Tag Archives: Saint Maurice

8 June: Of Syllables and Steps, Singing and Silence: I

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My wife and I often sit together in silence, or work quietly in the garden together, unafraid of the absence of words. It’s the same when I am working at L’Arche Kent’s garden; most of the time we are all of us content just to get on with our tasks quietly. Gardening is a visual art, and like a good film, the action often proceeds in silence – especially the action of the Unseen Gardener.

For our wedding anniversary once we burrowed under the Channel to Lille, where patronal loyalty drew us to Mass at the Church of Saint Maurice. Silence was an effective part of the liturgy, as was that essential component of the motion picture, the movement of people. Blessed with a big church in a depopulated city centre, priests and congregation opened the Word in the nave before processing towards the altar after the homily.

Before the homily – silence.

For some minutes the priests joined the rest of us in contemplation before the preacher opened his lips. All were ready to listen. Silence had allowed us a period of reflection and, dare I say awe; a deeper hearing of the Word that was enhanced by the homily.

All this is a roundabout reflection on today’s Liturgy just before Corpus Christi. I am firmly in the camp that holds that the language at Mass, spoken and unspoken, should be readily understood by those present. Although mostly the priest is addressing God, there is no need for long or rare words – the Lord knows what we want to say even before we do. What can I give him, poor as I am? I can raise my heart and mind to him, but I often find myself deliberately switching the mind off, as the translation we have now is a stumbling block, inelegant, inharmonious; puzzling rather than enlightening.

And yet …

MMB

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10 October, Month of Mission, humbly at their service.

door st Maurice

The Month of Mission gives us another chance to reflect on the Martyrs of Algeria, beatified on December 8 last year. The Martyrs’ Door at the Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland, unites the names of Bishop Pierre Claverie and Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver and friend, who died with him in a bomb attack. We should remember that many Muslims, including imams, were also killed by the fundamentalist rebels.

We share part of a reflection by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Missionary of Africa, taken from the February 2019 White Fathers magazine.

I knew them all … The four Missionaries of Africa who were martyred at the town of Tizi-Ouzou were all very different: Alain Dieulangard, involved in the charismatic movement; Charles Deckers, practical, adapting well to local conditions; Jean Chevillard, a born leader; Christian Chessel, the young intellectual.

They were nevertheless united, for they had all drunk from the same source: the instructions that Cardinal Lavigèrie had given to the Missionaries of Africa: love those to whom one has been sent, make an effort to learn their language and speak it well, get to know and appreciate their traditions and customs, show respect for their religious beliefs, put oneself humbly at their service in all sorts of ways – all of these aspects of the spirit of Lavigèrie could be found in these four men, each one in his own way. The testimonies of both Christians and Muslims confirm this.

It can be added to this that all four were deeply spiritual persons, men of prayer, who wanted to serve the Lord and not their own interests. This is why they felt very much at ease within the project of the Church of Algeria which Bishop Claverie described in the following way: “We are, and we want to be, missionaries of God’s love, that love which we have discovered in Jesus Christ. This love, infinitely respectful of human beings, does not impose itself, does not impose anything in fact, bringing no force to bear on consciences or hearts. With gentleness, and by its very presence, it frees whatever is bound in chains, it reconciles that which is torn apart, it raises up that which is crushed, brings new life where there was no hope and no strength”.

In a reflection written one month before his death Christian Chessel tried to provide a synthesis of this approach in what he called “Mission in weakness”. “To recognize, welcome, and accept one’s own weakness would seem to be a necessary, inevitable, preliminary step,” he wrote, “especially for a missionary”. This allows one to forge with those men and women to whom one has been sent relations characterized by an absence of power, or, according to another favourite expression of Christian, “by the language of discreta caritas”.

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22 September: Saint Maurice, a book review.

