All Christians are one body, and if one member suffers, all members share in his suffering. St. Paul’s affirmation (1 Cor 1-12) resonated in the heart of Olivier de Masfrand during a Mass celebrated eighteen months ago. The Church of France was humbly beginning its process of acknowledging sexual abuse committed in its midst. Mortified by this reality, de Masfrand, a physician, received during the Consecration “the very clear and simple directive to walk from Our Lady of Paris to Our Lady of Lourdes and to pray for the abused.”
“At last,” exclaimed those in charge of initiatives dedicated to listening to survivors of sexual abuse in the Church. De Masfrand’s intuition was confirmed by many and the Consolation Walk took shape. “It is above all a question of showing our compassion for the victims of abuse and praying for them, so that the Lord may give back to those who have lost the freedom to believe in Him,” adds the organizer.
The names of victims entrusted to the Immaculate Conception
All along the way and via a dedicated email address, it is possible to entrust the name of a victim to be prayed for. Every evening, during the prayers in the churches along the route, the names of victims of abuse are placed on the altar.
Maryline participated in the prayer vigil in Isle sur Tarn (Tarn). It was the first time she had prayed for victims of sexual abuse: “I put myself in the place of the victims,” confides this nursery assistant. I put myself in the place of the victims,” confided this nursery school assistant. “This approach shows that these faults do not come from God but from men. We must learn to forgive and not condemn God.
Father Sébastien Diolène, pastor of the same parish, saw in the Walk of Consolation “a sign of hope and comfort with a desire for truth with regard to the abused and contrition with regard to the abusers.” “Praying specifically for the victims allowed us to touch the reality of abuse and to hand over this suffering to Jesus and Mary,” he explains. At the end of the Walk of Consolation, the names of the victims will be entrusted to the Immaculate Conception at the Massabielle grotto on August 10. Mary intercedes, but it is Jesus who heals, as indicated by the icon representing Christ in glory, placed each evening at the foot of the altar.
Above all, it is a question of showing our compassion for the victims of abuse and of praying for them, so that the Lord will give back to those who have lost their freedom to believe in Him.
Unbelievers struck by the witness
All along the way, providential encounters take place, for example, due to a lack of water or a mistaken turn is taken. Passersby offer the pilgrims a victim’s name, the first names of several children of the same family are given. In one act the extent of sexual abuse in the Church is clarified, intercession is extended and the law of silence is broken. “The process touches hearts deeply,” says the organizer.
Unbelievers are touched by the process. “If this is the Church, then it changes everything,” exclaims one of them. De Masfrand witnessed a change of attitude in some of the people he has met along the way. From a first suspicious, even hostile look, tongues have loosened. “Good luck, we are with you!” they say. Other walkers – believers or not – momentarily leave the road to Compostela and share a part of the journey. For the organizer, these providential encounters are a true sign of God: “Above all, it is a question of showing our compassion for the victims of abuse and of praying for them, so that the Lord will give back to those who have lost their freedom to believe in Him.”
Desiring to find himself, Brieuc, a father, walked alone for a few days on the GR46 near Cahors. Having momentarily left the trail to admire the view, he came across the consolation walkers. He joined the group in the afternoon. “It’s a very beautiful process. I had heard about financial reparation for the victims, but not about a spiritual action,” says the 30-year-old. The Church is the scapegoat in these sexual abuse cases. It shows the way to compassion and reparation. Through this approach, it enlightens the other sectors concerned (sports, families…).” For this non-practicing Christian, participating in the prayer for the victims of abuse was a way to make progress in his need to find himself.
Praying for priests and religious faithful to their mission
The Walk of Consolation also made the intention to pray for faithful priests and religious. “Wounded by the way they are looked at, some of them don’t even dare to wear the Roman collar anymore,” de Masfrand admits. However, as Father Sébastien points out, “they are much more numerous than those who have committed these abuses.” The prayer recited each morning by the walkers implores:
Protect, Lord Jesus, the priests, religious men and women, so many of whom are exemplary and some of whom inspire holiness, they who gave their lives in one day.
Some religious communities pray especially for these intentions. In one of them, which also welcomed the pilgrims, the mother abbess confessed that this was the most beautiful gift she had been given in her 46 years of religious life. Many bishops praised the initiative and some regretted that the Walk of Consolation did not pass through their diocese. Perhaps new routes will be planned?