In mid-September, 1846, Pierre Selme, a peasant of the Ablandins had to
find a boy to replace his shepherd who had become ill. He sought out
Giraud the wheelwright in Corps and tells him. "Let me have your little
Maximin for a few days..." "Mémin, a shepherd? He is too much of a
scatterbrain!" replied Giraud. Ther is some give and take between the two,
and on September 14, Maximin walked to the Ablandins. On the 17th he saw
Mélanie there. On the 18th, they ar watching their flocks in a communal
pasture around Mont Planeau. That afternoon, Maximin made an attempt at
conversation with the silent Mélanie. They discover that they are both
form Corps. They talk a while and decide to "pasture" together at the same
spot the next day.
150 years of our Lady
of La Salette Appearance
On 19th September 1846, in La Salette, a village in the
French Alps, Our Lay appeared to two poor and illiterate children, Melania
and Maximino, while they tended sheep on the mountain. The "Beautiful
Lady", as they said, appeared sitted down, surrounded by light, with Her
face in Her hands, and crying. Then She stood up. dressed like a local
peasant, She walked some steps, and kindly asked the children to walk
towards Her. always in tears and with the cross hanging in Her neck
radiating light, She told the children, in the dialect of that region, a
long and soulful message to be transmitted by them to their people.
In Her own words, the Beautiful Lady talked about the problems people were
having in La Salette, the problems in France, and the troubles in Europe:
hunger, child mortality, lack of faith. She was suffering and She called
all the people look for conversion by listening to the words of Her son
Jesus. When She finished Her speech, She walked other few steps on the
grass while rising to the sky.
After tht happening, the message of the Beautiful Lady was transmitted by
the little shepherds to the villagers. The people were deeply touched by
those words and went to the place of the place of the appearance to search
a new life, as Our Lady announced. Since then multitudes of pilgrims from
all the world have been finding reconciliation and peace in La Salette.
The "La Salette Happening", as the appearance is known, was officially
recongnized by ecclesiastical authorities on 19th September
1851. In 1852 the Congregation of Our Lady of La Salette was founded, with
the aim to go on announcing Reconciliation.
This Congregation arrived in Brazil in 1902. Nowadays it works in seven
Brazilian states, working with parishes, sanctuaries, pilgrimages, and
popular missions. It is also present in 21 different countries worldwide,
announcing the Gospel.
La Salette Spirituality - A Personal Perspective
I Introduction - A journey
By Joseph Baxer, M.S.
At the heart of my being is a spiritual journey. Yes, I am flesh and
blood. Yes, I live a concretely human life - eating, drinking, smelling,
hearing, seeing ... touching and being touched ... experiencing normal
bodily functions, good health and occasional disease. Yes, my body
constantly speaks to me of limitations and physical exercise stretches
limits. And yet within these very real boundaries I experience a dimension
of my life that goes beyond them - being loved and loving. It is at once a
human dimension of my live, but very much a dimension that surpasses,
transcends and transforms the human. "Thee, God, I come from, to thee
go" (G.M.Hopkins) " My heart is restless until it rests in thee" (Augustine)
My spiritual journey is an attempt to respond to a God who is at the
very heart of my being. It is a journey within ... explored often through
the external journey of people, circumstances, history, the give and take
of daily life. In many ways it is a journey without a road map. Yes, there
are guideposts ... the sacred scriptures and myths of the word's great
religions, the wisdom of classic and modern philosophers and theologians,
the traditions of those institutions that have sought to be a sign of the
way, to illuminate the path for humankind. Ultimately, however, each of us
is an individual, answerable to the deepest murmuring of our conscience
and heart. The road map for me is discovered in walking the path. This is
at once a daily invitation and a daily challenge. I find T.S.Eliot's
expression of this challenging journey most apt. "We must not cease from
exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we
began and to know the place for the first time." With this paper, I wish
to look at some conscious murmuring of my heart's journey and explore what
may be inspirational and foundational, nourished by the La Salette
experiences on that journey.
