An Illumination to a People

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.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
The shrine of Jacques-Désiré Laval. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
The Stone Sarcophagus  of Father Laval. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
The Sarcophagus of Père Laval.  © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012
Burning votive candles. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

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

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39 thoughts on “An Illumination to a People

    1. Thank you Amy. When we visited the shrine, we encountered some people who were praying and it was moving to see the intensity with which they prayed. Even in this modern day, this man is inspiring to a lot of people.

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  1. I can never be a devoted person who has one vision, one goal, one focus. It’s even unimaginable when it takes time and that you have to get through a new territory in accomplishing your mission. I guess it’s the same with us, normal earthly people, who focus on material things. Theirs are more meaningful. I can try in little ways but I’m honestly saying I can never be them, and so I admire them.

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    1. I think that is why he has the respect of so many people and why he is seen as an example for so many. What makes it even more admirable is that he did all this for a group of people whose experience was so different from his own (he grew up in Normandy, France as the son of a successful farmer).

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  2. Lovely post Colline. 🙂 You talked of “illumination” in many levels. I like the part where a life can illuminate other lives. 🙂 Thank you also for the story about this holy man. 🙂

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Imelda. So often we forget about the people like this who quietly help others in the background. All we tend to see are those that are feted and photographed in the media.

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    1. I appreciate your comment Sartenada. Father Laval was certainly one who believed that a man, no matter who is is, is capable of learning more than what he currently knows.

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  3. A beautiful story of faith that gives people hope. We have a similar practice in the Philippines were we touched the feet or part of a blessed statue of Jesus, Mary, the saints in the hope of having our prayers answered. Perhaps a miracle for something that medicine can no longer cure.

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    1. The practice you mention is one practised by many all over the world – and even in Europe not so long ago. With the advent of materialism, people no longer turn to age old beliefs. Instead they focus on money and what it can buy.

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