MARTYRS IN THE VENDEE COURAGEOUSLY REMAINED FAITHFUL TO CHRIST'S CHURCH
Pope John Paul II
In France to Young People September 19, 1996

Dear Friends from Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre and the Diocese of Lucon, Dear Young People,

1. Thank you for coming to welcome me on my way in pilgrimage to the tomb of St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. I am happy to greet you who were born in this land of the Vendee, you who cherish the precious memory of the pages of your history, both tragic and beautiful.

You are the heirs of men and women who were courageous enough to remain faithful to the Church of Jesus Christ at a time when its freedom and independence were threatened. They were not detached from the movements of the time and they sincerely desired the necessary renewal of society, but they could not accept the imposition of a break with the universal Church and, in particular, with the Successor of Peter. And so the parish priest of Maille Joseph Herbert, inspired by the words of Christ, said nobly: "As a citizen of the State I have always given to Caesar what belonged to Caesar; but I will not refuse God what belongs to God".

People of the Vendee had great love of the Eucharist

In the terrible struggles, many deeds on both sides were stained by sin. But it was in holy union with Christ that numerous martyrs offered their life here, uniting with the Son of God in the sacrifice of the Cross. To the very end they followed their true Master, the One who came to reveal the truth which sets us free and the depth of God's love for all men.

In the numerous acts of witness which have come down to us, it is moving to see that the people of the Vendee remained attached to their parishes and their priests despite the cruelty of the persecution. They had a real hunger for the Eucharist, at the risk of their lives, they desired to take part in Mass and to receive the Bread of Life. They wanted to receive the sacrament of forgiveness aware that we are always in need of divine mercy.

Some of them, religious or lay, showed a touching Christian spirit when they tended the wounded regardless of which side they were on, or, when inspired by their leaders such as d'Elbee who convinced them to take seriously the words of forgiveness in the Our Father, they decided to spare their enemies.

Dear friends, in recalling just a few events of your history, I would like to invite you to remember the best ones. Continue to follow Christ, like him, love all humanity, starting with the most underprivileged. Remain faithful to the Church, to the Eucharist and to the sacrament of forgiveness. Let yourselves be imbued with the love which comes from God! Far from cultivating a fruitless nostalgia, you will then be worthy of your ancestors and continue to live generously as living stones of the Church to which they remained attached to the point of shedding their blood for her.

2. And now I address the young people gathered here, students of the Catholic and State schools. My friends, what I have just said concerns you just as much as your elders. I know that you sometimes have real difficulty in affirming your faith and your membership in the Church.

May the martyrs guide you on your way

So, I say to you: be brave! Do not let yourselves be overcome by the indifference so widespread around you! Do not let yourselves be impressed by those who reject the demands of our Christian faith or who scorn it.

It is now up to you to make your way! Your formation is a real training. Remember St Paul: he spoke of the athletes who trained for the race, at the cost of severe discipline, for a perishable prize, but the Christian knows where his efforts are leading him: to make his life succeed as a disciple of Jesus (cf. I Cor 9:24-

27). If you enroll in the school of Christ, you will develop whatever is best in you; you will learn how to give as wel1 as to receive.

You are not alone; you are part of a large community. In the Church the Pope, the Bishops united to him, the priests, the religious and the lay teachers in conjunction with your families are there to hasten to you, guide you and point you in the right direction. They have no other ambition than to pass on to you the Good News of Christ. Do not hesitate to call on them to help you grow in the faith!

Like the disciples beside the river Jordan, you ask the Lord: "Master, where do you live?" He replies: "Come and see" (Jn 1:38-39). You know that these words are the theme for World Youth Day, next year in Paris. It will be an opportunity for many of you to share your Christian experience with young people from other countries in the world. Be ready to give them a friendly welcome.

Dear friends, trust in Christ, hunger with him in prayer, be active members in the community of his disciples. Take your place in the Church without delay. With your brothers and sisters of all generations, work so that "steadfast, love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other," as one of the psalms says (Ps 85 [84].11).

I pray that the martyrs of times past will guide you on your way, so that they will keep you free from all influence and power, and communicate to you their joy in believing and their courage in serving, after the example of Christ.

3. For you, my young friends, and for you all dear faithful of the Vendee, I fervently invoke the intercession of St Louis-Marie, missionary, and that of all the blessed martyrs of your land. May Our Lady protect you!

With all my heart I grant you my Apostolic Blessing.

I would like to thank you for reducing the rain. The earth needs rain but sometimes one would really like the rain to be somewhat lighter. Indeed this has happened here, thanks to you!


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