Editor: This is the first part of a major presentation given by Fr. Henryk Przeździecki to a group of European La Salette Laity, gathered at the La Salette Shine in Dębowiec, Poland, Sept. 11-15 of 2014.
The Apparition of La Salette is a special event that happened in 1846 but certainly did not happen in a vacuum. The world around effected and was included in the Apparition because they were burning concerns of “her people.”
European Social Environment in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
Since the 1830s, Europe saw a huge growth industry, but suffered from overproduction. It was not possible to sell the products, despite falling prices. Many factories were forced to close. Common laborers in the factories were working 12-16 hours – including children. The quality of life of the workers was scandalous but there were no means of protest.
Across the continent, countries were suffering from growing unemployment. The working class claimed bread and work. The years 1845-46 saw bad harvests, especially in France, Ireland, Bohemia and Galicia (the area currently straddling the border between Poland and the Ukraine), with disease destroying the potato crops. Agricultural products were beginning to run low and prices were escalating dramatically because of transport costs.
Europe in Disarray
Widespread revolutionary movements arose in many countries, including France, Italy and Poland. In the Paris of 1843, Carl Marx, along with Frederick Engels, drew up their philosophical and anthropological theory, which explained the history of the world according to his own vision.
In June of 1846 Pope Pius IX was elected. Although conservative by nature, the new pope freed all political prisoners by giving amnesty to revolutionaries, which horrified the conservative monarchies in the Austrian Empire and elsewhere.
In 1846 there was a Polish uprising in Krakow followed by insurrections in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tsarist Russia and a peasant revolt in Galicia.
The Hamlet of La Salette vs. the Europe of 1846?
What influence could this situation in Europe at large have on the village of La Salette? The problems of this region were not larger than others, but they were not without importance. The people in La Salette and nearby Corps were no better or no worse than anyone else. In fact in the town of Corps there existed a prayer group names the Heart of Mary, who prayed for the conversion of their people. But the events of the Europe of the mid-nineteenth century are certainly reflected even in those villages and hamlets, far from any major cities.
Communication – Primitive but Effective
As Mary mentions to the two children at La Salette, rotting potatoes were a concern to the people in the region around La Salette. The Route of Napoleon, on which the village of Corps in located, was a vital vehicle of communication at that time. All ideas were passing through the carriages which brought people and goods to and through the area. Therefore many local inhabitants were well-versed in ideas coming from of Paris and far-flung capitals.
The Apparition at La Salette caused wide interest, even in the larger cities, bringing nobles as well as peasants by the thousands to visit the site of the Apparition. The questioning nature of the people of that age and area caused challenges to the veracity of the Apparition. For some commoners the event was a direct voice from Heaven, and for others it was a simply a fake.
For five years the Catholic Church was silent, performing its due diligence in a most professional manner. While the number of pilgrims was constantly increasing, the final official approbation of the Apparition came through Bishop Philibert de Bruillard, in 1852, and his founding of a diocesan group named, “the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette.”
La Salette – A Grace for the Church
La Salette was and is not only a grace for the Church, but also an opportunity to teach the basics of faith to Mary’s people. Although the primary purpose of the Apparition doesn’t seem to be the social context of the area surrounding La Salette, it is a call to active faith in God, yet surrounded by society’s concerns for self-survival, catastrophic diseases, lack of food and the welfare of families. The words of the message contain the challenges of that time with a promise for a better future – “If they are converted...”
Why Did Mary Visit La Salette?
From the text of the La Salette Apparition, we learn through Mary that:
• God seeks after those of his children who turn away from him; he respects their will, and does not want them to act like animals – “they go to butcher shop like dogs.”
• God wants everyone to believe in Jesus, reverence his only Son’s death and resurrection and actively live their faith daily.
• God wants us to do those things that strengthen our faith; that is, reverence the name of Jesus and the Sabbath day of rest; celebrate the Eucharist; pray each day and use the Lenten habits of faith; and make her message known.
Mary’s call to conversion is as direct as Jesus’ call to carry his cross and follow him. Mary is certainly echoing her only Son’s invitation to faith, using her tears as our Mother, her prophetic yet reconciling words to her wayward people, her expression of loving compassion to her sometimes fearful and hesitant children and, finally, her invitation for us to take up her message and share it with all her people.
Giving the Gospel a Face and a Heart
The social evils of that day entered into her message because her people were suffering from the ravages of the failing crops and diseases that were ravaging the helpless infants of that time. Her specific attention to their worry in struggling to feed their children was therefore her concern, also reflecting that God cares for our struggles and reaches out to lift us up. Her message is not new but her words and actions give the Gospel a face and a heart, with words of correction and consolation, and giving us a mission to fulfill.
The message of La Salette reinforces the values and mission of her Son. Just as Mary at La Salette states: “...you will make this (message) known to all my people”, so too her Son asks and encourages us to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them..., teaching them...” And he concludes by giving these encouraging and hope-filled words: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).