Looking back, I realise that my teacher Miss ‘Killer’ was an ignorant woman. She ridiculed children who had not been baptised with what she considered to be appropriate saints’ names. ‘There’s never been a Saint June!’ she once spat, instead of saying, ‘You could stick with Saint Jane or Saint Joan.’ As for ‘Royston’! ‘What kind of a name is that?’ Life was miserable if you were on the wrong side of her, as a good 75% of us regularly were. I’m glad she did not pick up on the idea that Saint Maurice did not exist; it would have been another stick to beat me with. And I mean beat.

The theory was that since there were no contemporary accounts of Maurice and his companions, they were more likely a group of saints invented to make sense of a mass grave found in Switzerland in 383 AD, said to have been Christian legionaries executed for refusing an immoral order.

Donald O’Reilly in Lost Legion Rediscovered  settles the Question to his and my satisfaction: there was a Christian Theban legion – from the Egyptian Thebes, not the Greek one – and in the late 3rd Century civil war its members were killed in great numbers for disobeying an immoral order, and this happened not only in Switzerland’s town that bears his name but across North West Europe.

O’Reilly’s detective work is well worth reading, giving insight into Roman civil and military life of the time, and into Christian attitudes to military service. Yes, St Maurice did exist, an African in Europe, which is why his town is now the focus for the annual African pilgrimage to the saints of Africa every June.

Here is part of a speech attributed to Maurice by a later writer (p121 of O’Reilly’s book).

Our right hands know how to fight against wicked men and enemies; they do not know how to cut into pieces innocent men and fellow citizens. We remember we took up arms on behalf of citizens rather than against citizens. We have always fought on behalf of justice, on behalf of the safety of the innocent; up to the present time this has been the reward of our dangers. We have fought on behalf of the faith; and how are we to keep our faith towards you – the words are addressed to the emperor – if we do not show forth faith to God?

 

Donald O’Reilly, Lost Legion Rediscovered, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2011.

MMB

 

 

 

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26 April: A wonderful coming together: 17th Pilgrimage to the Saints of Africa at St Maurice, Switzerland, Sunday 3 June, 2018

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The courage of a fully lived faith: The Martyrs of Uganda

This pilgrimage will take place at Saint Maurice in Switzerland on June 3 2018. It will focus on Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions, the Martyrs of Uganda, canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

The Abbey of Saint Maurice (which houses the relics of Saint Maurice and his companions of the Theban Legion, Africans who were martyred here in Roman times) invites you to join in this event.

A dozen African choirs from French and German speaking will lead this prayerful gathering.

The Programme will include:

from 9:00: Gather at the Parish Church of Saint Sigismond, in Saint Maurice town.

10:00: Opening of the Pilgrimage by Fr Jean Scarcella, Abbot of Saint Maurice. Address given by Fr Gerard Chabanon, former Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa and former provincial of Uganda.

11:00: Prayer and Praise, Sacrament of Reconciliation.

12:30: Bring-your-own picnic in the dining room of St Maurice’s College.

14:30: Procession to the Basilica of Saint Maurice.

15:00: Marian Prayer, Litany of the Saints, Festive Celebration in the Abbey Basilica.
16:00: Sending forth on Mission

Prayer Vigil in the Basilica, Saturday June 2, from 8.00

http://abbaye-stmaurice.ch

Contacts : Marie-Christine Begey pelerinages@stmaurice.ch
Chanoine M-A Rey reydewer@stmaurice.ch                                                                                     P. Claude Maillard c.maillard@africanum.ch
M. Ferdinand Ilunga, coordination des chorales ilkof2001@yahoo.fr

Posted by MMB.

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14 March: Telling the Truth, I.

samaritanwoman

Sometimes Jesus spoke the truth directly and was understood directly, as when he met the woman at the well. Even then, his talk of living water confused her (John 4). At other times he spoke the truth in parables, challenging what William Blake prized: the imagination.

We find Paul, the trained lawyer, trying to speak the truth through logical argument; the writer to the Hebrews as well. And that’s just the New Testament.

In this time of ‘fake news’ I was thinking of the problems of speaking truth so as to be understood, without watering down or distorting the message. Then I read this post  from the John Rylands Library in Manchester, looking at the problem as it concerns the librarians trying to catalogue items fully and accurately.

