusiasm), which was displayed by the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre after the celebration of a beautiful Divine Liturgy. What an awesome start to our pilgrimage!
The following day we found ourselves in Rue-de-Bac; home of the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal and the tombs of St. Catherine Laboure and St. Louise de Marillac. The Chapel was built in 1815 and was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1830, it was privileged with the extraordinary events of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to St. Catherine Labouré that marked it forever. Between July and December 1830, Sr. Catherine, a young novice at the time of the Daughters of Charity, received the extraordinary favor of conversing with the Virgin Mary on 3 occasions. In this Chapel, the Virgin Mary came in person to reveal her identity through a little object, a medal, which reads, O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. What great joy we experienced in not only praying beside the bodies of these most holy women, but celebrating Divine Liturgy in this hallowed Chapel, which has preserved the chair the Blessed Virgin sat in during her apparitions!
A couple of streets down from the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal was the Chapel and Shrine of St. Vincent de Paul, which holds the body of this great saint. The first thing we noticed upon entering the Chapel was the glass reliquary containing his body high above the main altar. After climbing the stairs behind the altar, we arrived to venerate his relics. His face looked so serene and peaceful, as if he was simply sleeping. St. Vincent de Paul is known all around the world for his charitable works and is hailed as the “Champion of the Poor”.
It was a great joy for us to celebrate Sunday’s Divine Liturgy and the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary (October 4) in our Maronite Cathedral in Paris, Notre Dame du Liban (Our Lady of Lebanon). We were blessed to meet the Rector of the Cathedral, Fr. Fadi Elmir, and spend time greeting our devoted Maronite parishioners. We are indebted to Fr. Fadi for also taking us to meet His Excellency, Bishop Maroun Nasser Gemayel, who is the first Maronite Bishop of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in Paris. Our visit with Sayedna Gemayel was very fruitful, as he expressed his affirmation and support of our charism and mission among our Maronites worldwide.
Our next stop on our Pilgrimage in Paris was Montmartre, which is Paris’ highest hill that overlooks the entire city. Montmartre is primarily known for the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur (the Sacred Heart of Jesus) on its summit. The Basilica is absolutely breath-taking, not only for its location, but also for its art depicting Jesus’ exposed heart aflame with love for us as He appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1673. The Crypt of the Basilica boasts a beautiful side Chapel dedicated entirely to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was in this very side Chapel in 1887 of the then unfinished Basilica that St. Therese consecrated herself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus during her pilgrimage. The Maronite Servants were privileged to pray in the same spot that St. Therese prayed in all those years ago, and celebrated Divine Liturgy in this breath-taking Basilica.
We also prayed in the other, older, church on the hill, Saint Pierre de Montmartre, which claims to be the location at which the Jesuit order of priests was founded, and also a Church St. Therese visited on her pilgrimage in Paris. I might just add that this was our only rainy day throughout our whole stay in France; apart from that, the Lord blessed us with very fine weather.
We visited and prayed at the Basilica of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (Our Lady of Victories). This Church is also famous in the life of St. Therese. St. Thérèse felt the motherly love of Our Lady throughout her life. On the Feast of Pentecost 1883, when she was ten years old and suffering from a mysterious and debilitating illness, the statue of the Blessed Virgin smiled at her in all loveliness, and Therese recovered. Later, Thérèse began to doubt whether the Virgin really had smiled at her. That scruple departed in November 1887, in the church of Our Lady of Victories. She recalled:
“I realized that she [Mary] watched over me, that I was her child, and so I could not give her any name but Maman (“Mommy”), because that seemed so much more tender than ‘Mother.’ ”
It was also in the Church of Our Lady of Victories that Therese implored the help of the Blessed Virgin in realizing her vocation. The Church now has two beautiful side Chapels, one dedicated to Therese and the other dedicated to her recently canonized parents, Louis and Zelie Martin. We had the special honor of not only celebrating Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Victories but also of offering Midday prayer with the Benedictine nuns who were in attendance that day. They chanted the Divine Office so beautifully and harmoniously that an overwhelming sense of peace came over us.
We visited and prayed in many other Churches in Paris, apart from the ones mentioned above, but our visits would simply be too long to recount in detail. These beautiful churches included St. Sulpice, St. Merri, St. Leu-St.Giles, St. Germain, St. Eustace, St. Pierre and Notre Dame de La Salette. One of my most memorable visits was to the Church of St. Leu-St.Giles in rue St. Denis. This Church currently holds a rare relic of St. Helen, mother of St. Constantine, in a glass reliquary at the base of the Crucifix, which we were able to venerate behind the altar. It is also the capitular church of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, who continue to assemble there.
You and your intentions and loved ones were remembered in prayer at all these holy and venerable sites.