II A Personal Context and Vision
Here I look at the context of my life and the conscious values or
personal perspectives that direct my life. Later, I will examine what may
have been influential in developing that personal paradigm/horizon. Having
lived three fourths of my life within a La Salette context, I presume in
advance that influence.
In searching for a word to describe the context of my life,
"privileged" comes to mind. I am blessed with good health. I grew up in a
family where I felt secure and loved although that experience may have
been lived unconsciously. A share of conflictual family moments did never
sever the family bonds. I judged and experienced God as good and concerned
with my life. The practice of the Catholic faith tradition was important.
Although my brother would later become a Buddhist monk, it was a manner of
reclaiming profound Catholic teachings that were not lived in the world
where he found himself. My maturing response to his different faith
expression opened my heart to new understandings of God's love. Contact
with the Jewish community existed from my earliest years. Our economic
situation of family life was one that permitted individual initiative
(both parents working as well as each child taking part time jobs) to
allow adequate, though far from luxurious, food, clothing and lodging.
Although my parents formal education ended with primary studies, they were
both self taught and encouraged formal education as well as the teachings
of nature. I feel blessed with this background.
This privileged context continued in and through my experience with La
Salette, already more than three fourths of my life. Years and years of
others "speaking about and living" La Salette, extensive time spent in
France at the Alpine mystic site itself with the event and the message,
formal education in the US and Europe, speaking and living with members of
the Congregation and others from around the globe, exposure to quantum
physics and Teilhard de Chardin, ministries that have permitted me to
enter cultural situations very diverse from my own ... are all elements
that have entered the formation process of the fabric of my being. In the
context of these experiences takes place my journey. Examining my life in
this context, I will thy to name some of the values which highlight the
patchwork quilt of a La Salette spirituality as I live it and then
explore the foundations of that spirituality.
Let me outline some elements that are at the heart of my value system
or spiritual vision:
a. Gratitude. I have a firm belief that I am a beloved son of God,
freely graced with life, love and faith. Further, I am privileged to share
through baptism the life of Christ. I am challenged to let my life be that
of "Christ who lives within me." Loved, I am invited to let my life be a
journey of grateful response to that love of God. This relationship to
God, lived out in concrete daily relationships and ministerial tasks, is
nourished through the Spirit of God. b. Goodness of creation. I recognize
the profound goodness of all creatures and of creation. I seek to bring a
respectful attitude towards all of life. c. Evolutionary creation. I
acknowledge that the universe and all creatures are in a creative process
of becoming. I understand myself and all human beings to be partners -
human and divine - in this creative process that "God may be all in all."
Special attention today is due to the environment and ecological concerns.
Men and women are partners and stewards of creation. d. Christ - alpha and
omega. I see Jesus, an anointed one, who is a mediator and saviour for all
people of good will, whether explicity in gospel proclamation or in the
mystery of God's providential activity. e. Equality of men and women.
Regardless of gender, race or colour of skin, all are created in the image
of God and are to be treated with profound respect. A special priority of
our age that I recognize is to assure that women's rights and dignity be
respected. f. One people. While respecting diversity of cultural
expressions and a plurality of human traditions. I am convinced that our
God wishes all of humankind to be reconciled, one with another in peace
and harmony and justice and love. The great religious traditions of our
world ar called, challenged and graced to assist in this realization. g.
Role of Christianity. My conviction is that as a Christian, I have a
particular responsibility to be an empowering agent of reconciliation in
our world. This implies economic, social, political and religious
reconciliation. h. Ecumenism and interfaith collaboration. Since all of
the great religious traditions of our world are a reflection of men and
women's search for God's presence, it is a special task today to
collaborate among the different branches of Christianity and with other
expressions of religion towards developing a world ethic where the
profound values of harmony and justice can be realized. i. Catholic
Church. For me, our Church is a privileged instrument of God's grace.
participation in the Church challenges me to be responsible for a
continuing "aggiornamento" within the Church itself and a witness of
people living the reign of God. With respect for the Scriptures, Church
tradition and those called to leadership, I am obliged to be foremost
responsible to the priority of conscience in my life. j. La Salette
Congregation. Again, a privileged instrument of God's grace. My
participation is centred among a brotherhood who have as a charisma the
call to be ambassadors of reconciliation and to empower other to share in
that ministry. I understand the development of the Congregation as
dynamic, interconnecting with the membership and the world to ever be
renewed and new. I am personally convinced that its present form will
significantly change if it is to survive as an institution able to respond
to the critical needs of the age and the signs of the times.
