Like shepherds and Magi, the family of Holy Cross came from their mission fields in many countries to the nativity crèche of Father Basile Anthony Mary Moreau, CSC. There in his Bethlehem, called Laigne-en-Belin, he was also re-born in Christ; there the seed of his vocation as the founder of Holy Cross was planted in the rich soil of a profound faith in the power of the Cross, of a radical trust in Divine Providence and of a zealous love for the mission of Christ.
This seed grew to a mighty tree. Many of its branches were gathered in the plaza before the church of his Baptism on that Friday morning of September 14, 2007, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It was like a new Pentecost, a gathering of the nations, a new language of unity bonding together the women and men of Holy Cross: the laity—single and married; the religious—priests, brothers and sisters. Truly, it was the re-birth of a new family of Holy Cross.
The beatification celebration was launched with the ringing of the original bell engraved with the words, N.D. Sainte-Croix au Mans in 1842. In the early days it summoned the family of Holy Cross to daily prayer and work. On this September day its intonation echoed in all the church bells of the diocese of Le Mans. A commemorative placque was unveiled as the bishop of Le Mans, the pastor of the parish, the deputy mayors of Laigne-en-Belin and the leaders of the many branches of Holy Cross gathered around it. Representatives of the various nations came forward with their flags held high. All stood beneath a large globe of the world which hung from the arch above the church door. The internationality of Holy Cross was visibly experienced. A song of joy proclaimed our mission with Christ—the saving love of God and the word of God in our hearts offered with open arms to welcome the poor to a new life.
We returned to Le Mans for a prayer vigil in the Church of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, the conventual church of the Holy Cross Family, built by Father Moreau. Before entering the church we passed through the courtyard of the former school which Father Moreau had established. Presently it serves as barracks and recruitment offices for the French military—a poignant reminder of the sacrifices our founder endured to promote a mission of a more noble and peace-filled purpose.
The prayer vigil, presided by Archbishop Andre Richard, CSC, the Archbishop of Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, focused on the theme of a tiny, fragile seed which grew into “a mighty tree in the garden of the Church”—a symbol of the family of Holy Cross. A large tree branch holding a number of small sanctuary lamps was placed to the left of the main altar. A portrait of Father Moreau, with his loving and penetrating gaze, watched over the assembly. We thanked the Lord for the fruitfulness of Holy Cross—a work God cherished and realized in Father Moreau. A member of each congregation and a lay associate brought candles to surround the Moreau portrait. A priest, brother and sister placed the symbol of each group on a table—the cross, the medal and the heart. Four members of the Holy Cross Family brought forward the Constitutions.
In gesture, symbol, and prayer, the spirit of union and fruitfulness was experienced. The tiny seed of unity became a life-giving word—a community of brothers and sisters. The tiny seed of trust, planted in the rich earth of trust in Providence, survived much suffering and trials. The tiny seed for the mission became Good News to a world awaiting the Gospel. The “grain of wheat” fell into holy ground, died, and bore much fruit. There, in the heart of our home-church of Holy Cross, we were gathered as if to be planted anew to “grow in unity with ever-stronger bonds of love and service.” It was an experience of renewal—an invitation to one another to “glory in the Cross, our one and only hope.”
On Friday evening we experienced the sound and light production, La Nuit des Chimeres in the medieval section of Le Mans near the Cathedral of St. Julien. We walked the same paths and stairways Father Moreau frequented. The façade of the cathedral was illuminated in brilliant reds with angels dancing and playing their musical instruments. The ancient Roman walls came alive with moving images of medieval history, art, dance and music. This excursion into the past reminded us of the common historical heritage we share with Father Moreau.
Saturday morning provided an opportunity to visit the Solitude. Our pilgrim feet took us up a steep hill to the renovated buildings and grounds. We were greeted by a welcoming Marianite Sister who brought us to our true Source—the original chapel and tabernacle where Father Moreau sought consolation in his dark night of the spirit. The spirit of Father Moreau and Mother Mary of the Seven Dolors permeated the Solitude, not only in the original rooms, artifacts and relics but most particularly in the living charism evident in the gracious hospitality of the Marianite Sisters residing in that privileged place.
The liturgy for the Beatification of Father Moreau on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Sorrows was the peak experience of the entire pilgrimage. Around five thousand people gathered in the Centre Antares for the Mass. During the Rite of Beatification a short biography of Father Moreau was read followed by the formal petition and proclamation of the Apostolic Letter of Pope Benedict XVI proclaiming our founder: Blessed Basile-Antoine-Marie Moreau. His portrait was unveiled solemnly above the altar. His fatherly care and concern embraced all with a tender love. It was a moment of joy! The gift we have received in Father Moreau, was now a gift given to the entire church! The sense of internationality in the family of Holy Cross sprouted forth a new limb and branch of universality! His memorial will be celebrated everywhere throughout the world in liturgical prayer and intercession. All are invited to honor and imitate him.
The Paschal mystery of Christ and of Father Moreau was experienced in the liturgy. Like Mary, Father Moreau shared Jesus’ sufferings (Prayer) Like Judith, he was rewarded with blessings because he remained faithful to God (First Reading—Judith 13:20). Like Jesus, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Second Reading—Hebrews 5:8). He stood near the cross of Jesus (The Gospel—John 19:25). He gave his life for the family of Holy Cross—“This is my body which will be given up for you.” He made up in his life what was “lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” (Prayer after Communion).
We called to mind the suffering Father Moreau endured for us. We experienced his new life--a Resurrection. We shared in his glory and we are ready to greet him when he comes with Christ to gather the complete family of Holy Cross. The spirit of unity in Holy Cross was confirmed. We were “nourished by Christ’s body and blood, filled with his Holy Spirit, and became one body, one spirit in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer III).
In the afternoon a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in the Cathedral of St. Julien, presided by Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop emeritus of Washington, DC, The large portrait of our founder was slowly raised above the altar midway to the towering heights of the cathedral’s vault. His presence was felt. From the Mass of Basile Moreau we prayed: O God who in your ineffable providence chose your priest, Blessed Basile Moreau, to imitate the virtues of the Holy Family and respond to the needs of the Church; grant, we beseech you that, strengthened by his prayers and example, we may have the strength to confess boldly the Cross of Christ as our only hope.
Cardinal McCarrick urged the Holy Cross family to continue its mission throughout the world. We prayed: Sustain your Church and the Congregations of Holy Cross to fulfill their mission at the very heart of the Church. Through them you choose to reveal the riches of the Gospel to the poor. May they always speak to them as the privileged guests of your kingdom (Prayer after Communion).
The Cardinal’s last words to us were: “Pray for one another. Pray for one another.”
This pilgrimage was truly a grace for renewal. There was a sense of home-coming to our father’s house. It felt like a General Chapter of all the branches of Holy Cross presided by Blessed Basil Moreau himself. We could hear again his powerful preaching as if all his Circular Letters were crystallized in one homily. We met a great man, a Blessed, a Saint. We have the consolation of sharing in his charism. His unique response to the Gospel, his call to unity and transformation in Christ, his focus on the Holy Family as a model for unity, his conviction of the necessity of the Cross, his assurance of the Providence of God, his consuming zeal for the salvation of all—these and many others were the gifts that graced us. We could hear Blessed Basil Moreau commission us again: “Be what you are meant to be and we will vouch for the future.”