To speak and write about the Holy Family Pilgrimage is to go back almost thirty years. It is to rediscover the purpose and the witness and the people who set it in motion. It is to remember those who left for a better world and who had great faith and devotion to the Holy Family.
Two important things marked the year 1991 in our parish: the celebration of the tercentenary and the arrival of a community of Apostolic Religious of the Holy Family. It was a very festive year, filled with memories, joy and celebrations of all kinds. But does anything remain of these events for our parish and for us Associates who were few in number at that time?
We cannot discount Monique Chalifour's apostolic zeal and the vision she had in her heart. One of the first people she recruited was Judith Bouchard. Then they gathered people from the area, in a project to encourage devotion to the Holy Family and to build up a group of Lay Associates attached to the Holy Family of Bordeaux.
Together we thought of sending around a statuette of the Holy Family that would visit the homes. Modern society, for all its attractions, spurns many values acquired over generations. So it is with family values: it is difficult to stay the course. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the family of Nazareth, offer themselves as a family model in these turbulent times. The project presented to the parishioners, the pilgrimage, was an initiative to better integrate the values shared and lived by the Holy Family, through prayer, silence, respect and love.
We prepared a leaflet to help families to pray better, to be silent, to listen to the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who lived this family reality fully. From week to week, this project was aimed at families of all kinds: traditional, single-parent, reconstituted, grandparents or other households.
The first page, written by our parish priest Jean-Louis Nolin, challenges us and reminds us that devotion to the Holy Family is an inexhaustible treasure. Even the theme of the tercentenary is so ready: A LEGACY TO BE CULTIVATED. "Our past appeared to us rich in customs and traditions, strengths and riches of our families," writes Father Nolin. "Among these was the devotion to the Holy Family. This devotion dates back to 1675 at the time of Bishop François de Laval. In each house there was an image of the Holy Family. On their wedding day, couples received a picture of the Holy Family as a gift. With this support, the soil was rich for our project. A person from the parish even offered us the statuette. And now everything was ready.
So on December 8, 1991, during the celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we entrusted our project to Mary and the visits to the homes began, interrupted from season to season, under the supervision of Lise Beaulieu and Suzette Fortin.
In 2006 we took a break from visiting the Holy Family in order to refine the project. The prayer booklet had to be updated, a case had to be acquired to carry the Holy Family statuette, and a notebook had to be acquired to collect the comments of the various hosts. The Associates, with the help of their spouses, took charge of all these innovations. Noël Leclerc and Monique Fournier made a magnificent case, Catherine Tremblay and Simon Rainville prepared a rich booklet to include for the weekly visit. Themes were prepared for each day to meditate on with Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The new parish priest, Michel Poitras, challenged the parishioners to continue the pilgrimage. He gave it the theme: OPEN THE DOORS TO THE HOLY FAMILY. "To welcome the family of Nazareth into your home is to give them a place in your daily life, in the privacy of your home, in your personal and family life.”
The presence of the Holy Family was to prove simple, discreet and filled with love and kindness. How many graces it has brought to parish life. The testimonies collected in the booklet are rich examples of this fidelity. The visits provide a soothing, gentle, reassuring presence. The family meets to pray together. Other families receive good news during the week, others have found a job, have managed to ask for forgiveness. Especially the testimonies of the little children are charming. Some wanted to rock the Holy Family. Another toddler went to the statue and named them Jesus, the father and mother. Some drew hearts. Finally, several wrote at the end: "See you soon, I love you. Thank you for being there."
Then the Pandemic came. For almost two years the visits of the Holy Family to the homes were interrupted. But finally they were able to resume, with Monique Fournier in charge. And they received unexpected support. On the feast of the Holy Family in 2021, Pope Francis wrote the following: "Dear parents, know that your children -especially the youngest- are watching you attentively and are looking for a testimony of a strong and true love in you. Children are always a gift. They change the history of the family.
Just as the child Jesus changed the whole history of the family in Nazareth! Mary and Joseph were a couple, and with the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel, they were a family. By taking the Holy Family into your home you could also experience what seems IMPOSSIBLE. "And don't forget the grandparents, they are the living memory of humanity, this memory can help to build a more fraternal and welcoming world.”
May God accompany you.
Project collaborators: Judith Bouchard, Norma Beaumont, Claire Groulx, Associates of the Holy Family, Parish of St-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Canada
Holy Family Lay Associates, Canada