Paray le Monial: ‘A town very dear to heaven’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

THOUSANDS of pilgrims visit Paray le Monial every year.
THOUSANDS of pilgrims visit Paray le Monial every year.





When I was a grade school student at St. Scholastica’s College Manila, one of the many religious practices my parents taught me was the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Every First Friday, my mom would bring me to the circular chapel of the old Ateneo de Manila campus on Padre Faura, Manila, to attend the Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart.


I would always hope to find a seat in a pew near enough to the altar so that I could watch the glistening “hydraulic” tabernacle as it magically appeared from underneath the altar table just before the consecration. For a schoolgirl, it was enchanting to see the tabernacle rise at the most solemn moment and then slowly descend and disappear right after the priest washed his hands after Communion. The novena was within the Mass and it didn’t take too long for me to know the long prayers by heart.


Two images


Those were particularly trying times for our family, and sometimes the suffering was overwhelming and incomprehensible for a young girl. The image of the Sacred Heart, with Jesus’ outstretched arms, seemed to beckon: “Come and I will give you rest.”


Two images—the rising tabernacle and that of the Sacred Heart—drew me in the grip of prayer and solace.


The devotion grew because of my maternal grandmother, Nanay. She was the head of the Apostleship of Prayer at St. Joseph’s Parish in Baras, Rizal. I remember being thrilled when Nanay first put on the scapular on me during one First Friday Mass in Baras. The picture of the coat of arms showing a single heart pierced by two arrows mesmerized me. This was enclosed in a crown of thorns, with the heart serving to hold and support a cross.


The Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most popular devotions in the Philippines and is widely promoted by the Apostleship of Prayer.


THE BASILICA of the Sacred Heart built by Benedictine monks

Favorite destination


Years later, I would find comfort again in the same warm embrace and feeling of solace in a place closely associated with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Together with the Marian pilgrims of Arlina Onglao’s Journeys of Faith, with Fr. Bong Tupino as chaplain, we visited Paray le Monial, a quaint place in Eastern France where the Sacred Heart of Jesus was believed to have appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century.


In 1856, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Since then, Paray le Monial has become a favorite destination of people from Europe, America and, recently, Asia. Every year, hundreds of thousands visit this peculiar little town, most of them seeking the help of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for every imaginable petition.


Our pilgrim group had just come from the canonization rites of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Still high on that once-in-a-lifetime experience, we felt a calming effect as soon as our bus entered Paray le Monial.




In the cold afternoon, a hush fell over our group as we crossed the bridge over the canal to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a jewel of Romanesque architecture.


The religious glory of the town is mirrored in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Benedictine monks who came in 973 founded the monastery and, by establishing themselves, formed the beginnings of Paray le Monial. The Benedictines built the present edifice whose majesty and harmony pilgrims admire today.


This thousand-year-old church overlooks the Visitation Monastery garden. Its cloister is considered one of the most beautiful monuments of Cluniac architecture.


One endearing story says that on her first visit to the monastery, a young Margaret Mary Alacoque climbed up to the bell tower with her brother to take a peek at the enclosure.


We, too, were in awe of the architecture and the massive structures. You could almost feel the presence of the monks who loved to sing in praise of God. Through prayer and presence, the monks seemed to create a bridge spanning the space of heaven and earth.


The basilica was impressive but Fr. Bong told us that the real attraction of the town was still a few meters down the road. We made our way to the Chapelle des Apparitions (Chapel of the Apparitions) where we chanced upon the Sisters of the Visitation as they went about their daily tasks.


Some were sweeping the chapel’s front yard, others were cleaning the altar or praying and singing. One Visitation sister who wanted to remain anonymous said that she believed that her simple tasks and prayers opened her to Christ’s presence and, through prayer, she finds her life in the love that comes from God.


A PILGRIM prays at image of Sacred Heart of Jesus.

‘Great apparition’


The Order of the Visitation was founded by St. Francis of Sales with St. Jane de Chantal in the 17th century. These sisters are dedicated to following the path in imitation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who was born in a place near Paray le Monial, promised to consecrate her life to the Sacred Heart, showing a profound love for the Eucharist.


St. Margaret Mary joined the Visitation sisters in June 1671 at age 24. It was in Paray le Monial where she experienced a life of mystical events.


This would include the “great apparition” where she said she saw Jesus with his five wounds and his chest blazing.


She added it was then that Jesus suggested to her to take communion every first Friday of the month and participate in a vigil the day before for reparation of the world’s sins and apathy.


Years later, the feast of the Sacred Heart would be celebrated by the whole Church three weeks after Pentecost.


I was drawn to the side of the chapel where the incorruptible body of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque lay. There was also an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that resembled the image that I saw almost every first Friday as a child going to the Padre Faura chapel of the old Ateneo de Manila.


One would also instinctively look up to the large painting at the center of the altar depicting the second apparition of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary.


It was in this little chapel that I felt the powerful presence of the Sacred Heart. It moved me to deep prayer.


Just a few meters from the Chapel of the Apparitions, we visited the shrine of St. Claude la Colombiere, former superior of the college of Paray le Monial and who confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions to Margaret Mary.


He started the mission of several Jesuit fathers to propagate the devotion to the Sacred Heart through his talents as writer and preacher.


The tranquil paths and community in Paray le Monial continue to breathe the quality and profundity of the life of Margaret Mary and Claude la Colombiere.


In the short time that we spent there, we experienced an unusual reassuring presence at every corner. Although we were tired and weary from the rigors of pilgrimage, we felt rejuvenated in this picturesque and prayerful town.


In my heart, I made a fervent wish that someday I may return to this part of France, a place that Pope Leo XIII aptly called a “town very dear to heaven.”


For more information about the pilgrimage programs to Paray le Monial and other destinations, call Journeys of Faith: 9290144, 9290155, 4260601; or e-mail [email protected].



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