Church has benefited from French Christianity

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience, September 25, 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Last Sunday my fifth pilgrimage to France came to an end. I thank divine Providence for enabling me to travel the paths of that country's past and present history. I have been able to return to the roots of its Christian tradition and bring there an expression of hope for the future of the Church in France.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to the President of the Republic and to the national and regional authorities for their invitation and their hospitality. I thank the Bishops of the Dioceses of Tours, Lucon, Vannes and Reims who welcomed me with great friendliness, as well as the French Bishops present in large numbers at the various stages of my journey. I am also grateful to the organizers, to the members of the health service, the police force, and to all who in any way contributed to the success of this visit.

I am particularly grateful to the French Catholics who, by their presence, their fervent prayers and their countless expressions of solidarity, bore clear witness to their faith and their communion with the Successor of Peter. I would especially like to thank all the young people who took part in such large numbers in this pilgrimage. Along with their enthusiasm, I could see their profound spiritual searching and mature commitment to sure and lasting values. This is a reason for great hope.

St Martin paved way to Baptism of Clovis

2. The pilgrimage was associated with the anniversaries of historical events and figures who had great influence on the development of Christianity in France and throughout Western Europe.

The roots of Christianity in this nation date back to the second century, to the time of the first martyrs. St. Hilary of Poitiers was one of the founders of the ecclesial structures and a great defender of the Church's unity. The year dedicated to St. Martin, to commemorate the 16th centenary of his death, began during my pilgrimage. A former legionary of the Emperor Constantine and a disciple of Hilary, he became a pioneer of the monastic life, Bishop of Tours and a great missionary in Western Europe.

The Baptism of Clovis is linked with Martin, since the witness given by the pilgrims who came to venerate the saint's tomb in Tours had a strong fascination for the Frankish king, who decided to become a Christian and was prepared for this step by his meetings with St. Genevieve of Paris, St. Clotilde, his wife, and St. Remigius, Bishop of Reims.

St. Martin's missionary work and Clovis' Baptism gave rise to a deep faith life, which was expressed in abundant fruits of holiness down the centuries. I witnessed this, for example, in Brittany, where St. Anne, Mother of the Virgin Mary, is especially venerated. St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort was born in this region and from here he set out on his missions in the Vendee. Here, as elsewhere in the various parts of France, faith in Christ and fidelity to the Church have been preserved, even at the cost of martyrdom.

3. The basic inspiration for the spiritual itinerary of my pilgrimage was the mystery of Baptism, the sacrament which initiates us into the life of faith, and incorporates believers with the crucified and risen Christ.

At Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre, we had an opportunity to relive our Baptism as a consecration of the whole person in response to the divine gift of grace which calls us to be conformed to Christ. Montfortian spirituality recalls this fundamental demand of the faith received at the baptismal font. Mary is the model and guide of every consecration to Christ. In that town I was pleased to meet a large gathering of attentive young people and many faithful from the Vendee, and to pray together with numerous consecrated men and women.

In Sainte-Arme-d'Auray, consecration to Christ was viewed in the light of daily life and the commitment to evangelization. This consecration was perceived as a call to bear witness to the faith in every walk of life and most especially in the family. My meeting with thousands of families was a real "highlight" of my visit.

Baptism spurs us to face contemporary challenges

4. The third day was dominated by the figure of St. Martin, the model of a response the call to live the faith in charity. This was the setting for my meeting with those "wounded in life", who deserve recognition of their proper place in the Church and in society, since Christ identified himself with the least among them.

My last day, in Reims, was the culminating moment: the anniversary of the Baptism of Clovis invited each of us to meditate deeply upon the meaning of our own Baptism. The Gospel calls every baptized person to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; Baptism, in addition, is a call to renew one's own spiritual life and to assume one's proper responsibilities for achieving the unity and interior growth of Christ's Mystical Body. Baptismal grace motivates believers to face the challenges of the contemporary world in the light of the Gospel, as was clearly evident at the meeting with the active forces of the Diocese of Reims.

5. Dear brothers and sisters, while I once again thank all those who have contributed to the successful outcome of my visit, I entrust to all of you here present the fruits of my pilgrimage to France and I thank you for accompanying me with your prayers. Receive the witness of 15 centuries of the Church's history in France. Together let us give thanks to the Lord for the fruits of the Baptism of St. Martin, of Clovis, of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort and of all the faithful of the Church in France. Let us also give thanks for our own Baptism and ask the Lord to make us able to respond fully to the grace we received in this sacrament.

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