Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Priest's simple faith saved souls
Jean-Marie Vianney's dedication to his wayward parishioners won their respect
St. Jean-Marie Vianney — August 4
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
The good Pere of tiny Ars would be amazed to see what has been done there in his honour. Memorials commemorating this model of Christian humility would be foreign to the famous curé but are anxiously sought out by the thousands of pilgrims who visit the scenes of his life every year.
Born in 1786 near the central French city of Lyon, Jean-Marie Vianney spent his youth as a field hand and received little education.
Devoted to Christ
Then, determined to devote his life to Christ, he entered the seminary, was drafted into the army, deserted and hid out until an amnesty in 1810 allowed him to resume his vocation. Despite serious difficulties in his studies, his obvious piety and goodness convinced his teachers to stretch the requirements and he was ordained in 1815.
Two years later, Jean-Marie was assigned to a remote and derelict parish.
To follow in the footsteps of the curé, travellers must go a few kilometres north of Lyon to miniscule Ars-en-Dombe. Too small to appear on most road maps, it's in the department of Ain, just east of the Rhone River.
Visitors are greeted at the town's outskirts by a monument entitled The Meeting. It shows the saint thanking a young shepherd for directions to the village and promising in return that he would show the boy the way to heaven.
Beyond the statue, across the placid stream of Le Fontblin, most pilgrims will first seek out the parish rectory, preserved with its meagre furnishings much as it was when the saint died.
Once at his posting, Jean-Marie zealously set out to assume responsibility for the salvation of all 250 residents of Ars. Initially, disbelief met his attempts to curtail cursing, dancing and working on Sundays, but his parishioners soon came to appreciate his intense desire to care for them. He slept on the floor, ate one meal a day and spent his spare time in preaching-teaching and rapt adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
He restored the old neglected church and tried to repair the anti-religious physical and spiritual effects of the French Revolution. Sought after to hear confessions, he acquired a reputation for being able to see into people's consciences. Eventually he was spending up to 16 hours a day in the confessional, attracting penitents from a broad area of central France.
Side chapels intact
Today, the five side chapels that he added to the church are much as they were in his day, honouring for example, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist and the Guardian Angels.
Plans to build a bigger church to accommodate ever-larger crowds were not realized during the curé's lifetime. The present ornate basilica, attached to the rear of the old church and dedicated to his favourite dear little saint (Philomena) contains chapels devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and St. Vianney. The objective of most visitors to the shrine though, is the reliquary containing the intact body of the saint.
Final destination for most pilgrims is the ornate Chapel of the Curé's Heart. In it is a much copied white marble kneeling statue of the holy curé.
Worn out with his ministry, the good father died in 1859, honoured by his country's government and respected by all. Canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, Jean-Marie Vianney was named patron saint of all parish priests.
On his feast day, the response as taken from Psalm 95 "we are the people he pastures, the flock that he guides," could well be a reflection on the determined mission of the St. Curé of Ars.
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