III Foundation for a La Salette Spirituality
Conscious of these guiding elements and principles of my life, a
posteriori, I want now to examine some of the influences within the La
Salette tradition that seem important and may have been nutritive, often
through a process of osmosis, of my spirituality framework. For me, the
roots of my spirituality that I can identify in the Apparition are
1 - The presence of Mary at La Salette and the message is a sign of
God's tenderness, love and compassion for humankind. A mother who weeps
for and with her children is expressive of deep emotion and concern. She
affirms by her presence the goodness of creation, the goodness of
humankind. It is also a clear affirmation that human history is far from
complete. Reaching out to enter human consciousness in this way, God
mystic presence in announced in Mary's mouth. Concretely, creation an
humankind are sacred.
2 - The intimate universality of God's presence is announced at La
Salette. This event speaks at once of intimacy and universal communion.
Tears. "Do not be afraid." "Come near." "Do you remember the incident when
"Do you pray well?" The children describe a very personal conversation
having taken place. Even the patois is spoken. Forgotten details are
recalled. All seems to be embraced ... at once in intimacy that is so
personal ... yet also so wide as to extend to all that life is.
Ultimately, our mysterious God is announced as immediately present,
sharing human life, offering partnership in the journey of life. Here our
God is revealed as intimately present especially to the heart, in the deep
emotions that human beings can experience. This is a God in conversation,
a God of a covenant, "I am your God and you are my people."
3 - The event and message of La Salette are profoundly christocentric.
A deep communion with the sacred is invited of the children and of all. "Do
you pray well?" What attention to you give to Sundays? Is Lent a time for
renewing your awareness of the holy in your lives? I do not want my son to
abandon you! Mary is present as universal mother, inviting her children to
be in touch with the universal Son, the Son of Man, Jesus, the anointed
one. This mystic event forcefully directs attention to the Hebrew and
Christian scriptures and the focus of those scriptures ... that humankind
is so beloved of God that there is a visible, enfleshed Emmanuael to
reconcile us in oneness with the Source of our creation.
4 - La Salette announces a communion of all peoples, bonded together as
God's people. Mary refers to "my people". A communal conversion is called
for. In the message, there is no distinction between those of different
race, colour, gender or creed. No limit is placed upon the mercy or
compassion or tenderness of God. No person of good will is excluded. There
is no listing of rules and regulations for membership among the people of
God. Mary does not limit herself to be mother only to a select few. All
are called to conversion. Here the invitation to reconciliation is spoken.
Here clearly the providential activity of God is announced for all men and
women of good will.
IV Nourishing a Spirituality
I believe that my relationship to God has been deeply influenced by my
La Salette experiences. I seek to see my life as one led by the Spirit of
God. I've come to be aware, however, that a spirit led life is not
automatic, but involves a willing participation and collaboration. My La
Salette experience has led me to focus on some "practices" that seem
First, there is a call to reverence for the sacred, for all of life.
Daily sacred space, meditation, quiet time is important for me. This
implies daily contact with the sacred Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
Secondly, the invitation to an ongoing, deepening relationship with God
is at the same time an invitation to the sacredness of human
relationships. At the heart of the La Salette experience is a
conversation. I seek to recognize the priority of persons and those
relationships ahead of tasks to accomplish or functional roles to fulfil.
Thirdly, human relationships need to be fashioned in many ways, primary
among those being the communal sharing of sacred moments. Eucharist is for
me a privileged place for that communal sacred sharing.
