The Pilgrimage

The annual pilgrimage to Sainte Croix originated from the very day of his funeral on 11 September 1864. The crowd was so big that there was not even standing room in St Louis Cathedral. On that occasion ‘Father Thévaux chanted Mass. Revd Father Etcheverry pronounced the funeral oration commenting on the words of Isaiah ‘Evangelisare pauperibus misit me’ (He sent me to announce the Gospel to the poor). Mgr Hankinson blessed the bier and the body of the revered deceased, followed by more than thirty thousand weeping people, was buried opposite Ste Croix Church, in the Vallée des Prêtres, on the spot where popular fervour has erected a superb monument8 in remembrance of his good deeds . . .’. There not only at each anniversary of his death but even every day, ‘like an endless chain with unbreakable links, pilgrims of all ages bring flowers, wreaths, candles, ex-votos and pray over his remains to ask for this protection’.

In the 1950’s, the pilgrimage under the impulse of Father Dethise and of the Christian Workers Organisations became more structured and orderly. Groups of pilgrims, mostly from the working class, travel from their respective villages and towns to meet at fixed points in Port-Louis before converging towards Sainte Croix. In 1965, the mausoleum containing the sarcophagus of Father Lava! was pulled down to make room for the building of the more spacious Sainte Croix Church. In 1979 after Father Lava! had been beatified in Rome by Pope Jean Paul II, thousands of people attended the Thanksgiving ceremony at the Blessed Virgin Mary’s monument in Port-Louis.

Many masses are celebrated at the shrine on 8 September and these are followed by a vigil to end the day. The first of the numerous masses said on the anniversary of the death of Père Laval on 9 September, starts in the very early morning.

The different miracles related by chroniclers and historians or handed down from family to family and the holiness of Father Lava!, attract more and more pilgrims to his shrine as years go by. In addition, the increasing number of Mauritians who emigrate spread his name overseas.11 Father Laval’s reputation for holiness has thus crossed the seas and to-day not only Catholics of neighbouring countries but~Iso visitors, from far and near, come and pray before his remains in Sainte Croix, bearing witness to the fact that a saint has trodden Mauritian soil.

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