From childhood on, I had been aware of the dramatic degradation and loss of large parts of the beautiful heritage, in which God called us to exist… The Breton countryside is rich with innumerable picturesque chapels that the Breton folk built from the XIIIth to the XVIIIth century, until the French Revolution. The state of neglect in which a large number of those humble monuments were left, and the destruction of many, was a shocking experience to me. One day, I wrote out my indignation and sorrow in a letter illustrated with a drawing which I mailed to a daily paper. The editor in reply offered me to write on the topic.
Therefore, during more than twenty years, I kept producing a weekly article aiming at re-awakening the readers to the value of their common heritage. Every Wednesday, a pathetic view of some derelict building appeared on the front page (swine revelling in a XVIth century shrine, or calves chewing the cud under a XVIIth century ornate ceiling…) A few lines accompanied by a sketch of the old monument such as it might have looked, drew the attention to the historical interest of the place. At the end of the text, I would invite the readers to come and meet on the spot, on the following Sunday.
The encounters always proved to be astonishing moments. With the people who showed up on the Sunday afternoon, and generally lamented upon a lack of funds, we somehow managed to set up a small committee. Over two hundred associations were created in that way. Money was raised, courageous volunteers arrived, feasts were organized, a lot of creativity brought people to meet and work together. New friendships were blossoming around the chapel or the fountain to be rebuilt. Each time, the monument became the heart of new relationships, thus bringing solace to the old folks, always prone to recount stories about the saints or the ancestors, as well as to the adults and youths, who came to realize the priceless asset of such heritage.
With the help of some intelligent persons, the dramatic waste due to the carelessness of others was to be partially, or totally repaired. In the midst of a general indifference to the historical documents, a weekly reminder, illustrated by photos and drawings, gradually brought about a new awareness of the subject. Ruin after ruin began to be rebuilt. In many instances, the long forgotten «feast of the local saint» could be restored; groups of young and old people came back joyfully to reclaim their heritage, and had fun; ate and danced and also entered to pray in the charming little shrines.
Some twenty-five years later, as I was in charge of a parish in Belgium, I received a call from Brittany, asking me to come back in order to lead an ancient pilgrimage, which was to be revived as a «touristic asset» by three men working in the «Tourism Office» of Saint-Pol de Léon!…
Thus, a quarter of a century of weekly writing and working with small groups in the countryside, was finally bearing an unexpected fruit! A new tradition was to emerge from a long forgotten one… The «Pilgrimage to the Seven saints of Brittany» was coming alive; in a renewed form. Therefore, every Summer since 1994, a crowd of about 1000/2000 hikers gather on the first week of August in one of our seven cathedrals and walk to the next one!
This is for me «a wonder before our eyes»! When I look back at the way it all began, I can observe this: from a personal aching in front of the waste of beautiful things, I was somehow sharing in the suffering of the Lord, faced with His plan of love in His creation, being spurned and disregarded by His human creature. The cry of Jesus, showing his pierced Heart, can be heard in the course of our lives… From our individual pains we are drawn to the pain of Him who poured out His life so that we may share in the splendor of His Joy!
Fr. Dominique+ (NY)