Published: Sunday, 24th May 2009
I start the second in the series of authentic Marian Shrines of the World by reminding the reader to make note of the word “authentic”. This word is contained in the principle of “True Devotion” to Our Lady as defined and approved by the Church and none other.
The word “Laus” is an unusual word to be found in France as it is a Latin word which means praise, but indeed there is a small village found, with that name, about 80 kilometres south of La Salette and found high in the mountains in the Diocese of Gap.
In 1664 Our Lady began to appear to a young girl called Benoite Rencurel and these apparitions have only just been approved by the universal Catholic Church as authentic during a solemn ceremony celebrated on Sunday May 4th 2008 in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Laus by Bishop Jean-Michael di Falco Leandri, along with 30 Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops and the Apostolic Nuncio of France.
The Church stated that they “recognise the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the facts experienced and recounted by Benoite Rencurel, and as such encourages the faithful to come and pray at this very special shrine, of which French theologian Jean Guitton called “one of the most hidden and most powerful treasures in the history of Europe.
On April 3rd, 2009 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI approved the heroic virtues of Benoite Rencurel and it is hoped that very shortly she will be declared Blessed.
The history of this shrine is that in 1664 Our Lady began to appear to an extremely poor peasant girl who could not read or write and who was minding sheep on the hills, some 900 meters above sea level in the foothills of the high Alps. This girl was the second youngest of 3 girls, Benoite a name which means blessed. Her two other sisters were called Madeline and Marie. Guillaume her father died when Benoite was only seven years old and which left the family in extreme poverty, living some days on stale bread and water. Benoite and her family attended Sunday Mass in the local Church where she was baptised, in the village of St Etienne. While she cannot attend school, she is taught by her mother Catherine to pray the rosary and to pray all the time, especially while she is minding the sheep. She also learns from the homilies at the Sunday mass, that Mary is the Mother of God, something that delights her and on which she will often contemplate, especially while praying. By the time she is 17 and still living in the family home, and working to keep the family alive, she has become somewhat of a mystic without realising it, in her utter simplicity, humility, purity and obedience, all of these virtues attracting heaven, and all as we know now, were practiced to an heroic degree.
On May 13th 1664 while Benoite is saying her rosary, she notices a beautiful Woman carrying a Child in Her arms. Benoite comes close to Her in the Vallon Des Fours, where plaster was made using lime from the many lime kilns, in the valley. Wanting to speak to such beauty, but not knowing what to say, asked the Lady “what brings you here, have you come to buy plaster? The Lady smiles and disappears, but is to return over 600 times over the next 54 years in this rather unique series of apparitions. There were a few of the apparitions in which nothing was said, however, there was spiritual communication and the moments between Our Lady and Child and Benoite, seemingly enjoyed by all.
Benoite asks the Lady, that if she is going to go away again, to leave the beautiful Child behind as He is a great consolation and Beauty and that all in the village might enjoy Him. Eventually the Lady speaks, and tells that She has asked Jesus especially for this place called Laus for the conversion of sinners and that He has granted Her request. The Lady instructed Benoite to go to Laus from her own village nearby and to look for Her there “where you will smell a very nice perfume.”
She made her way to Laus and found a Chapel dedicated to Notre Dame de Bon Rencontre (Our Lady of the Happy Encounter), She found the old Chapel there, but while the smell of the beautiful perfume was there, also the Chapel was in a bad condition “It is my desire that a new chapel be built here in honour of my beloved Son. It will become a place of conversion for numerous sinners and I shall appear here very often” said the beautiful Lady. At the heart of the message given to Benoite is a conversion of souls which aims to bring full reconciliation with oneself, with others, and with God. There is no clear cut distinction between these three forms of reconciliation, they are interdependent, that is, no one of them can exist without the other two. Love of oneself divorced from love of others becomes selfish and narcissistic. On the opposite end however, love of others divorced from oneself tends to be suicidal, while those who believe they love God, without loving others are simply lying to themselves.
The pastoral initiatives taken at the Shrine at Laus are aimed at bringing people to a reconciliation with oneself, that is, with one’s body, with one’s own temperament , with one’s soul, with family members and finally with God.
The sanctuary which Our Lady has asked to be built is known as the “Refugium Peccatorum” which means Refuge of Sinners, a title of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto which Our Lady taught Benoite to sing every day. In this Shrine it was Our Lady’s wish that men should be brought to understand the love which God offered them, something which Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est. (God is Love) The emphasis on the evil and dangers of sin in this shrine is very important as is the notion of repentance as absolutely essential to salvation. His Holiness Pope Pius XII once said the greatest sin of the modern age is the loss of the sense of sin, and that is so profound as we watch the daily news which tells of yet another daily murder, rape, robbery, violence, vandalism and all other types of crimes against humanity. Man in mortal sin turns into a monster and he is at home with evil which becomes something normal for him and he moves further away from God.
