by MICHAEL LORETZ
It was a special day for 500 people who gathered in the north Canterbury village of Leithfield at the Fourvière House of Prayer and Retreat for the opening of the new Shrine of Our Lady of Fourvière.
On December 7, Bishop Patrick Le Gal of the Archdiocese of Lyon in France unveiled a new statue of Our Lady, which is a replica of the historic golden statue of Our Lady of Fourvière, which stands at the top of the basilica on the hill of Fourvière overlooking Lyon.
Fourvière is significant to Oceania because many of the first missionaries to this area, including St Peter Chanel, Suzanne Aubert and Bishop Pompallier all went to Fourvière to dedicate their mission to Our Lady, before setting out.
At Leithfield, the crowd spontaneously sighed in appreciation as the statue was revealed. The French bishop, who, coincidentally, was celebrating both his anniversary of priestly ordination and ordination as a bishop, said to the people, “Even though the statue in Leithfield is a lot smaller than the one in Lyon, I have noticed here in New Zealand your hearts are at least
Bishop Le Gal presented a special gift he had brought from Lyon — a nineteenth century painting of a young girl praying to Our Lady of Fourvière. He explained that this girl, and others who had prayed at the shrine and received graces or miracles, were inspired to commission “ex voto” paintings of themselves praying there, and then donated them in gratitude. This particular painting, created in 1836, was gifted to the shrine at Lyon around the same time as Bishop Pompallier was visiting Fourvière
in preparation for his New Zealand mission.
During the Mass, Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, blessed the new statue, which was made in France and shipped to Leithfield. In his homily, Bishop Martin emphasised the importance of spreading the Good News “even to the ends of the earth”.
With a smile, he said to Bishop Le Gal, “I know you now will have a new appreciation of what that means”. He then challenged the people to be missionaries to their families and communities, just as the first missionaries had brought the light of Christ to this nation.
As dusk fell, the Blessed Sacramant was processed around Fourvière House of Prayer and Retreat, accompanied by people bearing candles. Some then stayed through the night in adoration under the stars. This type of procession, known as the “Festival of Lights”, is a long-held tradition at Fourvière in Lyon on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The event in Leithfield was the first of what will now become an annual “Festival of Lights” at the new shrine.
The event, organised for the 25th jubilee of the presence of the Community of the Beatitudes in New Zealand, also coincided with the anniversary of final vows for Sr Thérèse Assémat, who leads the Community in New Zealand.
Sr Therese told the people that the shrine is a place for families and individuals to come, to rest, to bring their picnics, to pray and to come
closer to Jesus.
See www.fourviere.nz for more information. In New Zealand, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated on December 9, 2019.