It was a joy to visit the Basilica of Sacre Coeur yesterday at the beginning of our pilgrimage to France.
It nostalgic for me because it was there that I had my first positive experience of the Catholic faith.
The summer after my senior year in high school I joined an Evangelical mission team which was part of the Slavic Gospel Association. The Slavic Gospel Association was founded by a Ukrainian pastor who was a refugee from the Soviet Union. Part of their mission work to those trapped under the communist regime was to smuggle Bibles and Christian literature into the Eastern bloc countries.
College aged young people spent the summer living and working in Northern France and taking excursions into Eastern Europe in a fleet of VW vans packed high with boxes of Bible and Christian literature in the various Eastern European languages. We would deliver the Bibles to established clandestine contacts who then broke the boxes into smaller packages which then made their way across Eastern Europe.
I was part of a team that took literature into Switzerland as the first posting. Others went into Poland, Czechoslovakia and even as far aas Yugoslavia.
It was an exciting summer, and at the end of our trip we spent a few days in Paris. It was there on a summer evening that I first wandered through Montmartre. The other Evangelicals sat on the steps in front of the basilica overlooking the city, but I went into the church.
I’d never been into a Catholic Church before and suddenly there I was in the darkness of the vast basilica with candle light at the votive stands around the side aisles. At the front was a huge something. I didn’t know what it was–a stand of some sort with a white disc on display. All around me at various spots in the church people were kneeling in silence.
I joined them and suddenly felt a great peace and a powerful presence.
Without knowing it I had discovered Eucharistic Adoration. The sacrament has been adored at Sacre Coeur perpetually from the dedication of the church in 1919. I didn’t know what I was doing, but my heart was open to the Lord and I was adoring him even in my ignorance of the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood.
What a joy therefore to celebrate Mass there yesterday with our pilgrims!
I learned later that the Basilica was constructed as an act of reparation after the devastation of the French Revolution. It stands as a sign today of the hope one still has for renewal and revival of the faith in Europe–especially in beautiful Catholic France.