Summertime for many people is vacation time but here on the Mountain of La Salette in France this is our high season. It is an absolutely beautiful, peaceful place unless you minister to our pilgrims and many vacationing visitors. Most of the time I feel like I’m leading the life of a busy Martha in the gospel of Luke:
As (Jesus and his disciples) continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
In this gospel lesson I hear that there are some who are called to be “Marthas” and some who are called to be “Marys”. Of course, I am busy being Martha most of my day.
Busy About Many Things
For example, each day, there is an average of 350 pilgrims sleeping here plus 150 staff and volunteers. That’s a lot of people to feed! The responsibility of the religious programs for the pilgrims is the Rector’s, Fr. Manuel dos Reis Bonfim, M.S. He is from Brazil and has been at the Shrine for three years now.
My ministry is to supervise the staff and volunteers to make sure that all our physical services are in order. That consumes a lot of time because staff members get sick and need to be replaced. As with any large household, emergency events like the ice machine not making enough ice or the dishwasher breaking down can be complicated when you live in such a remote place as the top of a mountain in the French Alps. It seems that there’s always someone at my door with a problem or concern.
Our Volunteers Are Our Sustaining Gift
Last evening, I had the Mass with our volunteers. Each Saturday night there is the “International Mass” at 9:30 pm, after our day’s work is done. In July – our busiest month – we have 96 volunteers (or bénévoles) from 14 countries: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Spain, France, Hungry, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Rumania, Russia, Slovakia and the Ukraine.
At this time of year, most of the volunteers are college age kids because school is out. They usually come here for a month without salary. We give them 11 Euros per day to cover their travel expenses only.
Communication is difficult because they often don’t understand each other’s language but somehow they manage to communicate. They work in the kitchen, dishwashing, Snack Bar, restaurant, laundry, cleaning rooms, reception desk, Basilica, etc. All, whether young or old, work 8 hour days. I marvel at their dedication and stamina.
As an American, I wonder why we don’t have many volunteers from the United States. It would be a great experience for some of our young people – and even for those not so young. Last month, our oldest volunteer celebrated her eight-fourth birthday with us. She has been coming here for eighteen years as a volunteer; and is the mother of twelve children!
Our Shrine Grounds and Panorama
The Shrine is surrounded by mountains and fields. At least once a year, the hay needs to be cut. There has been a group of men and women who come once a year to cut our rolling fields. In three days, the work is done. The group comes from the area of Lyon and this effort has been going on for over twenty years.
Some in the original group have passed on to God but, in French family fashion, their grandchildren have taken their places and are now coming each year. It’s good to see the young people because the work will continue year after year. A group of eight Boy Scouts from Paris were also here to help in the effort.
Our International Programs
This year, for the entire month of July, we have been fortunate to have forty-eight La Salette Brothers and Sisters taking part in our Program for Perpetual Profession (PPP). It prepares these young LA Salette temporarily professed Brothers and Sisters to make their Perpetual Profession of Vows as La Salette Missionaries and La Salette Sisters. They represent some ten countries.
A Family Affair
On July 26th twenty-six of them will take final vows in the Basilica. Others will take their final vows in their own home countries. Among those professing on July 26th will be Fr. Flavio Gillio. Actually his parents have been here from Turin, Italy working as volunteers. Rosella works in the kitchen; Germano, her husband, slips his time between dishwashing and working in our accounting office. They are both delighted to be here with their son.
I first met Fr. Flavio five years ago in Jerusalem. He was a Jesuit priest teaching scripture at the University and guiding groups who were visiting Israel. Until five years ago, he had never even heard of La Salette. He is now a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette. God works in strange ways in each of our lives.
Fr. Gene Barrette, M.S., Has Gone Back to God
Some of you may have known of heard of Fr. Eugene Barrette, M.S. He was our Superior General from 1982-1988. He preached a Lenten Retreat at my parish, Our Lady of the Cape in Brewster, MA., some fifteen years ago. The theme was “The Three Faces of God,” and had almost completed a book on this same topic. He died of cancer on July 6, 2015, in Hartford, CT.
As is customary with all those who serve as La Salette Superior Generals, they have the right to be buried at La Salette on the Holy Mountain. On Saturday, July 25, we celebrated a Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Gene at 10:30am in the Basilica with his cremains present. They will be placed in the mausoleum of the La Salette Missionaries here at the Shrine in our cemetery which faces the Basilica.
I last saw Fr. Gene in December of 2014 when he came to Cape Cod to visit me. He was facing his third bout with cancer. Since he knew that I was being assigned soon to France, he frankly told me: “I’m glad you will be at La Salette to receive my ashes.”
Our ministry here on the Holy Mountain of La Salette is an important one, a ministry originally begun by Bishop de Bruillard, so many years ago. May we continue to be a witness to the charism of reconciliation for all to see.
The Beginning and Future of our Ministry
As many of us know, on September 19, 1851, after “a precise and rigorous investigation” of the event, the witnesses, the content of the message, and its repercussions, Philibert de Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble, pronounced his judgment in a pastoral letter of instruction. He declared that “the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to two shepherds, September 19, 1846, on a mountain in the Alps, located in the parish of La Salette... bears within itself all the characteristics of truth and that the faithful have grounds for believing it to be indubitable and certain.”
In another pastoral letter, dated May 1,1852, the Bishop of Grenoble announced the construction of this very Shrine on the mountain of the apparition, and went on to say: “However important the erection of a Shrine may be, there is something still more important, namely the ministers of religion destined to look
after it, to receive the pious pilgrims, to preach the word of God to them, to exercise towards them the ministry of reconciliation, to administer the Holy Sacrament of the altar, and to be, to all, the faithful dispensers of the mysteries of God and the spiritual treasures of the Church.”
“These priests shall be called the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette; their institution and existence shall be, like the Shrine itself, an eternal monument, a perpetual remembrance, of Mary's merciful apparition.”
May our mission continue to be strong, supported not only by the prayers of our countless pilgrims but also by the many people who are a vital part of this important ministry here on the Holy Mountain of La Salette.