From the height of my 12 years, I have dreamed of becoming a younger sister of Jesus or a Carmelite. I had no idea what I was talking about (beautiful childhood innocence!) But, in this desire, there was a real attraction to the streets traced by Charles de Foucauld and Thérèse de Lisieux. Their story and their writings touched me. At the same time, I can’t see myself living a violent life in the desert and even behind the heavy bars of a cloister.
Shortly thereafter, my father, who worked on the railroads, was transferred from Nantes to Cherbourg, and there I met the Assistants of Purgatory. These sisters, with whom I live many things within the framework of small patronages or day-to-day colonies, seduce me with their joy, with their simplicity, with their intimacy. Attitudes of brotherhood that were in conflict at the time when priests and religious were put on the foundations!
Captured by Elijah’s experience on Mount Carmel
My vocation continues to mature to be gentle in contact with these sisters. I didn’t tell my parents to be quiet and modest type. Early in the morning, I even secretly sometimes say mass! My desire slept a little on my 17th birthday, until the day I felt I had to make a choice. Then I came to Avranches (Manche), to pioneer in a college-high school run by the nuns of Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel. One of them, Sister Marie-Pascale, made a deep impression on me.
The first time I saw him, he was walking in the park of the establishment while playing the flute! I was overwhelmed by this scene filled with peace and tranquility. This congregation has everything that pleases me: from the Carmelite family, and is therefore rooted in the experience of the prophet Elijah (“The Lord lives in whom I stand! », he ascended Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 17, 1), but apostolic. At 19, I entered novitiate.
In the pictures of my profession, I wrote a word from Thérèse: “My vocation is love. » With that word, it’s all there and… that’s it! I’ve been a religious for almost 50 years, and it’s love that has been the motor of my life, and its horizons have never been reached. Following the example of Charles de Foucauld who wanted to be a “tabernacle in the middle of the Muslim world”, I’m just trying to be the presence of the God of Love in each of my missions. And I love them all so much!
I was first sent to a school near Avranches then to a college in Draveil (Essonne). Teaching and catechism to children has pleased me to the point that I continue to train at the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences (IER), within Catho de Paris. Then I returned to La Manche and, after a somewhat difficult year, I was called to manage the chaplaincy for public education in Coutances, then at the diocesan level.
Becoming a peacemaker: breaking down barriers
I gave a lot in those years, but I received so much more. What a joy, in fact, to see young people calm down, open up, interact with one another, slowly find their way! On this short road trip together, we experienced amazing things. I especially remember these young punks who came to our area. “We are welcome here”, they told me. They know they are loved as they are, without judgment or fear. And in fact, we are no different, our welcome is unconditional.
This is what it means to be an artisan of peace, I think: breaking down the barriers of living less each day in this fullness of love between brothers that can only be seen fully in God. This peace is a miracle and a permanent endeavor. I realized this with remarkable force in Jerusalem, where I had the opportunity to go fifteen times when I was the director of pilgrimages for the diocese of Coutances.
In the Holy Land, and especially in the Ancient City of Jerusalem, the whole world, say, is represented. The drama of our people longing for peace but struggling so hard to build it (one step forward, two steps back …) is staged there.
One year we went to the grave of Yitzhak Rabin. There is Arabic and Hebrew graffiti on the stone. I asked David, our Israeli guide, and our Palestinian driver, Abu Jadeh (my two trusted sidekicks) to interpret them: “Rabin, we miss you! » They explained to us that it was the work of young Arabs and Jews.
Yes, in Israel and Palestine there are men and women who yearn to be together. Like these young people, I have the courage to believe against all adversity that peace is always possible, even now. I believe this more because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came into this world to give it to us. You still have to roll up your sleeves to welcome and promote it …
What sign will be displayed at the Sainte-Mère-Eglise?
One fine morning, I was walking to Sainte-Mère-Eglise, the first city liberated by the Allies on June 6, 1944. In the spring of 2010, I no longer had a specific mission (I had just left Star of the Sea, our reception center in the bay of Mont-Saint- Michel). who I directed for about ten years). At the church famous for the American paratrooper holding the belfry, I thought to myself: what a pity there is no religious presence in this high place of military memorial where more than 5,000 tourists flock every year!
In this city where we will only talk about the past war at risk of remaining locked in this historic period, what sign, however small, can we show? I shared my intuition with Stanislas Lalanne, the bishop at the time, who seized it: he expressed the desire for a small international community to serve peace and reconciliation in the heart of the Norman village.
The Notre-Dame de la Paix community was born into this spirit in March 2012. This is special because the sisters who composed it came from different religious congregations. So the adventure began with Sister Simone, from the Sainte-Marie de Torfou community, and Sister Theresita, a German nun from the Sainte Marie-Madeleine Postel congregation. Before settling into the house the diocese had acquired a stone’s throw from the church, the Maison de la paix, the three of us went to Carmel in peace, in Mazille. On our way back, we traveled to the Taizé community where we met Brother Aloïs. “Do it yourself! », he told us after we presented our project to him. This meeting only lasted a few seconds, but I will never forget it.
Work for peace of heart in our daily lives
Initially, we were very sensitive to the international aspect of the community, to personify reconciliation between people. So our joy was when an American sister responded to the appeal launched by the Conference of Religious of France (Corref)! But we soon realized that we needed to destroy that image, because peace, as I experienced during my missions, is so universal. Apparently we are praying for Syria or, more recently, for Ukraine, but the war is not just thunder on the battlefields. Its lines are within us and between us, our families, our parishes, our workplaces…
And I know what I’m talking about! With Sisters Marie-Paul, Chantal and Catherine (who took over, a few years ago, from Theresita and Simone), I had to constantly adjust, because we didn’t have the same education, nor the same morals, or lami. It’s an internal war that’s not simple, and that I can’t lead without taking from the source, that’s to say from God.
Wherever we are and in our daily lives, we all need to do our part to make our relationship more peaceful and brotherly. It is to raise awareness and educate everyone about this mission that, in addition to our permanence in the church, we organize various and varied activities: times of prayer, workshops in education with children, meetings, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, and so on.
These last 10 years have been extremely rich for me. Last September, as I left the Maison de la paix for other adventures, my heart was a little heavy, but lived by these words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God! » (Matthew 5: 9).
The stages of his life
1944 Born in Nantes
1963 Entered the Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
1980-1987 Responsible for the chaplaincy of public education in the Coutances (Manche), and at the diocesan level.
1989-2000 Director of pilgrimages for the diocese of Coutances.
1992 Pilgrimage in the footsteps of Charles de Foucauld in the Sahara.
2000-2010 Director of the Sea Star, of Saint-Jean-le-Thomas.
2012 Foundation of the House of Peace, in Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
The barn of peace
“On June 26, the Grange de la paix will finally be inaugurated. We waited many years for this old building to be rehabilitated, because the Maison de la paix, located opposite, was too small to accommodate the thousands of visitors to the Sainte-Mère-Eglise. The venue is designed so that everyone can live a solid experience and realize the need to choose peace in their daily activities: a large modular room where exhibitions will be held, ten-minute film, conferences and focused workshops; a dome of silence; a place of prayer. I pray La Grange will be an important stop on the Normandy 44 route! »
To find out more: Sainte-Mère-Eglise Foundation