It’s worth reading and it’s also worth looking at the missionary slides that Jessica Smith, the writer, has been working on. I hope and pray that my researches into the archives will be interpreted faithfully and warts and all, and written with clarity and charity.

MMB

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17th Pilgrimage to the Saints of Africa at St Maurice, Switzerland, Sunday 3 June, 2018

stmaurice.pilgrims

The courage of a fully lived faith: The Martyrs of Uganda

This pilgrimage will take place at Saint Maurice in Switzerland on June 3 2018. It will focus on Charles Lwanga and his 21 companions, the Martyrs of Uganda, canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

The Abbey of Saint Maurice (which houses the relics of Saint Maurice and his companions of the Theban Legion, Africans who were martyred here in Roman times) invites you to join in this event.

A dozen African choirs from French and German speaking will lead this prayerful gathering.

The Programme will include:

from 9:00: Gather at the Parish Church of Saint Sigismond, in Saint Maurice town.

10:00: Opening of the Pilgrimage by Fr Jean Scarcella, Abbot of Saint Maurice. Address given by Fr Gerard Chabanon, former Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa and former provincial of Uganda.

11:00: Prayer and Praise, Sacrament of Reconciliation.

12:30: Bring-your-own picnic in the dining room of St Maurice’s College.

14:30: Procession to the Basilica of Saint Maurice.

15:00: Marian Prayer, Litany of the Saints, Festive Celebration in the Abbey Basilica.
16:00: Sending forth on Mission

Prayer Vigil in the Basilica, Saturday June 2, from 8.00

http://abbaye-stmaurice.ch

Contacts : Marie-Christine Begey pelerinages@stmaurice.ch
Chanoine M-A Rey reydewer@stmaurice.ch                                                                                     P. Claude Maillard c.maillard@africanum.ch
M. Ferdinand Ilunga, coordination des chorales ilkof2001@yahoo.fr

Posted by MMB.

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September 22, Feast of St Maurice: Pilgrimage in honour of the Saints of Africa.

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This event takes place each year at Saint Maurice in Switzerland on the Sunday after the Feast of the Uganda Martyrs. For its sixteenth gathering the Pilgrimage to the Saints of Africa gave a special place to the Coptic communities of Egypt.

 

Despite the wet weather on this Pentecost Day, the pilgrims brought themselves from across Switzerland to Saint Maurice in the Canton of Valais, and gathered at the church of Saint Sigismond.

The morning resounded to the rhythms of the singing pilgrims, who came from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo, Togo, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cap Verde, all alongside the Egyptian Copts. The witness of Mgr Bishay, the Egyptian Bishop of Luxor, opened people’s hearts to the Spirit of God who is active to this day in the hearts of Egypt’s Christians.

Luxor in Upper Egypt is the home town of Sant Maurice and his Companions of the Theban Legion, martyred around the year 300 at Augane, the place know today as Saint Maurice in Valais.

Bishop Bishay testified that Christians in the Middle Eat are paying with their lives for the simple fact that they are Christians, falling victim to religious intolerance. He insisted forcefully that anyone who claims to kill in God’s name does not in fact know God.

The pilgrimage drew to a close at the basilica in a festive Eucharist, opening with the Litany of the Saints, including Antony the Great of Egypt and the Blessed Martyrs Maurice and his Companions. They live forever in Divine Light.

This pilgrimage gathers Africans from across Switzerland to celebrate according to their own culture and outlook. It also offers a window through which one can see the rich traditions of Africa.

Text and photos from The Missionaries of Africa in Switzerland.

Mgr Ayad Bishay, Bishop of Luxor in Upper Egypt. The Zurich African choir, at the parish church of Saint Sigismond. Mgr Bishay with pilgrims at the entrance to the basilica of St Maurice. gr Bishay with Abbot of St Maurice Jean Scarcella.

