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The Church of Marseille celebrates St. Eugene
27/05/2011 France

On Saturday, May 21, Marseille celebrated the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint Eugene de Mazenod, its bishop from 1837 until 1861, and the Founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

During the day, some 120 pilgrims walked the footsteps of St. Eugene to Saint-Ferréol, to the Old Gate, to the Calvary of the Accoules, to the neighborhood of the Panier and to Notre-Dame de la Garde. Afterwards, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in the cathedral by the Archbishop of Marseille, George Pontier, surrounded by Cardinals Roger Etchegaray and Bernard Panafieu and by Fr. Louis LOUGEN, Superior General of the Missionary Oblates.

A procession and a prayer at the tomb of the saint closed the celebration, after the singing of the Salve Regina and the presentation of a small statue of St. Eugene to Archbishop Pontier.

Homily of Archbishop Georges Pontier in the Cathedral
Saturday, 21 May 2011, 150th anniversary of the death of St. Eugene de Mazenod

When, on Good Friday 1807, at the age of 25, Eugene de Mazenod set out to take part in the liturgy, he had no idea that he was going to experience the most decisive moment of his life. The Cross of Jesus was held up for the veneration of the faithful. He had never looked at it with the eyes of his heart. He had never considered nor realized that the One who was nailed upon it was waiting for him, arms wide open. “How could I forget the bitter tears that the sight of the Cross caused to flow from my eyes one Good Friday? Ah! They came from the heart. Nothing could stop their flow.” Overwhelmed by the infinite love of the One who had died for him and for his brethren, he opened himself up to a strong, personal and unique relationship with Christ. He realized that he was loved by God to an unimaginable degree, and that the same was true for all humanity, and that his life could not continue unless he responded to that love! He had gone in to fulfill a religious duty; he came out a friend of Christ forever!

That was the point of departure for his journey to sainthood, or at least the point of departure of his conversion, of his change of life, of his journey toward priestly ministry.

This evening, we hear Eugene de Mazenod tell us, with St. Paul: “When I came among you, I did not come to announce the mystery of God with lofty human language nor with wisdom. While among you, I wanted to know nothing other than Jesus Christ, the Crucified Messiah.”

Let us too leave aside our spiritual routine. Let us contemplate Christ on the cross. Let us allow ourselves to be touched by the depth of God’s love for us. Let us understand that the superficiality of our lives or of our faith can only lead us to bitterness and deception. Let us be taught by Christ, by the wisdom of the cross, by the power of a life devoted to others, by the infinite love of God for each one of us and for all humanity.

It is in this ceaselessly renewed contemplation that Eugene de Mazenod will place his apostolic zeal, his concern for those who are the little ones, the marginalized. We know that he will never stop organizing parish missions for which he will gather around himself missionaries who will one day become the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. His shepherd’s heart will focus on the most abandoned: domestic servants, peasants, those condemned to death, victims of cholera. He will preach to them in Provençal so that they can understand in their own language that God loves them so much that his dearly beloved Son shed his blood for them too, especially for them. The attention he paid to these little ones will shock those of his own social milieu, just as it still shocks today, especially when concern for them rankles the so-called social balance. His commitment was not political. It was spiritual, in order to live after the manner of his dearly beloved Master and Lord, Jesus Christ, who had come to seek out the suffering and lost sheep.

His motto as a bishop was “Pauperes evangelizantur”, “The good news is being proclaimed to the poor.”

Let us also draw from our contemplation of Christ’s love for all people the zeal needed to proclaim to all their dignity as children of God, and especially to those for whom the material conditions of life could make them doubt: the refugees, the imprisoned, the jobless, the underpaid, the sick, and so many youth who are almost discarded into the trap of easy money. How can we touch each one, how can we see them as Christ sees them? How can we recognize in their faces the features of the suffering Christ? How can we commit ourselves for them and with them?

It was also in this contemplation of the heart of Christ, pierced on the cross for the salvation of the world, that Eugene de Mazenod could hear the call of the far-off missions and would send the first Oblates of Mary Immaculate to Canada, then to Sri Lanka, to South Africa and to the United States. He always took the broad view.

Today’s realities are different. Continuous migration and the breaking down of progress make our own countries the place for first evangelization and of interreligious dialogue. Nor do we forget for a minute the concern for sharing between Churches. Today, four diocesan priests have been sent on mission elsewhere.

During his time as bishop, the population of the diocese doubled. He responded to these changes by creating new parishes and by fostering a missionary spirit among his clergy. He had the wonderful idea of building the present basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde and of starting the construction of our cathedral consecrated to Our Lady of the Assumption. His devotion to the Virgin Mary was deep. The Congregation which he founded has been placed under the protection of Mary Immaculate. Mary…he meditated on her at the foot of the cross as she brought to completion her “yes” at the Annunciation. He saw her assenting to the trials of her Son as she joined her “yes” to His “yes” to the Will of the Father. Eugene de Mazenod would live, united to Christ and the Virgin of Calvary, the trials that he would undergo during his life and ministry. And they did not go lacking!

May Saint Eugene de Mazenod accompany us today! May he intercede for us! May he keep our hearts turned toward the heart of Christ who made of His own life a gift in order to save us from a life that is meaningless, hopeless and inhuman! Learning from him, may we be filled with apostolic zeal for making known to all their dignity as beloved children of God! May our communities be fraternal, open, rooted in the Word of God and the celebration of the sacraments! May they overflow with love and attention to the poor and the unfortunate! May they take care that the Good News be proclaimed to the poor!

May the Virgin Mary, Notre-Dame de la Garde, Mary who stood next to her Son even at the foot of the cross, may she encourage our hope by her faithful, motherly and loving presence! May her beloved Son fill our hearts! May we always have the desire to live in Him, for Him and like Him!