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In solidarity with the martyrs of Picpus (Rome)

Tuesday, 6th September marked the second day of the meeting of the Commission of Spiritual and Historical Patrimony of the Congregation and theology students. The day began in Via Aurelia with a prayer prepared by Ana Lucia Gonzalez.

Alberto Toutin, contributed to the day by presenting some stimulating facts regarding the martyrs of Picpus. The martyrs are described as members of our family in the 1862 edition of INFO (Alberto is holding it in his hands) and which Saint Damien would have read. When Damien read INFO, he read the story of one of his formators, Ladislas Radigue. At the time of reading the story he had not yet left for Molokai. The consequence of having read INFO marked another step for him. Alberto’s hope is that some brother or sister reading INFO will be a saint one day. Damien was martyred, though in a way different than his novice master, Ladislas.
 
Some elements to give context to these brothers: they did ordinary work (novice master, procurator, general secretary...). In their ordinary ministry they were giving their lives on a daily basis. When violence came, they had been preparing for it for a long time. Their martyrdom was not something improvised. The house in Picpus had become a field hospital during the siege of Paris (1870). There were 1000 people living in the house, including the sick, brothers, sisters, nurses, etc. Before that, one of the situations affecting Paris was the developing history regarding the new industrial proletariat, whereby very poor people were required for the new industries, in which where mostly children worked. The Prussian siege also meant famine. In addition to this, the civil guard in Paris decided not to pay the salaries of those defending the city. There was a huge protest and many soldiers joined the Paris Commune movement, which wanted independence from France.
 
The brothers and sisters perceived that there was a growing aggressiveness against the Church. They had to make a decision - to stay in Paris or go to other houses outside Paris. Some young sisters left for communities outside Paris and a small group stayed with the Superior General, Benjamine Le Blais. The brothers made their discernment. Father Radigue decided, together with the community, that those who wished to could leave. The brothers finally decided to stay in Picpus for these reasons: it was felt unlikely that anything happen to a small congregation outside the city? Secondly, they would rather be accused of being imprudent than cowards. Another criterion was not to leave the elderly and sick brothers alone and not to leave the local communities without ministers. These were the pastoral criteria for discernment: whatever happens, be useful to the Church.
 
Two other elements can be added to the context: in all circumstances of persecution the question is “why not us?” A growing feeling against the Church that was perceived as distant, that overly associated with the elite and privileged, and which was out of tune with the new poor of the city of Paris. The Church became the target of social unrest. In 1846, there was an apparition of the image of the Virgin of La Salette who was weeping because her priests were far from her people. Apparitions always have a social and ecclesial dimension. Apparitions should not be quickly spiritualised.
 
We have some testimonies from the brothers. 84 sscc sisters were in prison, including the Superior General. Polycarpe Tuffier only asked that his breviary be brought to him in prison, because it would soon the feast of the Trinity and Pentecost: "I cannot do without it". His spiritual nourishment is the breviary. What book would we ask for in prison? Frézal Tardieu wrote a prayer some seven years before his martyrdom, asking for the grace of martyrdom. What are our personal prayers? 
 
There was no possibility of celebrating the Eucharist in prison. On the first day, a laywoman who accompanied the Jesuits sent small loaves of bread with a message: "Tomorrow you will be fed with delicacies". The next day, she managed to bring in some jam jars, inside which were envelopes with consecrated hosts, a few days before they were taken to the scaffold. Father Planchat, a religious of St. Vincent de Paul, who was to be beatified, wrote to his brother: "I am here with a group of ecclesiastics and the monsignor at the head. We are definitely hostages, ready to be shot at any moment. We were able to confess and our sacrifice is made. I am not sad. Pray for me and for all those living in the Mazas prison".
 
Alberto proposed a reading of the letter of Ladislas Radigue to the Superior General, that was written when he was in prison. In this letter he relates what had happened to him during his time in prison, and speaks about his spiritual life, and what was going on around him. 
 
A question for ourselves could be this: what and where are the sources of our spirituality? 
 
During the Eucharist, presided over by Valentinus Ritan, we shared our reflections.
 
In the afternoon, we visited the chambers of the Gesù church in Rome, led by Gonzalo Silva, formator of the international Jesuit house for undergraduates. Gonzalo connected the history of Jesuit spirituality to the various chambers and the intuitions of St. Ignatius. We could see how such places maintain even today the spirituality of the family. It was a way of seeing how a religious family remembers the intuitions of the Founder.
 
 
* Photo gallery: https://acortar.link/8TKpLZ
* Video of the beginning of the prayer: https://bit.ly/3CXcPVR
* Video on the Ignatian rooms: https://bit.ly/3RlDqjV
* Link to documentation on our brother martyrs of the Commune: https://bit.ly/3Bjq7Lq
 

09/07/2022