More information and photos here:

https://www.cath.ch/newsf/les-coptes-degypte-au-coeur-de-la-16e-edition-du-pelerinage-aux-saints-dafrique/

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October 17: Tarnished Offerings

samaritanwoman

Mosaic, Baptistery, Basilica of St Maurice, Valais, Switzerland 

R.S. Thomas had a holy well in his parish, sacred to Mary:

‘… Ignoring my image I peer down

to the quiet roots of it, where

the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

 

The Samaritan woman asked Jesus: ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.’ (John 4:13–15) Like her, those visiting Mary’s Well may have mixed or inarticulate motives: thanks for the water, but ‘asking for more’? Possibly healing, as at Saint Winifride’s Holywell or fertility?  At Saint Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire, we heard a party of pagans descending to hold a service in the water; one removing some of her clothing as we walked by. It did not seem opportune to ask whom they were worshipping.

In Bath Romans cast money into the water as an offering to Minerva. This ceased after the pious Emperor Theodosius I forbade offerings to pagan gods. But today’s tarnished offerings? Thomas says the ‘pure spirit that has lived there always’ accepts them.

Jesus led the conversation on from water, telling the woman: ‘God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:24)  R.S. Thomas invites us to plunge beyond introspection to offer thanks to a loving Creator rather than trying to force the hand of a coin-in-the-slot robot deity.

MMB.

 

 

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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30 August: Algeria III: Muslim martyrs for their Christian brothers.

 

The great doors to the ancient Abbey of St Maurice in Switzerland, celebrating its 1500th year in 2015, bear the names of Christian martyrs. There are the Apostles; there are the Africans of the Theban Legion, led by Maurice himself, martyred on this spot. Becket and Boniface represent England.

door st Maurice

From Saint Maurice’s home continent of Africa, among the martyrs of Algeria, next to the name of Bishop Pierre Claverie we read that of Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver, assassinated with him. After them come the monks (moines) of Notre Dame d’Atlas at Tibhirine. Christian de Chergé, martyred Prior of the monastery, told how his friend, an Algerian policeman also named Mohamed, had been killed after intervening to protect him from aggressors in the street.

These two Mohameds gave their lives for their Christian friends – as de Chergé said, the greatest token of love a man could give. They accepted the gift of quiet presence and service offered by the Church in post-Colonial Algeria. Countless other Muslims continue to do so and to make Christians welcome in their communities.

MMB.

Monastery of Notre Dame d’Atlas, Tibhirine: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monastere_de_tibhirine.jpg by Gamecult

 

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July 30: Pierre and Mohamed, Martyrs Together.

stMaurice.Claverie.Muhamed

The great doors of the ancient Abbey of Saint Maurice in Switzerland are modern but in keeping with what is a place of martyrdom. Here the soldiers Maurice, Victor and their companions were martyred for not obeying unjust orders. They were Roman Africans from what is now the Egypt-Sudanese border.

The doors bear the names of martyrs down the ages. On this panel we see, among others, Saint Oscar Romero, the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, and Bishop Pierre Claverie and his driver and handiman, Mohamed Bouchikhi. The story of the monks has been told in the film Of Gods and Men, but Pierre and Mohamed are less well-know, at least in English speaking circles. I invite you to remember them today as they were killed on August 1, 1996 – just twenty years ago.

Pierre Claverie OP was born in Algeria, though living in the French Community there, he had little contact with the Muslim majority. His Dominican vocation brought him back to the now independent land of his birth, living much closer to the ordinary people. He was appointed Bishop of Oran in 1981. He remained at his post during the upheavals of the following years, and was awaiting Algerian citizenship at the time of his death.

Intolerant Islamists set a booby trap bomb outside his home; the blood of Pierre and Mohamed was mingled together, two sons of Algeria, two brothers, two sons of Adam.

Mohamed and many other Muslims have accepted the gift of quiet presence and service offered by the Church in post-Colonial Algeria, and continue to do so and to make Christians welcome in their communities.

St Maurice is a place of Pilgrimage for Africans who gather to remember their martyrs on the nearest weekend to the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda in June.

MMB

 

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