by MICHAEL LORETZ
The 2020 Fourvière Festival of Lights, held on December 5 near Christchurch, was a blessed event, with some 250 pilgrims from throughout New Zealand present. A beautiful Mass was celebrated at the Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Light (Whaea o te Mārama) by Bishop Paul Martin, SM, with Fr Alan Jones, SM, Fr Thanh Tran, Fr Gregoire of the Community of the Beatitudes, and newly-ordained Fr Ben D’Souza, SM, concelebrating.
The shrine itself was installed last year, and was opened and blessed at the first Festival of Lights in New Zealand. Since then, Fourvière, Leithfield, has become a sanctuary, and the life of the apostolate has begun to flourish. A new pilgrim shelter is a popular addition to the sanctuary.
In his homily at the December 5 Mass, Bishop Martin noted that the Virgin Mary was rightly perplexed at the angel’s request at the Annunciation.
“A sensible person, if ever there was one,” Bishop Martin said. “But in her heart, she was attuned to the things of God. In her heart was a desire to do whatever it was that God asked of her, and so she said ‘yes’. She didn’t lay out a series of conditions, she simply acknowledged who she was in the eyes of God, namely his handmaiden, and she trusted in God’s love and plan for her.”
“What a beautiful and powerful model for each one of us to, in turn, be inspired by and to imitate. It is why Catholic people have always had such a deep devotion and connection to Our Lady, because she is ‘us’,” the bishop added.
“Certainly, she had the fact of being prepared perfectly through her Immaculate Conception, but she still had to choose to say ‘yes’. And in her saying ‘yes’, and in the life that followed, and in the life of Christian people since then, she has had such a powerful influence, through her intercession, her inspiration and even her appearances over the ages, to bring people to a deeper love of her Son.
“This is what we see in this image of Our Lady of Fourvière. Here is a place in France where the faith has inspired so many, and we in New Zealand are the direct recipients of that.”
In the 19th Century, many missionary orders flowed out from Fourvière in Lyon, France. These included the Society of Mary, the Mission Sisters, the Venerable Suzanne Aubert, who was to found the Sisters of Compassion, and many more. And it was from Fourvière that the first Catholic missionaries to Oceania set out. That first voyage included Bishop Pompallier and Saint Peter Chanel, Oceania’s first martyr.
“This connection is deep for us,” Bishop Martin said, “and we are its direct descendants, and for this reason alone it is enough to make this sanctuary a place of thanks and gratitude to God for the power of his Spirit at work.”
The December 5 evening at Leithfield bore all the hallmarks of the Beatitudes Community, with elements of Latin, Byzantine and Jewish traditions combined seamlessly with a rich local heritage, with hymns in Te Reo Māori, and the all-important kiwi sausage sizzle and picnic. After a picnic dinner, the crowd joined in Jewish dancing, led by Sr Monica, on the deck of the pilgrim shelter and overflowing through the garden. Having recently arrived in New Zealand from Denver, Colorado, and having been cleared from quarantine just days before, Sr Monica, who is originally from Mangere in Auckland, felt right at home among her new community.
The Festival of Lights is a tradition which developed at Fourvière in Lyon when, on December 8, 1852, two years before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated, a golden statue of Mary was installed at the top of the Basilica. That evening, the procession that was planned had to be called off because of heavy rain, so the people of the town lit lanterns and displayed them from their windows. Since then, hundreds gather each year for the Festival of Lights. In a repeat performance at this year’s NZ event, the weather turned wet, just as the procession was about to begin. Heavy rain fell as pilgrims lit their lanterns. Undeterred, a somewhat rushed procession, with the Blessed Sacrament under a small canopy, swinging incense, and singing pilgrims with lanterns, moved through the gardens to the shrine, where lights had been placed around the golden statue of Mary. The rain was too heavy for the Blessed Sacrament to remain exposed at the shrine, so the faithful continued on to the chapel, where adoration continued indoors until the dawn.
This year, Fourvière in Leithfield has developed into the “Sanctuary of Fourvière”, strengthening its role in the new evangelisation. The Sanctuary of Fourvière has become the apostolate of the Beatitudes Community locally.
- Michael Loretz is director of the Sanctuary of Fourvière at Leithfield.
(Photo: Sr Monica from the Beatitudes Community leads a dance)