Fourth, the La Salette event takes place outdoors, with those who are
accustomed to physical endeavour. This invites me to understand my bodily
health as a gift from God to be cared for and respected. Regular physical
work or exercise, adequate sleep and attending to a healthy diet are ways
of living a stewardship for the gift of my body in the beauty of creation.
Fifth, Mary invites the children to be ambassadors of the "good news".
I see this as a daily invitation to be a messenger, one who seeks to
empower others to be reconciled with their own goodness and to recognize
their own capacity for service. This is surely an invitation in the spirit
of Christ to be a "person for others."
Sixth, the children are aided in their journey by this human, mystic
conversation. I am aware that I have many limits and am also in need of
accompaniment. This means for me regularly sharing my spiritual journey
with another to seek to continually discern the will of God in my life.
I began by acknowledging that at the heart of by being is a spiritual
journey. It influences far more than I can consciously be in touch with.
It is a journey of faith. "Be it done to me according to our word. "Both
Mary in accepting the word of the angel Gabriel and Joseph in following
the invitations known through his dreams followed paths that were socially
either unknown, unacceptable or considered risky. Maximan and Melanie, in
entering a mystic conversation broke through the normal human conventions
of their lives, overcoming fear and allowing their lives to take a path
that would stretch beyond their wildest imaginations. So, here I stand. I
can only seek to be open as those before me, ready to change my heart, be
converted again and again. I wish to be ready to respond to the events,
circumstances and people that will come into my life. I pray for the grace
and the wisdom to be courageous to continue on the journey.
The other brightness
Contrary to their habits, the two children lay down
on the grass...and fell asleep. The September sun was relaxing and the sky
was cloudless. The chattering brook highlighted the stillness of the
mountains. These were quiet moments... Mélanie woke up with a start and
shook Maximin! "Mémin, Mémin, get up!... let's go look for our cows. I
don't know where they are!" Quickly they climb the hillock facing the
Gargas. From that vantage point they could see the surrounding area, and
the cows right there, grazing peacefully. The two children were relleved.
Mélanie took a few steps down the hillock. Half-way, she froze, stunned,
and let her shepherd's stick fall. "Mémin, look over there, a light!" Near
the small brook on one of those stone benches... there was a globe of
fire. "It's as if the sun had fallen there!" But the sun still shone in a
cloudless sky. Maximin ran to Mélanie's side yelling, "Where is it? Where
is it?" Mélanie pointed to the bottom of the ravine where they had just
rested. Maximin came to her, frozen with fear an dais, "Hold on to your
stick! I am keeping mine and if it comes close I'm giving it a good
whack!" The light stirred, moved and swirled. Words failed the children to
describe the rush of life that streamed from the flery globe. A woman
appeared within the light; she was sitting, her head in her hands, her
elbows on her knees, in deepest grief.
The beautiful Lady
The Lady rose slowly. The children had not moved.
She spoke to them in French: <<Come near, my children, do not be afraid. I
am here to tell you great news.>> They approached the Lady. They stared at
her. She was still crying. "She seemed like a lady that her children had
beaten and who had run away into the mountains to cry". The beautiful Lady
was tall. She was all light. She was dressed like the women of that
region: a long dress, long apron tied at the waist, a shawl crossed and
knotted in the back. On her head she wore a peasant bonnet. There were
roses in a crown around her read, around her shawl and her shoes. Light
shimmered like a flery diadem on her forehead. A chain seemed to weigh
heavily on her shoulders. A finer lind-chain held a brilliant crucifix on
her breast, with a hammer on one side and tongs on the other.
