Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
FRANCE: A PILGRIMAGE WITH MARY
By Father Joseph Roesch, MIC
Marian Press, 2019
112 pages, $24.95
To order: ShopMercy.org or (800) 462 7426
It’s time to book another armchair trip with Father Joseph Roesch of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception as your tour guide. This time, Father Roesch takes us to France – A Pilgrimage with Mary.
This third in a series of pilgrimages to shrines and major churches of Our Blessed Mother again comes to life with loads of eye-catching photos filling this coffee-table-sized book. The photos help us feel as if we’re there with Father Roesch. He is a superlative guide telling the story of the shrine’s importance, how it came to be, and what essential, really timeless message Our Lady brought to the people at those places where she appeared.
We get to visit nine of these holy sites, shrines and churches. Among them are such familiar names as Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (which Father Roesch visited just months before it suffered a great fire), Lourdes, and La Salette. Then there are eye-opening other ones such as Pontmain, the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories, and Our Lady of Laus.
Father Roesch is a tour guide not only filled with knowledge of the places he takes us to, but also a friendly one who knows how to add some personal color to make us feel right at home on these trips. Arriving at Lourdes, he tells us, “I had heard that there were many souvenir shops and tourist hubs in Lourdes, so I was unprepared for the beauty of the location. The town of Lourdes seemed like a fairytale setting, with a river running through the village and castle set on a hill. We arrived just one week after heavy rains had caused the river to overflow its banks, and except for the rapidly flowing water, there were no signs of the flood.”
Once there, he shares unexpected details about the Sanctuary. For one, he offered Mass in one of the chapels at the Crypt Church, telling us it was the first completed after the apparitions and St. Bernadette’s Father attended the dedication in 1866.
In Paris, we get to briefly visit Notre-Dame Cathedral and look at a wonderful photo of the rose window among other important details, but we get to linger at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories and learn how the pastor of this 17th-century church turned a desolate parish through his inspiration into a thriving place and formed the Association of the Holy an Immaculate Heart of Mary which numbered 20 million members before he died.
We also learn how this basilica is connected to the healing of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and how it attracted saints here like John Vianney and soon-to-be St. Henry Newman. The photos beautifully place us before the basilica’s shrine to St. Thérèse, the magnificent statue of Our Lady of Victories, several other images and a bas relief Pietà.
At several of the places, expert Marian guide Father Roesch gives us the story of the visionaries who saw Our Lady — among them St. Bernadette, an exceptional and moving retelling of the story of Our Lady to Benoite Rencurel at Laus, and the children Eugene and Joseph at Pontmain. These further bring to life the places and help our understanding of what spots or images we’re seeing. But they go deeper too, because they include the apparition, how Our Lady appeared, the message she brought, and how it applied to not only that current time, but remains enduring for today.
Father Roesch, who is vicar general of the Marian Father of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, enlightens us on what happened both to the visionaries and the people in a very enlightening section after each titled “Life After the Apparitions.”
Among the little-known ones , remembered at Saint-Bauzille-de-la-Sylve, a small diocesan shrine near the Mediterranean, is the vintner Auguste, to whom Our Lady appeared in 1873. The man worked Sundays, skipping Mass. After Our Lady appeared to him with her message concerning this — and meant for everyone else too — we find out what the results were for the man and the village.
Father Roesch tells us, “It is an important lesson for all, as God knows what is best. Everyone is called to observe the Commandments, including keeping holy the Sabbath Day. How many stores and businesses are now open on Sundays, and how many people fail to take the day of rest as an opportunity to pray and put God at the center of their lives?”
At times he uses our visits to these places to clearly, simply, explain the messages’ relevancy for us today.
Or when he recounts the results of St. Catherine Laboure’s apparitions, the number of conversions, healings, and miracles attributed to the Miraculous Medal, how the “Miraculous Medal Shrine in Germantown, Pennsylvania, records 500 favors attributed to the Miraculous Medal every week,” we’re prompted to wear, along with our Brown Scapular, a Miraculous Medal and listen to our Blessed Mother concerning it.
The scores of beautiful photos help us appreciate the exquisite details of the shrines and the many statues and representations of Our Blessed Mother connected with them. They bring to life our armchair pilgrimage and give us close views of Our Lady in the various titles in these different places. Among them, Our Lady at Rue du Bac, La Salette, Our Lady of Victories, and Pontmain’s Basilica of Our Lady of Hope.
Even more, they allow us to linger with Mary and there to ponder the love she has for each of us, the timeless vital messages she has brought, and how we can listen to her concerning them.
Welcome, too, are beautifully detailed photos of the sanctuaries, both inside and out, the splendid statues, paintings and images of Mary, and such details as the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure, the splendid Resurrection and the Visitation at Lourdes, the sanctuary at Laus, and the two-page panorama of La Salette.
The armchair pilgrimage’s message is unmistakably Marian.
Father Roesch concludes, “The messages of Our Lady at these locations are as timeless and as urgent as ever. Now is the time for humanity to convert and to turn back to Our Lord.
“Our pilgrimage gave me a great deal of hope. I saw that throughout the centuries, faithful believers have been under attack by the evil one. The good news is that God will never abandon his children. He always has a plan in mind to save us and raise us up. … Holiness and faith is an ongoing struggle, but Our Lady is close to her children, always trying to draw us closer to her Son, Jesus. She encourages us to keep the Commandments, to pray for sinners, to make sacrifices, and to offer penance for sinners. It is a joy to know that we are never alone, that we are loved, and that heavenly assistance is near at hand. God loves His children. Let us live as faithful children of Mary by following her example and offering to the Lord the gift of our lives in thanksgiving for all we have received!”