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Tribute to the religious victims of the Commune (France)

Rachel Notteau writes in La Croix, dated 24 May 2021, a tribute to the religious victims of the Commune, including our brothers who were shot in Picpus. We reproduce below in full her text entitled: "À Paris, des hommages en mémoire des victimes religieuses de la Commune".  (Translated:  "In Paris, tributes in memory of the religious victims of the Commune".)

Priests and religious paid a heavy price during the Paris Commune that took place one hundred and fifty years ago.  Many clergymen were executed, including the Archbishop of Paris on 24 May 1871. The Diocese of Paris is paying tribute to them with several events organised from 25 to 30 May.   

On 24 May, 1871, in a narrow corridor of the Roquette prison, six clergymen were lined up in front of a firing squad. One by one they fell, covered in insults and bullets by the communards. Among them was Mgr Georges Darboy, archbishop of Paris. "We were only at the beginning of the bloody drama", wrote Abbé Pierre-Henri Lamazou in a book in 1873, a hostage who witnessed the execution and survived the massacres that occurred during the Paris Commune.

Two days later, ten other religious and forty prisoners left the prison, escorted by a hundred soldiers. They travelled more than four kilometres on foot, agonising under the blows and spitting of the crowd. Towards the end of the day the procession arrived at Cité de Vincennes, Rue Haxo, in the 20th arrondissement of the capital, where the federates (insurgent soldiers of the Paris Commune) had established their last command posts.

For the communards, "neither God nor master".

Before the execution, some communards tried to organise a trial in a hurry, in an attempt to respect the hostage law introduced on 6 April, which stipulated that: "any prisoner of war is to be brought before a jury of indictment". But the general confusion prevented the court martial from taking place and the first shot was fired. Father Henri Planchat, a religious of Saint-Vincent de Paul and nicknamed “a priest of the poor”, fell, as did Father Jean-Marie Sabatier of the diocese of Paris, the seminarian Paul Seigneret, three Jesuits and four Picpusians. Their bodies were then thrown into a mass grave. In two days, sixteen clerics were killed.

FOR DEBATE. Should the Commune be commemorated?

This tragic passage of history is sometimes overlooked because "the number of religious killed is less than the total number of victims during the insurrection", according to Father Stéphane Mayor, parish priest of Notre-Dame des Otages, a church inaugurated in 1938 in memory of these victims. This is why the Archdiocese of Paris wanted to commemorate these events on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Commune, during which the Church paid a heavy price.

From 18 March 1871, the message of the communards was clear: it was to be "Neither God nor master", summarised Father Jacques Benoist, a historian and theologian who has carried out a great deal of research on the subject. The communards first threatened the churches through multiple looting and desecration. Despite the increasingly persistent intimidation, most of the ecclesiastics remained in the capital.

"Archbishop Bishop Darboy stayed because he wanted to be a witness for Jesus," Father Benoist recounts with admiration. But for Father Mayor: "the religious had never imagined that the communards would carry out such atrocities."

The Commune, "an attempt at an anticlerical revolution

The arrests of clerics began during Holy Week. Mgr Darboy was arrested on 4 April, "by his nephew Henri Darboy, who sided with the communards", Father Benoist explains. On 6 April, Holy Thursday, Father Henri Planchat was taken hostage. Most of these religious prisoners spent Easter in a narrow cell. But few of them survived this revolutionary period, which ended on 28 May, two days after the massacre in Rue Haxo. "The Commune was an attempt at an anticlerical revolution. The very clear link under the Second Empire between the Catholic Church and the ruling power was unthinkable for the revolutionaries," says Frédéric Mounier, a former journalist at La Croix and author of the book Le Siège de Paris.

Beatifications: what is the role of the postulator?

"It is very important to give an account of the experience of those who were killed. They were incredible men and good priests," says Father Mayor. A beatification process is underway for Father Planchat and the four Picpus priests killed during the Rue Haxo massacre.  The process is being undertaken jointly by the Congregation of the Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Picpus fathers. "All that is missing is the Pope's approval," stresses Father Mayor, who wants to believe that the beatification of these religious will be announced by October.


A week of tributes

Tuesday 25 May at 6pm. Conference at the church of Notre-Dame des Otages in Paris, led by Father Jacques Benoist, historian and theologian. He will talk about the key moments of this popular revolt.

Wednesday 26 May at 6pm. Requiem Mass in memory of the hostages and martyrs of rue Haxo.

Thursday 27 May at 6pm. Conference by Father Yvon Sabourin, postulator of the cause for the beatification of Father Henri Planchat.

Saturday 29 May at 5pm. Departure from the Square de la Roquette (11th arrondissement) for a procession to the church of Notre-Dame des Otages.

Sunday 30 May 11am. Solemn mass celebrated by Mgr Michel Aupetit, archbishop of Paris.