This is a wonderful devotion and ministry that got started a few years ago in France, for men who are husbands and fathers. Under the patronage and intercession of Saint Joseph, what started out as one pilgrimage now takes thousands of men on pilgrimages to holy sites all around France: the Sacré Coeur, but also Cotignac, Vézelay, the Mont Saint-Michel…
This year, the theme was “Take heart; get up, he is calling you!”, from Mk 10: 46-52. Men from two-thirds of the Paris parishes and all five dioceses of and surrounding Paris took part. Chapters from each parish walk to the church of St Augustine (pictured here) in the heart of Paris, and then do a procession, singing the rosary and prayers to St Joseph, walking up to the Sacré Coeur, where there is an hour of eucharistic adoration and confession, and a solemn Mass (and for those who wish, adoration through the night).
Let me tell you, there is something quite powerful about well over a thousand men standing in one church and singing hymns at the top of their lungs.
Last year, the procession was greeted by some heckling and jeering (“Death to the Church!”), but not this year. As we walked up the Montmartre mountain, leading up to the Sacré Coeur, there was this wonderful event: as our male choir sang in the night, the doors to the basilica opened, shining light into the Paris night–and we were joined by the female choir inside the basilica. It felt like something out of the Lord of the Rings, or being greeted by the angelic choir as you cross the gates to Heaven. After hearing a male choir all day, you were greeted by these angelic voices. And above the basilica’s high altar, shone the Blessed Sacrament, the real presence of our Lord who, through the open doors of the Basilica, looked out and shone upon the entire city.
In the wake of Pope Francis calling for a better “theology of woman” (I had some half-baked thoughts here), some people have asked, even non-snarkily, for a better theology of man. I’m unhappy (to say the least) with the gender-essentializing that too often passes for theological anthropology in the Church, but pilgrimages like this are wonderful “practical theology,” “kneeling theology.” Sometimes the best theology of man is offering up to the best human father, and patron of the Universal Church, Saint Joseph, and letting the Holy Spirit work on you.