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Catholic and Secular France Pilgrimage/Trip

Author: Janet Marie
Date of Trip: October 2015

We arrived to Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris without incident where we were greeted by 2 priests plus our European tour escort. The bus then took us from the airport to Lisieux from there with a rest stop along the way for lunch and relaxation – the bus ride was a few hours heading into northern France with its beautiful countryside. The region is much famed for dairy products such as cream & cheese plus apple products like cider. On the way to Lisieux, we did have some time for prayer and also some introductions to the region.

Upon arrival in Lisieux, we had some down time before we were taken to the Basilica of St Therese for our opening Mass in a chapel then we were able to tour the basilica and grounds plus go into the gift shop after Mass was done. It was amazing to see all of the various art work and photos related to St Therese. One of the towers on the grounds outside reminded me of the National Shrine of the Little Flower church in Royal Oak, Michigan. To be there was a true blessing, and something I wanted to experience as St Therese is my favorite saint.

We then had our group’s welcome dinner at Le Ferme Roy just outside Lisieux. It is a small place with great service. We had a multi course meal with salad, delicious French bread, red wine, water, and a pork main dish with potatoes. The highlight was a meringue/cake/ice cream type dessert that the chef lit up for us before it was sliced up and served.

We then returned to our hotel in Lisieux for the night. After an early breakfast, our group made the short walk to the Lisieux Carmel Convent from our hotel where St Therese lived from age 15 til her death at age 24. Her body is kept there along with the few items she had and used while in the cloister that are kept on display. Also, some items from the time of her time are there that she would have used at one point or another. Just above her tomb is her family’s original statue of the Virgin of the Smile that cured her as a child from a mysterious illness.

We then went to the Cathedral of St Pierre in Lisieux. Therese and her family went there for Masses and other things. A high altar there was donated by her father, now St Louis Martin who was recently canonized alongside his wife the new St Zelie Martin. Like all of the cathedrals and basilicas on the tour we saw, the art, stained glass, and architecture are absolutely stunning to see regardless of the time frames they were built. It is hard to comprehend how some of them were made without the advantages of modern methods.

After the cathedral visit, we went to St Therese’s childhood home where she lived with her sisters and father after the death of her mother. She lived there from age 4 til she entered the Carmel at age 15. The home is called Les Buissonets which means little bushes. The beautiful home, grounds and garden are kept up by several Carmelite nuns. Several nuns also offer tours of the family home with many original items that belonged to the Martin family. Her father moved his daughters to be closer to other family members (moving from Alencon to Lisieux) after the death of his wife when Therese the youngest child was 4. All of the Martin sisters (Marie, Pauline, Therese, and Celine) would become Carmelite nuns with the exception of Leonie who joined the Visitation order.

We then made our way to the coast to Omaha Beach and related things to the D-Day Allied Invasion of France on June 6, 1944. Some of the fortifications and things are still there to this day. The coastline is beautiful with blue waters with some cliffs nearby. It is hard to comprehend how many lost their lives (both military and civilian) to liberate Europe from the Nazis but they did so in the name of freedom. We then made our way to Colleville-sur-Mer for lunch, sightseeing, and see more of the beach during a few hours of free time. There are things up to this day showing gratitude to the Allied invaders too. After that, we went down the road to the American Cemetery where so many American soldiers were buried that were killed during the invasion and its aftermath. To see row after row of white marble crosses for Christians and Stars of David for Jewish soldiers was a sobering sight – so many young men who never got back to the USA. One of those in the group I was in was able to locate his cousin’s burial site with help from the cemetery people where our group later gathered in prayer to pray for the repose of his soul and all those there in an impromptu prayer service. We also were able to see parts of the museum, grounds, and nearby beach. For me, my late grandfather fought in the region so that day in the US army – the day was in his memory as he was never able to return back with his wife to show her years later where he had been – so me, his granddaughter did the day for them. We were supposed to have Mass at the chapel at the cemetery but things did not work out for that to happen.

We were able to go to Bayeux Notre Dame Cathedral to tour it on the way back from the American beaches etc. We could not have a Mass there but at least we were able to tour the magnificent old cathedral but we were not able to see the famous tapestry. After the tour, we went back to Lisieux for dinner & free time on our own in the evening.

