One night there was a beautiful eucharistic procession through the streets of Ars. Pilot photo/courtesy Cardinalís Office
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(Last week) I was in Ars, France, where I participated in the International Priests Retreat held to mark the Year for Priests.
The retreat in Ars was attended by about 1,500 priests, both young and old, from about 75 different countries.
As you might suppose, the largest group of attendees was from France. The second largest group was from the United States and there were priests from Africa, Latin America, China, and Eastern Europe there, as well.
Those who travelled the farthest to attend were a group of priests and a bishop from Samoa. It took them three days to get there. Unfortunately, the bishop had to return home early because of the tsunami that struck the islands.
We had a very nice group of about 20 priests from Boston and the New England area. Father Bill Kelly, our director of the Office for Clergy Support and Ongoing Formation, organized the trip for us.
The venue for the retreat talks was a very large underground church built near St. John Vianneyís Parish Church and Basilica.
Many priests stayed in hotels in the area. I stayed at the Le Foyer Sacerdotale, a retreat house that is very close to the basilica.
The retreat was preached by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, so he gave most of the talks. Cardinal Schonborn spoke in French. I gave four talks during the retreat, though I delivered mine in English.
One of the talks was given by Jean Vanier, the founder of LíArche communities, on the theme of Jesusí washing the feet of his disciples.
The retreat opened with a video of the Holy Father greeting the priests.
In one of the liturgies, we renewed our priestly vows from the Holy Thursday Mass. That was a very moving experience as well.
When I celebrated Mass for the group on Wednesday, we used the Cure of Arsí chalices and his vestments. We used his monstrance during the eucharistic adoration.
One of the Masses was celebrated by Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Archbishop of Paris. Then, Cardinal Christian Tumi, the Archbishop of Douala, Cameroon, arrived and celebrated Mass towards the end of the retreat.
The Community of the Beatitudes was in charge of the music and they did a terrific job.
It was a wonderful way to mark the Year for Priests. In fact, this event was planned even before the Year for Priests was announced, particularly with the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, but it was very fitting in this context.
It was a grace-filled experience for all those who were able to be a part of it.
I had never been to Ars before. It is a very beautiful town in the rural agricultural part of France. It is in the southeastern part of the country, an area with many important religious shrines. It is not far from Taize, Cluny, Paray-le-Monial, which are all in that area. LaSalette is also not terribly far away.