2008-12-19 FRANCE

A pickaxe strikes at the heart of the rock

Yesterday morning, with a symbolic gesture, the turning point was signaled in the transformation of Notre-Dame de l?Hermitage, birthplace of the Marist Brothers: the end of the demolition period and the beginning of new construction.

His Excellency Dominique Lebrun, Bishop of Saint-Etienne, in company with Brother Provincial Xavier Barceló, struck a blow of the pickaxe at the heart of the rock, on the very site which, in l824, Marcellin Champagnat chose for the construction of a major edifice. Indeed, since the start of the year, this construction site, extensive as it is and destined to remain in place for another year, is in process of transforming the character of the ambiance.

In order to offer a greater availability to the world, Notre-Dame de l?Hermitage envisions itself in the future as a welcoming center and a place of Marist formation. Brother Xavier Barceló emphasized the importance of this opening towards the future without losing sight of the necessary historical perspective, given that many elements in the buildings will bespeak Marist history as, for example, the rooms which Marcellin Champagnat occupied during his lifetime. In their turn, Mayor Philippe Kizirian and Bishop Lebrun pointed out the importance of the transformation, the goal of which is indeed to enhance the historic venue?s spiritual radiance towards the world.

The ceremonies came to a conclusion with a presentation about the project?s technical elements explained by Catalunian Joan Puig-Pey, the lead architect, along with his colleagues Jaume Pujol; Stéphane Roulleau and Yves Poncet.

Rebuilding Notre Dame de l?Hermitage- The First Step
A Hearth at the Service of a Spirituality

Your Excellency,
Your Honor, the Mayor of Saint Chamond,
Dear Architects and Builders,
Dear Journalists,
Dear Brothers,

Real pleasure marked our response, Your Excellency, to your idea of conducting a ceremony to signal the end of the demolition phase of the Notre Dame de l?Hermitage project and the beginnings of its reconstruction stage. Yes, thank you very much for your proposal and especially for being here in our midst for the occasion. Allow us too a word of welcome to you, the Honorable Mayor of Saint Chamond. From the very beginning of the project, you welcomed the architects and several of the Brothers with attention and concern. In addition, you agreed immediately and enthusiastically to be here today with some of your city hall colleagues.

Our thanks go out as well to all who are present: to the architects, the directors of on-site work, technical experts, presidents and representatives of the bene-volent societies linked to this special place; to the assembled priests, Sisters and Brothers. You have been gracious in accepting the invitation to join with us today in this ceremony which, although symbolic, represents all the same a clear and concrete step in the overall plans of renovation.

Now that the reconstruction phase is about to get under way, you would want to be more cognizant of the reasons that have led to the establishment of such a very large work site. We wish to share with you the feelings that the Marist Brothers have about this project. Indeed to share such important background information was one the reasons for inviting you. Let us start with a little bit of history. Our Founder, Saint Marcellin Champagnat, a native of Marlhes, was appointed to serve as priest in nearby LaValla en Gier at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As his community of Brothers was outgrowing their small house, poorly equipped as it was, Marcellin chose this valley as the place in which he would lodge his growing community.

Here, Marcellin?s first Brothers, assisted by professional masons (two, I believe) put up this building with their own hands. To be noted, however, as our Superior General, Brother Seán Sammon, has pointed out, Marcellin was – at the same time – building, was carefully nourishing a community. This historic building served his aim of educating, of forming young men so as to send them out on mission to the parishes and towns which were requesting Brothers. Today, all of us, given our varied roles and functions, well symbolize the varied aspects of our world: those of the Church, those representing civil society, those who direct the project, the technical experts, members of religious communities, laity. We, indeed, are the world in the midst of which the Marist Brothers? mission unfolds.

In remodeling this historic venue to accord with the contemporary world, the Marist Brothers draw their inspiration from Father Champagnat. The congre-gation desires, in fact, that Marist Brothers not merely from France and Europe, but from the entire world may be able to approach the spring of water, may be able to benefit from this place drawing from the well, and tasting of the ?Water from the Rock.?

At the same time, not only do members of religious communities desire to draw life from it, but lay people too lay a claim upon Marist Spirit. This house, therefore, will be at the service of a spiritual undertaking that will include such activities as: formative experiences; contemplative experiences, putting into practice the Marist Brothers? charism after the manner of Father Champagnat. Remodeled and updated, these places will be at the service of all: formators, educators, teachers, group leaders, children, young people, families, Brothers, lay people . . . of all dioceses, but first of all the diocese of Saint Etienne. This venue will be at the service of the Marist Brothers? network of schools in France, in the Hermitage Province (including as it does five countries), and even at the service of an international network – more than seventy-seven countries on five continents, a truly global service such as Saint Marcellin had in mind when he remarked, ?All the dioceses of the world enter into our view.?

Such as project, you may say, is quite beautiful, but who is going to bring it to life? In little less than one year this house will be a living reality thanks to a variety of Marist vocations: Brothers and lay people. Together, they will be acting to carry out the mission of this special site. Even now, following the example of Father Champagnat?s first community, another community is coming into existence. Indeed, thanks to the reality which you are bringing into existence, it will become possible that the entire complex of structures will convey an important message to all who enter here.

We hope that each person who arrives here will be able to discover everywhere, at each turn of direction within the house and outside on the grounds, the spirit of Father Champagnat. We hope that – whether spending one day, or a week-end, or a workshop of a few weeks? or a month?s duration – all will be able to retain a very vivid experience, personal and communal, whereby to ?reclaim, in their lives the spirit of the Hermitage,? another phrase drawn from Brother Seán, a phrase to be translated into every day reality. And so, each one, especially educators and group leaders, will depart from the banks of the Gier enhanced by what has been discovered here and emboldened to transmit it to others in very simple ways.

Furthermore, in rebuilding these places you are doing much more than simply carrying out your professional tasks. You are, in fact, taking part in its future mission. In creating an attractive venue, one that is beautiful, useful and simple, you are in the process of allowing thousands of people to come to the serenity of this valley to discover or to find once again the interior voice that invites us to live in loving ways in the midst of the world according to the three violets of Champagnat: humility, modesty, simplicity, those qualities which create a ?Marist? heart.

Thank you for your involvement in this wonderful project. It is a project that we believe is dear to the heart of Father Champagnat because it will make known in a personal way to all who come here, how much ?God loves them? and how precious they are in God?s eyes.
Br. Xavier Barceló
Provincial of Province LHermitage


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