Maximin Giraud was born at Corps, on August 26,
1835. His mother, Anne-Marie Templier hails from this same region. His
father, Germain Giraud is from a neighbouring district. The mother dies
leaving Maximin, 17 months old, and a daughter, Angélique, who is eight
years of age. Shortly after, Mr Giraud remarries, Maximin receives little
attention: the wheelwright is at his workshop or at the bar. His wife is
not interested in this high-strung, careless little urchin who is always
out exploring the streets of Corps, watching the stagecoaches and the old
farm wagons, or roaming the countryside with his goat and his dog. Under a
mop of black hair there is constant mischief brewing, a quick eye and an
agile tongue. During the Apparition, while the beautiful Lady speaks to
Mélanie, Maximin twirls his hat on his walking stick, or, with the other
end of his staff, pokes pebbles toward the feet of the Lady. "Not a single
one touched her!" he would calmly reply to questioners. Feeling
appreciated he responds in kind: treated roughly he uses the same
currency. Maximin had a difficult childhood. During the three years
following the Apparition his half-brother Jean-Francóis, his step-mother
Marie Court, and his father Giraud the wheelwright, all died. His mother's
brother, the "Oncle Templier", a rough and calculating man, becomes
Maximin's guardian. School progress is slow. Sister said Thècle who keeps
an eye on him calls him "perpetual motion". Constant pressure from
pilgrims and busybodies don't moke Maximin's life any easier. A few
visionary partisans of the so-called son of Lou'si XVI want to use him for
political purposes. Maximin hoodwinks them with gibberish. Against the
advice of the parish priest and defying the orders of the bishop of
Grenoble, they bring the boy to Ars. Maximin does not enjoy their company
but enjoys the ride and the chance to see new sights. The unpredictable
Father Raymond, the Curé's assistant, greets them. He calls La Salette a
hoax and the children liars. During the morning of September 25. 1850, the
Curé of Ars meets with Maximin in the sacristy, then in the confessional,
but without hearing his confession. What might the frustrated Maximin have
told him? The upshot of the meeting was that for many years the holy
priest will never cease to doubt and to suffer. Following the decree of
September 19, 1851, he will refer everyone to the judgment of the bishop.
Many years pass before he can give his own acquiescence and recover his
peace. Maximin protested that he had never recanted, but he was at pains
to explain his behaviour. A mere listing of the places Maximin travelled to
makes one realize to what extent the boy was exploited. From the Rondeau
minor seminary to the Grande Chartreuse, from the rectory of Seyssin to
Rome. From Dax and Airesur-Adour to Vésinet, then to Tonnerre college, to
Petit Jouy en Josas near Versailles and Paris. Maximin was in turn a
seminarian, a nursing-home employee, a medical student. Failing the state
examinations he got a job in a pharmacy. He enlisted in teh pontifical
zouaves but canceled his contract after a six-month stint and returned to
Paris. The newspaper La Vie Parisienne published an attack against la
Salette and the two children. Maximin protestes and the newspaper prints a
correction. In 1866 he publishes a short work "My Profession of Faith in
the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette" ("Ma profession de foi sur
l'apparition de Notre-Dame de La Salette"). It was during this time that
Mr and Mrs Jourdain, a couple devoted to him, bring a measure of stability
into his life, and, at great financial risk, clear his debts. Maximin
enters into a partnership with a liquor dealer who uses his now famous
name to increase sales. The improvident Maximin gets nothing out of it.
In 1870 he is drafted and assigned to Fort Barrau in Grenoble. Following
this he returns to Corps and is joined there by the Jourdains. The three
live poorly and are helped by the fathers of the shrine with the approval
of the bishop. In November Maximin makes a pilgrimage to the shrine. In
the presence of a rapt audience he repeats the story of La Salette as he
had done on the very first day. This would be the last time be would do
so. On February 2nd he visits the parish church, also for the last time.
On the evening of March 1 st, Maximin receives the sacrament of
reconciliation and holy Communion, drinking a little La Salette water to
swallow the wafer. Five minutes later he surrenders his spirit to God. He
had not reached forty. His remains lie in the cemetery of Corps, but his
heart rests within the La Salette basilica. He wanted to underscore once
again his love for La Salette: "I believe firmly, even to the shedding of
my blood, in the fomous apparition of the most Blessed Virgin on the holy
mountain of La Salette, on September 19, 1846, the apparition that I have
defended in word and suffering... It is with this spirit that I give my
heart to Our Lady of La Salette". Maximin had nothing, left to give but
his loyalty and his faith in the church. In the person of the Beautiful
Lady the always lovable and restless boy had finally found affection in
the peace of God.
