As we approached Paris on the train from Lourdes, grey skies loomed over us. In a way I suppose it captured the mood of the group. For most of us, a high degree of anxiety was felt about coming to Paris since the November attacks.
That soon subsided when we left Gare Montparnasse and travelling by taxi we ploughed through the lights and sounds of the streets of the 13th Arondissiment to our hotel. The anxiety gave way to the joie d’vive that truly is a hallmark of the city of lights.
Our first morning in Paris was a gloomy one but our eager pilgrims were ready to go. So off in the taxi we went to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the hill of Montmartre. The Basilica stands like a towering sentinel keeping watch over the city of lights. The Basilica is for Parisians a symbol of hope that the city and the nation of France may never forget to look to God even in the darkness of tragedy and despair.
After spending precious prayerful moments before the Blessed Sacrament which has been exposed and perpetually adored at the Basilica for over 125 years the pilgrims felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from them. Our time in Paris from that moment on had been consecrated to the Sacred heart of Jesus.
From the Basilica our chariots raced us to the once rejected but now much loved Eiffel tower. The presence of armed security was a welcome sight for pilgrims. The armed guards meant that life in this bustling city can and should return to normal. I’m sure a few of our pilgrims were dying to have their photo taken with the soldiers but were too afraid to ask.
From there we moved to the Cathedral of Notre Dame. A Google search explains that it s in fact this building and not the Eiffel tower is the most visited site in all of France. I’m not sure whether I believe that entirely. At our Mass in the Cathedral it was rather off putting to see a smattering of worshippers gathered for the Eucharist while throngs of people drifted pass with no reference to what was happening right there in their midst. For our pilgrims this detracted from the Cathedral being a place of prayer and worship. Needless to say there is some justification for the many thousands of people who pass through the Cathedral everyday in that the building and the adornments are among the finest in the world. Of course people should come to witness its beauty.
The last act of this day in Paris was to visit the Louvre museum. One simply cannot go to Paris without the obligatory visit to “The lady with the smile”. On one hand being in the actual room that hangs the Mona Lisa is quite an exhilarating experience but somehow tends to end up being somewhat underwhelming. Be that as it may the pilgrims posed for their individual portraits with “The lady” while trying to avoid being decapitated by the many selfie sticks around.
All in all the city of lights lived up to all that is said about it. Onwards now to Cologne Germany.