Pope John Paul II, the Great, often asked why the priests have stopped preaching about the 4 last things, namely Death, Judgement, Heaven or Hell and why it was that confession what not given the time it deserved in the Parish and that people be encouraged to go to confession at least once a month. Sin is without a doubt destructive personally, socially and universally. One has only to read a history book to see how people who lived in mortal sin turned into real monsters who hated everything. However nowadays, we seem in our arrogance and pride to think that we are now “grown up” Catholics and that we are “enlightened” by new philosophies and new age things like “mother earth” and as such are no longer sinners and do not need the sacrament of reconciliation. Man has fallen into sin and is predisposed to sin.
The catechism tells us that human sin is at the root of all other evils. (compendium,p39-57) and that this sin is present in human history (73) and in this sin, human nature is wounded in its natural powers, subject to ignorance (all six forms from invincible to crass) and to the dominion of death (77). Sin enslaves us to idolatry, a false god and away from true love, who is Jesus himself. Every human being is really the cause and the instrument of the sufferings of Jesus through our sins.
At the Shrine in Laus, Our Blessed Lady gave Benoite Rencurel a special vocation in which God granted her the gift of reading hearts. She was often given the task of correcting souls and disclosing their sad condition to them, she would also like Saint Pio, remind them of their forgotten or hidden sins and urged them to purify themselves of them.
Recorded in the documents of Benoite in the Diocesan archives in Gap, is the story of a conversation between a Mrs Rolland, (a woman who had no interest in religion, like many in France today) and who had employed Benoite to mind sheep. Mrs Rolland herself decided to hide behind a rock at the place of the apparitions.
When Our Lady appeared, Benoite was immediately told that her employer was over there hiding behind the rock, and to tell her that “there will be no Paradise for her as she curses with the Holy Name of Jesus (this is the same massage of La Salette and contrary to the second commandment, not to take the name of the Lord in vain) and that furthermore her conscience is in a very bad state, and to do penance. Mrs Rolland heard everything and throwing herself at the feet of Benoite, asked her to tell Our Lady that she would indeed, confess, do penance, and amend her life.
In one of the apparitions, Our Lady told Benoite who she was, “I am Mary, the Mother of Jesus” so now there is no doubt who is intervening “Ecce Mater Tua” and as Mother of Jesus is likewise offended when people use the name of Jesus to curse. Our Lady asked always for Benoite to pray “for the conversion of sinners and who oftentimes give her names of people whom she should pray for. Many conversions continue even until today and many miracles continue to happen at this Shrine, which was always approved by the Diocese from its inception and which attracts about 120,000 people every year. With Universal approval that number is expected to rise.
Benoite was faithful to her mission and to her prayers and many people came to ask her advice, so much so that she had to attend mass through a small window in the gallery of the Church to escape the crowds who sought to overwhelm her.
She grew in holiness and in mysticism so much so that many of the Saints like Catherine of Sienna and Saint Rose of Lima came to see her. One sees inside the Basilica many paintings depicting the life and visits of the saints to this seer. Benoite also became a “third order” Dominican taking the veil but staying in Laus. She would have liked to have entered a cloister but was unable because of her specific mission to promote the sacrament of penance, and reconciliation, and the nearest convent would have been 250 kilometres away which would have made this impossible.
There were then, and are now, many cures of physical, psychological and spiritual natures occurring here in abundance and many pilgrims are blessed with a special oil, that Our Lady told Benoite where to get and how to mix. There are also reports of the smell of the exquisite perfume which science cannot explain, but which the current Bishop has declared that he is not the only one to smell it but that he himself is the recipient of a special grace. To avoid any deception, flowers are not allowed at the Shrine, so that when this heavenly fragrance comes, and which surpasses all other known fragrances on earth, there can be no doubt it permeates from Heaven. The entire Church and the Valley can then give thanks to God and Our Lady for this wonderful aroma, which gives such deep satisfaction and contemplation of Paradise.
Benoite Rencurel went on suffer the mystical stigmata, after an apparition of Our Blessed Lord on Friday 7th 1673, when the blood covered Jesus on the Cross said to her “my daughter, I Am showing Myself to you in this condition so that you may participate in the sorrows of My Passion”. She suffered so for 15 years and fulfilled her mission to emphasis the danger of sin, the importance of repentance and living a penitential life, that confession was absolutely essential to salvation, and the necessity of receiving the sacrament frequently. The sanctuary is rightly called “Refuge of Sinners”.
Benoite died in the odour of sanctity at 8 o’clock in the evening of December 28th (Feast of the Holy Innocence) 1718, in her 72nd year. She was completely lucid and her face was radiant with joy. She is buried in the Basilica, under the main alter, which has now been built around the Chapel of Notre Dame de Bon Recontre in Laus. Some years ago, she was exhumed and her body found to be perfectly intact. Pope Pius IX proclaimed her “Venerable Servant of God” on October 16th 1872. She is expected to be beatified later this year by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.
For those who would like to visit Laus, the nearest airport is Grenoble and the website is www.notre-dame-du-laus.com
This feature is categorised under Marian Shrines