She saw the light of day at Corps in the midst of a
large family on November 7, 1831. Her father Pierre, a pit sawyer by trade
took odd jobs. The mother, Julie Barnaud gave birth to ten children.
Mélanie was the fourth. The family's poverty was so complete that the
young were sometimes dispatched to beg on the street. At a very young age
Mélanie was hired out to tend the neighbours' cows. From the spring to the
fall of 1846 she worked for Jean-Baptiste Pra at Les Ablandins, one of the
hamlets of the village of La Salette. Prá's neighbour was Pierre Selme and
it is he who hired the restless Maximin for a one week stint to replace his
own sick shepherd. In the presence of her chatterbox companion. Mélanie,
already timid and taciturn, was on her guard. The children had some
common traits. Both were born in Corps but had never met, probably because
of Melanie's long absences. Both spoke the local dialect and fragmented
French. They had neither schooling nor religious instruction, could
neither read or write. Melanie's father was on a never ending quest, for
employment. Her mother, overwhelmed with work and the cares of her brood
could give each one very little affection. At the time of the apparition
Maximin and Mélanie were financially, intellectually and affectively among
the poorest of the poor. They were totally dependent, they would be
profoundly and definitively stamped by the apparition, which will
nevertheless leave their personalities intact. Mélanie was very different
from her new companion. She tived sit strangers and was away from her
family except for the winter months when she lived with them in cold and
hunger. That she had become timid and withdrawn should not surprise
anyone. "She always answered with a simple yes or no", said Baptiste Pra,
her employer. Still, she responded clearly and simply to questions
concerning La Salette. She resided four years with the Sisters of
Providence. Her memory was poor and she had still less aptitude for study
than Maximin. As early as November 1847, her directress feared "that the
celebrity that had been thrust upon her might make her conceited."
Surrounded with concern and consideration on the part of visitors when she
became a postulant, then a novice in the same Congregation, she held fast
to her own opinions. For this reason, the new Bishop of Grenoble, while
recognizing her piety and devotion, would refuse to admit her to vows "in
order to train her... in the practice of Christian humility and
simplicity". Unfortunately, Mélanie then took to lending a willing ear to
"troubled and sick individuals," to people whose minds were obsessed with
popular prophecies, pseudo-apocalyptic and pseudo-mystical theories. This
would affect her for the rest of her life. To give credence to her
pronouncements she linked them to the secret she had received from the
Beautiful Lady. Even a cursory review points to immutable differences
between what Mélanie says and writes, and the words and signs Mary gave at
La Salette. Mélanie's problems and phantasms became the epicentre of her
discourse. Through her prophecies she reaps revenge on those who oppose
her projects. She thus expresses her rejection of a society and a hostile
environment. She recreates an imaginary past where the frustrations of her
childhood are effectively exorcised. As early as 1854, Bishop Ginoulhiac
wrote: "the predictions attributed to Mélanie... have no basis in fact:
they have no importance with regard to La Salette... they have come after
La Salette and have nothing to do with it". The bishop added: "The
children were given the broadest freedom to amend or deny any statement
they may have made, but they have never altered anything on the veracity
of the event of La Salette". With this in mind, Bishop Ginoulhiac, on
September 19, 1855, proclaimed the following from the Holy Mountain
itself: "The mission of the shepherds is herewith ended, that of the
Church begins." Unfortunately, Mélanie pursued her prophetic meanderings.
Later, these were orchestrated by the blazing talent of a Leon Bloy and
would become a "Melanist" movement allegedly stemming from La Salette, but
lacking any foundation except the unverifiable pronouncements of Mélanie.
All this is far distant from the historical foundations of the Apparition.
