On the grounds of the parish church in Sainte-Croix in Mauritius, one finds the the shrine that has been erected to honour Jacques-Désiré Laval, a Catholic priest and missionary born in France on 18 September 1803.
When Laval arrived in Mauritius as a missionary, he found that the large population of creole people (80 000) had been neglected. After learning the language spoken by these black people (a pidjin French), he worked to improve their lot. He set up groups within the creole community to help him teach catechism, baptise and give communion. He delegated authority to these leaders to build chapels, and to look after the sick and poorest within their community. For the creole in Mauritius, Father Laval was a Godsend. His example, however, is recognised not only by the poorest people in Mauritius; but also by those of every class. He gave himself selflessly to his mission, working continuously for the poor and disenfranchised.
Everyday people of all faiths visit the vault of Père Laval. They see before them the stone sarcophagus that contains his remains. Candles are lit; and people pray for the sick. On the anniversary of his death, 9 September, people from all over Mauritius (as well as people from places as far as South Africa, Britain and France), visit for a pilgrimage to participate in the festival and procession that takes place.
The sarcophagus of the priest is now enclosed in glass. Before it was enclosed, visitors used to touch the stone coffin in the hopes that touching it would heal the sick one they were praying for. Now visitors touch the glass as they say their prayers. Votive candles are also lit.
These votive candles are the physical illumination of the prayers that have been said in the crypt: prayers that are said before the memory of a man who was a shining example to those that saw him living; and to those who learn about his life and actions in our present day. Père Laval was a man who forged his way down a new path, showing others what could be done for the poor and sick. He was a man who gave hope and empowerment to a group of disenfranchised people on the island of Mauritius.
Who are other illuminating examples in our society?
(This post was inspired by the weekly photo challenge issued by the folks at WordPress.com. This week’s prompt is Illumination)
© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012