'Tears are sign of love,' says rector of French sanctuary known for praying for the dead
(OSV News) -- Hidden in a picturesque town 93 miles west of Paris, Montligeon may not be as famous as Lourdes, yet it is the second most visited sanctuary in France.
"It's a very small village. And in this small village of 700 people, there is a huge basilica. So most people, when they arrive there, they're very surprised by the size of the church," Father Axel de Perthuis, chaplain of the Spiritual Fraternity of Our Lady of Montligeon, told OSV News.
"It's a magnificent basilica," Father Paul Denizot, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Montligeon, says in a video posted on the sanctuary's website. "It's so bright and it is permeated with the tears of many people and especially with the presence of the Virgin Mary, who comes to join all those who suffer."
Montligeon, dubbed "the shrine that does good to souls," is located in the Diocese of Séez, in the Normandy region, "deep in the gorgeous Regional Park of Perche," the shrine's website says.
Our Lady of Montligeon, known as Our Lady of Deliverance of the Poor Souls, is a central figure of the shrine -- a world center of prayer for the deceased. Every year, it hosts thousands of pilgrims and visitors who come on a personal quest to find consolation and hope, or to entrust their loved ones to Our Lady.
"The purpose of a pilgrimage to Montligeon is to come and entrust a loved one, a deceased person, to come and weep too, to be able to meet a Sister of the New Covenant or a chaplain, to renew ourselves in the bath of Christian hope, to remember what Christian hope is: It tells us that life and love are stronger than death," said Father Denizot, who, like Father de Perthuis, is a priest of the Community of St. Martin.
"It's also an opportunity to remember that we, the living, can still do something for our deceased. It's never too late to say thank you in my prayers, to ask forgiveness and perhaps to help in a stage of purification after death," he said.
Since 2001, the care of the Montligeon shrine has been entrusted to the priests of the Community of St. Martin.
At the end of the 19th century, Father Paul-Joseph Buguet was assigned to the hamlet of La Chapelle-Montligeon. Seeing how poor his parishioners were, he initiated two major charitable works. One was securing jobs for his people -- he established a printing house. The other was securing their eternal life -- he started the Montligeon Spiritual Fraternity of prayer for the deceased.
The founder of the sanctuary was touched by personal tragedy as well. In 1876, his brother Augustus was crushed by the bell of a neighboring Mortagne parish church. The death of both his nieces followed; they were grief-stricken after their father's demise.
"One consequence of what I have only recently been meditating upon," he then said, "is the need to relieve souls from purgatory. I have delayed too much establishing the work I had planned."
In 1897, Father Buguet took a trip to the U.S. to establish more chapters of the Montligeon Spiritual Fraternity. Those enrolled in the fraternity benefit from the daily perpetual Mass celebrated from their intentions at the shrine and in various places worldwide. "Initiated by Father Buguet at the very start of his charitable endeavors, its members nowadays amount to millions," the sanctuary's website says.
Today people visit the sanctuary throughout the year, but November remains the busiest month for the friars. What is very touching for the friars is to see parents mourning their children.
"We've set up a path of consolation to pray for these children who never saw the light of day, who either died of miscarriage or were aborted," Father Denizot said.
"And it's done with great tenderness. In other words, the church is not here to judge. Above all, we're not here to judge people, but to remind them that these little dead people are, in fact, people. And perhaps also to help mothers in particular, because it's often they who bear all the consequences of these acts," he said.
"We don't talk much about men, but sometimes men too, that they can heal from guilt, name the child, pray for him, ask forgiveness and then entrust him to the Virgin Mary, that's a beautiful hope too," Father Denizot said. "And sometimes, forgiveness takes a long time. But God's forgiveness, which is once and for all, helps us to forgive ourselves over time, and forgiveness is not only given by God, but in God by the child," he said.
Father Denizot encouraged those mourning not to be afraid of tears as "consolation starts with tears."
"If Jesus cried, I don't see why we shouldn't cry. We welcome many people in mourning. Tears are the sign of love," he said.
For him, Mary is a central figure of the shrine: "in the midst of this celestial crowd of saints, the Virgin Mary is the welcoming Mother."
"I don't feel like entrusting my deceased to just anyone. I can entrust them to the Virgin Mary, who is a mother whose heart was pierced on the cross, who knows what suffering is," Father Denizot said.
Father de Perthuis added that "for those who stay, praying for the deceased can give them hope."
"If we don't believe in the afterlife, then death is like a wall in front of which we're stuck, he said. "But when we start to pray for our departed, for our loved ones who are dead, we start to believe that death isn't the end of everything, and that through our prayer, they can find peace."
- - - Paulina Guzik is international editor of OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @Guzik_Paulina.- - - NOTES: More information about the Shrine of Our Lady of Montligeon and the Montligeon Spiritual Fraternity can be found on the shrine's website, https://montligeon.org.