The content of these so-called prophecies, despite their religious vencer,
have nothing to do with religious truth as taught by the Church, and
recalled by Mary at La Salette. The subject matter is no longer faith but
the unstable, questionable and sterile terrain of personal assumptions.
This type of writing alienates faith instead of strengthening it. In 1854,
a English priest brought Mélanie to England. She entered the Carmelite
convent of Darlington the following year: she took temporary vows there in
1856, but left the convent in 1860. She tried religious life again with
the Sisters of Compassion of Marseille. After a stay in their convent of
Cephalonia (Greece), and a short sojourn at the Carmelite convent of
Marseille, she returned to the Compassion for a brief time. Following a
short stay at Corps and La Salette, she went to live at Castellamare di
Stabia, near Naples in Italy. She resided there seventeen years, writing
her "secrets" as well as a rule for a future foundation. The Vatican urged
the local bishop to forbid her this type of publication, but she persisted
in their search for approbation and an imprimatur, even extracting a
hearing from a papal official, Bishop Lepidi. This, however, never
constituted even a veiled approval. The authority invoked by Mélanie is
incompetent in the matter. After a stay at Cannes in the south of France,
Mélanie travelled to Chalon-sur-Saône, seeking to found a community with
the sponsorship of the Canon de Brandt of Amiens. Eventually she entered
into litigation with Bishop Perraud, the ordinary of Autumn. The Holy See,
brought into the matter, decided in favour of the bishop. In 1892, Mélanie
returned to a place near Lecce, Italy, then journeyed to Messina in Sicily
on the invitation of Canon Annibale di Francia. Following a few months in
the Piedmont region, she was invited by the abbé Combe, pastor of Diou, a
priest muche taken up with politico-religious prophecies, to settle in the
Allier region. She finished a contrived autobiography, wherein she created
an extraordinary childhood enriched with pseudo-mystical wanderings, her
own imaginings and the chimera provided by her correspondents. The message
Mélanie attempts to link to La Salette during this period hes nothing
whatever in common with the testimony she gave about the Apparition in the
early years. When the conversation returns to the event of September 19,
1846, she reverts without fail to the simplicity and the clarity of her
early narrative, which agrees with that of Maximin. She gave an instance
of this on a visit to the Holy Mountain on September 18-19, 1902. She
returned to Altamura, near Bari in southern Italy and died there on
December 14, 1904. Her remains ar buried under a marble column with a
bas-relief depicting the Virgin welcoming the shepherdess of La Salette
into heaven. One thing is certain: at the close of her confused erros,
there is one point from which Mélanie never departed: the testimony she
and Maximin gave on the evening of September 19, 1846, in Baptiste Pra's
kitchen at Les Ablandins. She held firm throughout the inquiry directed by
Bishop Philibert de Bruillard, as well as that of the confirming
investigation conducted by Bishop Ginoulhiac. Throughout a difficult
lifetime, Mélanie remained poor an devout, ever faithful to her first
What the beautiful Lady said on the mountain
The Beautiful Lady spoke to the two shepherds:- "She wept all the while
she spoke to us", said Maximin and Mélanie later. Together, or separately,
the two children repeated the same words with slight variations that never
affected the sense. Whether her questioners were pilgrims, public
officials or ecclesiastics, investigators or journalists, friendly,
neutral or hostile, they all heard the same message:
<< Come near; my children, do not be
afraid. I am here to tell you great news.>>
"We listened. All our attention was on her." Like Maximin and Mélanie
we are invited to let her message come into our lives.
With them we listen and gaze at the crucifix, dazzling with glory.>>.
<<If my people do not obey, I shall be compelled to loose the arm of my
Son. It is so heavy that I can no longer restrain it.
<<How long gave I suffered for you! If my Son is not to abandon you. I
am obliged to entreat Him without ceasing. But you take no heed of that.
No matter how well you pray in the future, no matter how well you act, you
will never be able to make up to me what I have endured on your behalf.>>
<<I have given you six days to work. The seventh I have reserved for
myself, yet no one will give it to me. This is what causes the weight of
my Son's arm to be so crushing>>.
