human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Regional Conference 2016: The magic of the Cité Saint-Pierre

In less than 3 months, European Caritas organisations will gather at the Regional Conference 2016 in Lourdes. The reasons behind chosing this location are deep rooted in the identity of Caritas, as part of the Church, and in its preferential option for the poor.

In May 1956, Bishop Jean Rodhain, founder of Secours Catholique – Caritas France, decided to open the Cité St-Pierre in Lourdes. His intention was to offer a shelter to those pilgrims who could not afford any accommodation in Lourdes. Msgr Rodhain’s effort to bring the Church closer to the poorest is in line with the Pope’s call for “a poor Church for the poor“. As his Holiness writes in Evangelii Gaudium‘s The joy of the gospel: “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care”. The Cité Saint-Pierre is the kind of place that tackles this problem. It is a place that enhances the spiritual dimension naturally, where people discover a source of spirituality stemming from the very experience of Bernadette, poor among the poorest, whom the Virgin Mary addressed in 1858.

In a green setting on the heights of Lourdes, the house is simple but beautiful. The quality of the reception allows for true encounters. There, the poor find a space where they can reveal their inner feelings. For many of those coming to the Regional Conference 2016, coming to Lourdes with their Caritas will probably be the journey of their lives. And for Caritas it will mean a realisation of Jesus’ words: “The Good News is preached to the poor” and one could even add: “… and the gospel is announced by the poor”.

“You carry my suitcase like I was somebody, you smile at me”, said once a pilgrim in gratitude to a Cité St-Pierre staff. Like this person, everyone coming to the Cité St-Pierre can enjoy the kindness in brotherhood that is so particular for the place. This is only possible thanks to the hundreds of volunteers that give their time to serve pilgrims from all backgrounds and all cultures and who fully live out their encounter with them. Through these exchanges, they discover their richness and talents. They share concerns, questions, wishes, joy and hope. And this all happens without fearing of being judged.

Since early 1990’s, Secours Catholique – Caritas France organises regularly “Journeys of Hope”. These are at the heart of the mission of the Cité Saint-Pierre. They foster meetings among people in poverty, members of Secours Catholique – Caritas France and sister Caritas organisations. They enable them to live together the message of Lourdes, while strengthening their faith and their hope. The journeys also offer the opportunity to dedicate several days to a unique experience of living in a community and in fraternal communion. This enables people to live out diaconia, to evangelise the relationships and to reveal each person’s talents and capacities.

“It is the first time ever that I can express myself in such a powerful way!” said a pilgrim once. In Lourdes, fragile people discover a place where they recover their dignity and self-confidence. At the Cité Saint-Pierre, meeting people from all over the world becomes a source of trust and confidence, where the joy of living spreads among all.

The words of Pope Francis, the spirit of Msgr Rodhain and the thousands of stories about living out and sharing faith, regaining one’s dignity and finding one’s inner strength and confidence are at the heart of the decision to bring the Regional Conference of Caritas Europa to Lourdes. This Regional Conference will be much more than a gathering. It will be a demonstration of our unity in fraternity for more solidarity in Europe.

Click here for more information about the Regional Conference.

 

Written by Thibault d’Hauthuille, Secours Catholique – Caritas France