Yesterday was the Memorial of St. John Mary Vianney, and that sparked off a memory. I once took a road trip with Father Paul Francis, but it wasn’t Route 66 in the U.S.A., the Great Ocean Road in Australia, or even the Wild Atlantic Way in the West of Ireland. Father Paul Francis was based in Paris at the time, and, if memory serves, I was based in Prestonpans, not much difference! The Passionist Community at St. Joseph’s in Paris, very near to the Arc de Triumph, had a nice Renaut 13 car but, at that time, Father Paul Francis didn’t drive. He was, and is, however, an extraordinary map reader. For our summer holidays, I took a flight to Paris, stayed the night, and then, the following day, we embarked on a memorable journey. We drove south to the Burgundy region. I remember at one stage he directed me along a dusty track at the side of a cornfield. To my astonishment we came out on the road we wanted, having cut about half an hour off the journey. His map reading skills were proven.
At Father Paul Francis’ behest, we visited a few Cistercian Abbeys, including Cîteaux, the original house of the Cistercians, founded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 11th century. We also visited the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny, near to Taize, where we spent a few hours in prayer, joining the many young people from all over the world who were on retreat. In the early 1980’s, when we were both based at St. Mungo’s, we had brought a group of young people from the parish to Taize for a week’s retreat, and it remains a very precious and happy memory. Later, in the late 1980’s, when I was a Formation Director in Dublin, I brought a group of Passionist students to Taize, and then, in 2007, after the Canonization of St. Charles of Mount Argus, I made another trip to visit the grave of Brother Roger, the founder of Taize, who had been sadly and brutally murdered, while at prayer, a few years before. That was the last time I was there, but it remains a very special place, and I love the simple style of prayer, and the chants that are at the heart of it. It wasn’t a totally religious trip with Father Paul Francis. At my behest, we visited a couple of Burgundy vineyards and, as we were resting in a farmhouse B&B overnight, we sampled the local produce with good, simple food.
The next stage of the trip was through Switzerland, but we only stopped once to get a very expensive cup of coffee and a Swiss pastry, and to admire a scenic view. We were actually heading for the Great St. Bernard Pass to cross over into Aosta in North Italy, stopping off at the famous pilgrim hospice founded by St. Bernard nearly 1000 years previously, and where they still were breeding St. Bernard dogs, brandy kegs and all. I had never driven such scary mountain roads before, with hairpin bends, sheer drops, and long tunnels excavated through the mountain. I was very glad to get to Aosta. From there we made our way to Turin, where we were joined by an Italian Passionist who was guiding us to a Passionist Monastery up in the hills, where we would relax for a few days. It was near to Lake Maggiore, which spans Switzerland and Italy, and so it was quite pleasantly cool. Unfortunately, the Shroud of Turin was not on display, but the Cathedral of John the Baptist, which is its home, was beautiful.
Like the Magi, we travelled back by a different route, over Mont Blanc. When we were back in France we made a few detours along the route to Paris, one being in Annecy, where we visited the Basilica of the Visitation, with the relics of Saints Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. St. Francis de Sales had a big influence on St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, but he is also the patron saint of writers and journalists, so he must have had a big influence on the Keevins family as well. And then, not too far from Annecy, we visited Ars, where St. John Mary Vianney was, of course, the Curé for over 40 years. You had probably forgotten that this was how this Log began. We joined the many pilgrims at the Shrine and, as we were both parish priests at the time, paid tribute to our patron. The next stop was Paris, an overnight stay, then home to Prestonpans, and back to porridge. It was a great road trip.
As ever; protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.