Pillar of Families

Posted on January 02, 2022 in: General News

Pillar of Families

Pillar of Families

Thousands take part in a nearly 600-mile pilgrimage across France organized with K of C support

By Cecilia Hadley

Knights Luc de Moustier and Arnaud Boutheon were participating in the annual March of St. Joseph in Paris last spring when they had an audacious idea. In this Year of St. Joseph, why not dream bigger? Why not a Great March — not across Paris but across France?

From that inspiration was born the Grande Marche de Saint Joseph, a 70-day, 950-km (590-mile) walking pilgrimage from Paris to southern France. The event was organized with leadership and support from numerous Knights of Columbus — including de Moustier, who is a member of St. Martin of Tours Council 16910 in Paris, and Boutheon, who serves as territorial deputy of France, where the Order has had a presence since 2015.

Beginning from Sacré-Coeur Basilica on June 7, pilgrims wended their way through 14 dioceses toward the Shrine of Our Lady of Graces and the Monastery of St. Joseph in Cotignac, where tradition holds that St. Joseph appeared to a shepherd in 1660. The faithful were encouraged to join for as long or as short as they were able: a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours. By the end of the Great March on Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption, nearly 10,000 people, including scores of Knights and their families, had participated.

One person who made the entire trek was St. Joseph himself, in the form of a statue created by de Moustier. The sculptor, who designed the statue in 2017, wanted to portray St. Joseph in a more natural, masculine pose than he appears in many statues. “Why show him carrying a child as a mother normally does?” he thought. “Why should we not make a St. Joseph carrying the child Jesus on his shoulders, like fathers often do?”

In his statue, the saint leans forward, climbing a step, his hands around the Christ Child’s ankles. Secure on his perch, Jesus raises a hand, pointing the way. Pilgrims transported the statue on a rolling platform the entire route, through Parisian suburbs, small villages and summer-green fields. Along the way, they prayed especially for the unity of families, for workers and the unemployed, and for the sick. They also collected prayer intentions from people they met.

These encounters with the people of France brought joy and hope to the organizers of the pilgrimage.

“Children, older people, people from all walks of life came out to walk behind Jesus and St. Joseph,” said de Moustier, who walked about 125 miles (200 km) of the route. “St. John Paul II wrote that the greatest joy for an artist is to bring joy. I must admit that I have been fulfilled.”

Boutheon was particularly moved by the warm welcome that local parishioners gave the pilgrims each night and the positive reactions they received even from people who were ostensibly far from the Church. “Authentic evangelization was made possible,” he affirmed. “And many hearts were opened.”

The revival of faith in France was the primary intention the Knights entrusted to St. Joseph during the Great March, and Boutheon believes that the French Knights will continue to play an important role in this mission. In helping to organize the pilgrimage, he said, they demonstrated the creative courage that Pope Francis praised in St. Joseph.

“This pilgrimage illustrated in a concrete way the power of mobilizing Knights, in the complementarity of their talents, in service to the Church,” Boutheon said. “The future of the Church relies on creative minorities and great friendships. The young Knights of Columbus in France can be this band of brothers who will be on the front line, with humility and boldness, for the re-evangelization of our country.’”

CECILIA HADLEY is senior editor of Columbia.