We departed for the day to Mont St Michel from Lisieux early. We then took the free bus from the small town close to the island to the causeway. At times, the tides come in and it truly becomes an island. Some people do walk in the very wet sands and mud to the island when the water is far out, but you must be very careful & many choose to have guides help them cross. The location & the surrounding geography of the island has made it difficult for invaders like the English and later the Nazis to take it. Once on the island, we then made our way to the old St Pierre Church for our Mass then climbed more steps and a hill after lunch/free time to begin the ascent to the abbey of Mont St Michel which is dedicated to the Archangel St Michael with some parts that date back to the 700’s AD — the ascent up was 450 steps. I did do the climb with the steps which was tiring at times but some of the group stayed behind for health reasons and had some extra free time. We then we toured the very large abbey with our great local guide. There were some great views on the outside as well as the inside. The current order of monks that have the place took custody of the abbey in the early 21st century – we did not see them when visiting. After the abbey tour was done going down was much easier, then were able to have a bit of free time on the island to explore before returning to the mainland via the causeway bus then back to the lot where our own bus driver was waiting for us. We returned to Lisieux for a bit of free time & dinner on our own for our final night in Lisieux before we left early the next day to Paris.

We then made our way to Paris, and during the day today and the other days in Paris we got a city tour on our bus (sometimes with being able to get on or off). We went to the Shrine of St Vincent De Paul where his incorrupt body is kept, then we made our the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal where our group had Mass in one of the many side chapels on both sides of the large church where the visionary nun St Catherine Laboure is also buried.

We then were able to have some free time including lunch on our own – the small group I was with went to Le Bon Marche’s restaurant for a light lunch. Next, we made our way to the Louvre for a 3 hour pre-arranged guided tour with our new local guides to see of many highlights including the Mona Lisa before a bit more free time upon the tour finishing – I just wished I could have seen more paintings as they are more fascinating to me personally compared to sculpture (but I did get to see Venus Di Milo & the Winged Goddess of Victory also known as Nike). The place was packed for sure, and purchasing tickets ahead of time is a must.

In the evening we had our group dinner at the restaurant near the Louvre. After dinner was done, we all had a evening boat ride on the Seine River to see the City of Light at night time. It was amazing to see Notre Dame lit up as well as the Eiffel Tower plus learn some things about Paris. We got to our hotel late but we saw a great deal of the city some on foot but a lot from the comfort of the bus.

On Sunday, we had more city sightseeing via bus that day was interspersed into various parts during the day seeing some of the popular & famous Parisian sights and buildings via bus. Sometimes we were being able to get off to see a few of the popular sites, with some free time for lunch and exploring in the various areas of Paris we got to see.

Our Sunday morning Mass was in a lower chapel of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Couer) in the Montmarte section of Paris where we got to do more exploring after Mass and after visiting the very large & beautiful basilica. Most of us took the funicular (train thing) up and down as the stair climbing up and down can be exhausting. The view from the top of the hill on a very clear day allows you to see many parts of Paris including the Eiffel Tower. It was a bit foggy Sunday morning before it cleared later on. After Mass, we had some free time to explore Montmarte’s artists area, shops and cafes before making our way down hill to the bus for more city touring via our tour bus.

We did get to tour THE Notre Dame Cathedral too after lunch during our ongoing city tour. It is truly magnificent to see and behold especially the famous rose window, the stained glass, the ceilings, and some of the reliefs. We had another group meal not far from the Louvre for dinner for our final night in Paris after some free time in the afternoon where I sat outside like a Parisian at a cafe with a drink before we moved to the Lyon area early the following day.

Early Monday morning, we began our long journey from Paris to Lyon for the final portion of our pilgrimage. Of course, we encountered the Paris Monday morning rush hour on the way out of the city. I have to say many French drivers take a lot more risks compared to American drivers in the major US cities I have visited in the past. The total distance from Paris to Lyon is around 300 miles one way. We did have several rest stops along the way including a few hours in Nevers which is about 130 miles from Paris.

Our stop in Nevers was to see the convent, chapel, grounds and museum dedicated to St Bernadette. As a poor teenage girl, she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes (but we did not got there due to the 500 mile distance from Nevers, time to travel, and additional costs) then later on, Bernadette entered the Nevers convent after having been educated late in her teen years – they accepted her despite her ongoing health issues that caused her death around age 35. Upon entry, she was allowed to talk about the visions one time, then ordered to NEVER talk of them again and under obedience she did never speak of them again. We had Mass in a chapel in the novitiate convent chapel before we went to the small museum that contains a few items she had including her traveling bag, a few clothing items and umbrella plus the arm chair she was laying on when she died. Her incorrupt body with a wax mask covering is in one segment of the chapel also. We then had some free time in Nevers to explore and have some lunch before continuing onward to Lyon. I chose to go to a boulangerie (bakery) for a small quiche, a drink, and a few raspberry macrons – economical choice that was around 6 Euros – the same choice a few others made. Others chose one of a few cafes or restaurants. Like all areas of France, they must post menus and prices outside.

