This is unbelievable. Yet it really happened.
A French attorney once went to Rome as a sight-seer. He entered Santa Maria Maggiore, while our Emmanuel choir was singing for the Mass. Cardinal Gantin gave the homily. His words reached the hardened heart of the Frenchman. Overwhelmed by God’s mercy, Edmond Fricoteaux vowed to offer a great present to the Mother of God. He felt the urge to launch a vast program: by the means of statues of Mary, he would send our Lady to patrol all the dioceses in France!
Maître Fricoteaux found a sponsor: the Peugeot firm lent him as many (white) vehicles as there are dioceses! Each car would be provided with a show-case van, to carry a statue of our Blessed Mother, as well as a Bible, open, and a painting of the Sacred Heart. On each white van, one could read, in blue letters the simple words: ‘If you only knew how much I love you!’. Cars and vans would run from city to village across France. Prayer meetings would be held wherever some people would welcome any one of the 110 statues. This great initiative of a layman (Vatican II) was soon to produce some 44.000 prayer meetings all over France! Indeed, the Mother of God was patrolling her country! How was this ensured?
Each diocese was invited to select its most popular shrine. A replica (copy) of the favorite old statue was to be made and sent out on the road. The diocese where I was born is formed of two old dioceses. In 1792, the French Republic, purposely ignoring History, decreed to make “Finistère” out of the two distinct dioceses of Léon and Cornwall. Now, which statue was to be chosen, since both Léon and Cornwall had each its own beloved Virgin?… When I stood in Le Puy-en-Velay, gazing at some 110 Blessed Mothers, I was thankful to note that the selected statue was ‘mine’! ‘Our Lady of Folgoet’, a XIVth century image to which my family, over ten generations had fostered strong and loving connections.
I remember my emotion as bishop Brincard was blessing the crowd of the beloved statues brought from all the old villages of France!…
We watched the white cars and their little vans drive away in all directions, with their precious statues repeating the words to all of us: “If you only knew how much I love you!…”
On that day in 1995, I learned that I had been appointed as a pastor in a Belgian parish. I might have (did I ?) thought: “If ever those statues go to Belgium, I wish I could obtain ‘Our Lady of Folgoët’… Months (or years) went by. As a priest of Emmanuel, I had to face the challenge of a parish and I had no time to think about the ‘Pilgrim Virgins’ in France. Until one day, one parishioner asked me if I would care to welcome (please, don’t guess, yet!) a statue that Don Bosco used to love. I was happy to receive ‘Mary Mediatrix’ and I managed to secure the date of March 7th (the anniversary of my father’s death). A few days before though, a lady phoned. She had learned that our parish was about to receive a statue, but: “that statue is not one of the ‘Pilgrim Virgins'” she explained. “What does that matter?” I retorted, “Our Lady is Our Lady, I don’t care where she comes from!”
“Yes, but…” said the voice, “We just received one of the French Pilgrim Madonnas, she is called” (and there you are!)
… I was stunned! Out of some 110 white Peugeots, only one had found its way to Belgium. Out of some hundred parishes in Belgium, it was our parish which had somehow been chosen! Had I labored and toiled to obtain the statue from my homeland, I would never have gotten it. I could hardly believe it. And there she was! A most unexpected gift from God.
I phoned back my parishioner to tell him to keep Don Bosco’s Madonna: Mary herself was coming to us!
It was so unbelievable! When I faced the little white and blue van, with Our Lady of Folgoet in it, so many memories flooded me. Alongside the gutter of the gloomy street, which I daily walked deploring the dullness of the brick-and-concrete buildings, there She was! She had come to show me that indeed, she knew where I lived. There She stood and the crown on her head had been offered to Her by my great grand father, as it is pictured in the colorful stained glass window at the Folgoet. How thoughtful of you Mary, to have come to me in such an incredible maze of ‘coincidences’; as if you wanted to console me and to confirm that difficult mission of mine. Through such a powerful surprise you were telling us all: “if you only knew how much I care for you!”
Never shall I forget that Marian night in the church of the Sacred Heart! I had four handsome seminarians in their albs carrying the heavy statue and six more holding torches. From my bosom sprung irresistibly the old Breton canticle to “the sweet Patroness of Folgoet”… The congregation stood stunned. Some came to me later, saying:” Father, you seemed very moved”… I was, indeed, as I realized how improbable such a visitation had been! The ancient image, so loved and honored by generations of my own, had come to the dreary street of our suburb, as if to reaffirm that God never ceases to care for each one of His creatures, wherever we might be sent and whatever we might think…”
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Fr Dominique + (NY)