The Jesuits on the quays of Marseilles: reaching out to people wherever they are
“Our shrine’s main mission is to welcome everyone, regardless of their social, cultural or religious background. We welcome everyone from cruise ship tourists - when there is no confinement! - to street people.
intention is to allow them to have a place of contemplation for those who wish
it without forgetting - in normal times - the cultural part that is deployed
through exhibitions, concerts or conferences in connection with current or
religious themes. Through these activities or visits, we make ourselves
available, priests and laypeople, to create links and to lend an attentive ear
to their requests for help or listening.”
This is how Jesuit Steves Babooram, a native of Mauritius and member of the French-speaking Western European Province, describes the type of Jesuit presence on the quays of Marseilles, a city that is very lively in many ways, but a city where poverty is rampant. This presence is ensured at the shrine of Saint-Ferréol, which the Society of Jesus has agreed to coordinate at the request of the bishop of Marseille. Masses are celebrated there and confessions are heard, of course. But the team of Jesuits, priests, women and lay men who support Steves is very sensitive to its social environment. The rector gives us two examples.
“In front of the church we have the Fraternity Quay! It’s a challenging programme
to implement on a daily basis! I started my mission at Saint Ferréol in
September 2017 and in November of the same year, our church was occupied for
three days and nights by a group of unaccompanied minor migrants (UMM). Fortunately, the civil authorities found an acceptable solution. But this
experience did not leave me indifferent to the cause of the UMMs. I then
launched the “Raphaël group” with a team of faithful from Saint-Ferréol and
elsewhere to “mend the holes in the net” where social workers were unable to
respond due to their heavy work overload. About thirty young people are
currently supported by some twenty counsellors, either for school support in
French, in the search for internships or jobs, or in their knowledge of
Marseilles through games and visits to the city.”
Does this make Saint-Fé, as it is commonly called, a place where the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society are lived out?
“We seek to offer a truly Ignatian pastoral care. ‘Helping souls and reaching out to people wherever they are’ in order to walk with them and lead them to the Lord who will allow them to ‘see all things new’ in Him, first in their lives and then around them. This is clearly linked to the 1st Preference (showing the way to God). Two other concrete examples come to mind, one linked to the 4th UAP (caring for the Common Home) and the other to the 2nd (walking with the excluded) and 3rd (journeying with the youth).
We have new stained glass windows inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ in our church, an evocation
of the fact that ‘everything is connected.’ And we are preparing a Laudato Si’ nativity crib for the next
feast of the Nativity of our Lord. We believe in long mediation to reach out to
others where they stand. Here in Marseille, the visit of the Provençal crèches
from church to church is a well-established tradition. We hope that, through
the elements that our nativity scene will display, visitors will be made aware
of the urgency of a personal and collective conversion in view of the
safeguarding of our Common Home.
We also seek to create links between those who
frequent our shrine, for example, through the ‘Koffi Saint-Fé’, the Sunday
morning breakfast service for street people and people living alone who are
looking for a place where they can talk and fraternise. For this service, a
fair number of young people from several high schools come willingly to live
this experience of proximity and fraternity in action. They themselves say
afterwards that they appreciate this contact with people they are not used to
meeting in their immediate environment, and that their perception of them has
changed. It is truly a school of life.”
We pulled one representative from each of six Conferences and asked them for their thoughts about representing their brothers at CP71. Fr. J. Lourdu Xavier represents the Dumka-Raiganj Province (DUM). Fr. Thierry Anne represents the French Speaking European Province (EOF).
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