Pentecost pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres will have record number of pilgrims

Catholics walk in an annual traditional Catholic Pentecost pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres May 27-29, 2023, which drew a record 16,000 participants. Organizers said this year's pilgrimage May 18-20, 2024, would draw even more -- a record 18,000. The 42nd annual event was organized under the theme "I want to see God," and some 1,500 foreigners planned to participate, including a group of Catholics from the U.S., U.K. and Germany. (OSV News photo/courtesy Notre-Dame de Chrétienté)

PARIS (OSV News) -- The traditional Notre-Dame de Chrétienté pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres that takes place over the Pentecost weekend had a record number of 16,000 pilgrims in 2023, but this year the number is thousands beyond that.

From May 18 to 20, nearly 18,000 pilgrims will take part in the 62-mile walk to a famous cathedral southwest of the French capital.

"It is an explosion in the number of pilgrims," Jean de Tauriers, president of the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté association, which organizes the pilgrimage, told OSV News. "Since 2007, we have seen a steady increase, but now we are faced with exponential growth. We had to close registration this time even earlier than last year."

Many were unable to register for the pilgrimage as they had hoped. "We increased the capacity of the pilgrimage a little this year, in consultation with the civil and military authorities who ensure its security," de Tauriers explained. "But it was far from sufficient to meet all the demands."

Some 1,500 pilgrims come from abroad, in particular from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

"There would be four times as many if we had been able to welcome them all," de Tauriers pointed out. "What we are doing now is encouraging pilgrimages abroad, based on the same model," he explained, citing the example of the "Three Hearts Pilgrimage" in Oklahoma.

"There is no need to be triumphalist about the figures," the pilgrimage organizer stressed. "It is not primarily a question of numbers. The pilgrimage was born in 1983, following John Paul II's visit to France in 1980. In 1984, we were just a few thousand on the road to Chartres, and we were very happy!"

The Paris-Chartres pilgrimage is organized by devotees of what is commonly referred to as the "Traditional Latin Mass." Participants spend the nights camping at their daily destination. Luggage is driven from one place to another by trucks organized by volunteers. More than 1,000 people organize the annual pilgrimage. The pilgrimage has as its theme "I want to see God."

De Tauriers recalled that at the time the pilgrimage was created "the atmosphere was tense in France," regarding ongoing reforms in the Catholic Church. "Our pilgrimage was part of a desire for cultural and religious resistance, following the example of the Czestochowa pilgrimage in Poland," he said, referring to the city where the Marian shrine of Jasna Góra is a destination for thousands of pilgrims each year, walking routes as long as 370 miles.

The pilgrimage attracts the youth, with the average age of participants being 23, de Tauriers pointed out, estimating that half of the pilgrims are under 20.

"The context has changed. Today's young French Catholics are courageous and demanding. They are unashamedly Catholic, with a desire for solid religious practice that strengthens their faith. They demand serious teaching of the faith," he said.

Among the pilgrims, around 55% are regular attenders of the so-called traditional liturgy, while 30% attend Mass no matter the rite, with the rest attending the post-Vatican II rite.

"Our pilgrims also include a growing number of non-practicing people, or those returning to the faith," de Tauriers pointed out. "They come, thanks to friends, because they have questions. They want to see a priest, to talk," he said.

In France, de Tauriers explained, the implementation of the Second Vatican Council focused on "very intellectual aspects," while "many concrete signs … all those habits of religious practice that sustained faith" -- such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the obligation to go to Mass on Sundays, confessions, kneeling -- "were neglected.

"This contributed to the collapse of religious practice, and of catechism attendance, the content of which had been considerably reduced," the organizer of the pilgrimage said.

"Today, the importance of this popular piety, which roots faith in everyday life, is beginning to reappear," de Tauriers said. "For our part, it is through the Tridentine liturgy that we are missionaries. This is our specificity, and the charism of this pilgrimage," in which catechisms are handed to families so that they can learn more about the Catholic faith and transmit the knowledge to their children.

"Everyone agrees that the number of people returning to God and converting in France has been growing in recent years. Our pilgrimage is one of the places where this is happening, although of course it is not the only one," de Tauriers pointed out.

The pilgrimage begins at Saint-Sulpice, the largest church in Paris, which hosts important gatherings of the faithful until the Notre Dame Cathedral reopens.

The first batch of pilgrims will set off before the opening Mass, a column of 2,000 to 3,000 people will set off at 7 a.m., to help manage the flow of pilgrims.

"This is one of the new measures we have taken to welcome a few more people," de Tauriers explained. Mass will be celebrated for them when they arrive at the first "bivouac," or stop along the route.

Chartres has been a pilgrimage destination for French people for centuries. In 876, King Charles III, known as Charles le Chauve or Charles the Fat, donated a relic that to this day is one of the most important in France -- the veil of the Virgin Mary -- to the Chartres cathedral.

According to tradition, the veil -- a piece of plain cream silk dating from the first century -- was worn by Mary at the Annunciation and the Nativity. Before being donated to France, it was preserved in the once-thriving Christian city of Constantinople.

The veil escaped the fire of 1194, which ravaged the cathedral and indirectly led to the church's reconstruction, because it was protected by monks for three days in the crypt. But it only partially escaped the revolutionary fury of 1793. Cut up, only two pieces of the veil have survived, which are visible today in two reliquaries.

"The pilgrimage is a great school of faith, teaching us that we have to approach everyone individually -- that no universal patterns of ministry can be applied, and that in every human being we have to see the past but also the future," Father Mateusz Markiewicz, secretary-general of the Institute of the Good Shepherd in Courtalain, France, and six-time pilgrim, told OSV News.


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