After lunch, we departed for Lyon and arrived in the evening hours then go to the restaurant Brassiere Georges for our multi course group meal – the main dish we had with fried potatoes with sausages with some type of wine sauce was outstanding. Lyon is well know for its cooking & I was not disappointed at all. We got to the hotel late in the evening as our base for the sights not far outside of the Lyon area we would get to see.

We made our way to Para Le Monial which means City of the Monks. There is a large abbey in town that is very old, and some of us after Mass & the tours of the chapels did walk the ground of the old magnificent abbey. We went to the Chapel of the Apparitions where St Margaret Mary Alacoque received visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which has become part of the basis of the First Friday Devotions. We saw a statue of her body and tomb then had Mass in the chapel. A couple in our group had their 25th wedding anniversary blessed in the chapel just before Mass was done too. After that, we got to see another chapel that has a lot of Jesuit ties to it too. We then had free time to explore and have lunch then visit the chapel gift shop before departure back to Lyon. Most French shops especially in smaller towns do close up during lunch time for an hour or so which is very unusual for Americans to encounter. I did get a delicious large apple pastry and a drink for lunch from a boulangrie (bakery).

We returned back to Lyon, and had an extra bonus – we got to go to the Notre Dame Fourvière which is on a very high hill. Our bus driver got us to the top of the hill so we could visit the magnificent cathedral that was built in thanksgiving to Mary the Mother of God after the town was saved from major illness/plague. The inside had magnificent mosaics, architecture, stained glass, and art.

After an hour or so of exploring, we got back on the bus and taken down the hill to the Rhone riverside where we had a few choices – a few hours of exploring & dinner if we wanted to eat then then get back on the bus to return to the other side of the river to our hotel or explore on own then dinner at our leisure then get some form of public transport back. Most chose the 1st option. I ended up walking around some with our 2 priest guides, and we did get to see the Cathedral of St Jean Baptiste (and a few others from the group went there a bit later). It has some really old ruins in the courtyard too. After that, we walked down some of the older streets of Lyon then back to the bus. I joined a few others from my group at our hotel’s restaurant for dinner. I had a nice steak and frites dinner before retiring for the evening.

We made our way to Ars the small town of the Cure of Ars St Jean Marie Vianney (John Mary). He become a priest after years of personal struggle and study with the support of the Abbe Bellay. He is now the patron saint of parish priests, and the patron saint of my home parish (along with a few others on our pilgrimage too). He was well known as a very pious priest, for preaching very well, and spent many hours of his day in the confessional daily. Many came from other areas for Mass and/or Confession. We got to see some of the chapel and church 1st before Mass at the side altar that has the wax covered face of the Cure of Ars himself above the high side altar. Many of the things date back to his time. After our group Mass, we then toured more of the church then the Cure’s home and a nearby chapel where his heart is kept.

We departed Ars for the Beaujoulis region not far away from Ars for a bonus excursion – a winery tour and wine tasting. We had lunch at the winery first then a few hour winery tour concluding with a wine tasting. Then we departed back to Lyon for our pilgrimage farewell dinner in Lyon at Le Bouchons Carnivores where the main course of pork with a mustard type sauce and pasta with cream sauce was served in a family style way.

We flew back to Detroit the following morning very early with a short hop flight from Lyon to Paris Charles DeGaulle Airport then onward to Detroit before getting on the bus to return to our respective starting points.

I have to say this was my first trip to France in my life, and hope some day to return to see more. I have traveled to Europe in the past but this was my first pilgrimage experience overseas which was a 5 star experience.

I liked that we had a nice mix of the fun/touristy secular sights with the all of the religious ones. For so many, what we have seen and eaten/drank checks off a lot on our travel bucket lists. The travel agency that set up the group tour did an excellent job alongside our priest guides plus our European tour escort and the various local guides & bus drivers to ensure we all had an enjoyable, spiritual, faith filled + safe experience overall.

I met many wonderful people on the pilgrimage as well, too many to name off here. We all took a lot of pictures, and shared so many great experiences with visits to so many religious sites and some major secular landmarks during the time. We enjoyed many great meals as a large group and also with others during free time in smaller groups too. I can clearly say I was never bored and was kept busy once we got to each destination for the various activities for the large group and also for the times we were allowed to break into small groups or wander alone some if we desired to do so. Again, I have to say I had a 5 star experience. As Rick Steves says “Keep on traveling!”

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