<<The cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son's name.
These are the two things which make my Son's arm so heavy>>.
<<If the harvest is spoiled, it is your own fault. I warned you last
year by means of the potatoes. You paid no heed. Quite the contrary, when
you discovered that the potatoes had rotted, you swore, you abused my
Son's name. They will continue to be spolled, and by Christmas time this
year there will be none left>>.
The local dialect word for potatoes (pommes de terre) puzzied Mélanie.
In dialect one says "là ruff". The word "pommes" reminded her only of
apples. She turned to Maximin for help. But the Lady said:"
<<Ah! You do not understand French, my children. Well then, listen. I
shall say it differently>>
Repeating these last sentences in dialect she continued in the "patois"
spoken by Maximin and Mélanie:
<<If you have wheat, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the
beasts will cat, and whatever part of it springs up will crumble into
dust when you thresh it.>>
<<A great famine is coming. But before that happens, children under seven
years of age will be seized with trembling and die in the arms of those
holding them. The others will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes
will rot and the nuts will be worm-eaten>>.
Suddenly, Mélanie no longer heard the Lady's voice
although her lips were still moving. She noticed that Maximin was
listening very attentively. Then she, in turn, was able to hear words that
Maximin could not hear. Maximin's native restlessness won out over his
effort to behave. He toyed with his hat, taking it off, putting it on
again, and with the tip of his walking stick he poked at pebbles. "Not a
single stone touched the beautiful Lady's feet," protested Maximin a few
days later. "She said something to me and told me, "You will not repeat
this and this. After that I could not hear her, and I began diverting
myself." Finally, they both heard the Lady's voice again:
<<If my people are converted, the stones will become mounds of wheat and
it will be found that the potatoes have been self-sown>>.
<<Do you say yours prayers well, my children?>>
The children answered with one voice: "Not too well, Madame, hardly at
<<Ah! my children, it is very important to do so, at night ant in the
morning. When you don't have time, at least say an "Our Father" and a
"Hail Mary"; and when you can, say more.>>.
<<Only a few rather elderly women go to Mass in the summer. Everyone
else works every Sunday all summer long. And in winter, when they don't
know what else to do, they go to Mass only to scoff at religion. During
Lent, they go to the butcher shop like dogs>>.
<<My children, haven't you ever seen spoiled wheat?>>
"No Madame", declared Maximin, quick to speak for Mélanie as well as
Turning toward Maximin, the Lady replied:
<<But you, my children, must have seen it once near Coin with your
Papa. The owner of the field said to your Papa, "Come and see my spoiled
wheat." The two of you went. you took two or three ears of wheat in your
hands. You rubbed them together, and they crumbled to dust. Then you came
back from Coin. When your were only a half-hour away from Corps, your papa
gave you a bit of bread and said: "Here, my son, eat some bread, this year
anyhow. I don't know who will be eating any next year if the wheat
continues this way".
"It's very true, Madame. Now I remember: Until now I didn't", admitted
The beautiful Lady concluded, no longer in dialect but in French:
<<Well, children, you will make it known to all my
The mile-high shrine
The Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, site of the
Apparition of Our Lady in the French Alps, rises before an audience of
solemn mountains, at an altitude of over 6.000ft. The Shrine and its
lodging facilities have been enfrusted to the "Association des Pèlerins de
La Salette " by the diocese of Grenoble. The Missionaries and the Sisters
of Our Lady of La Salette provide spiritual thrust as well as the
day-to-day administration of the Shrine. They are assisted by chaplains,
religious or diocesan priests, by Sisters, lay associates, salaried help
and volunteers. The Eucharist, the rosaries, the vigils and the
processions form the prayer backdrop for talks on Scripture, round-table
sharing on specific themes, informal gatherings, meetings with a chaplain.
The relevant topics of missions and vocations are part of the programs.
On the mountain slopes
Early on September 19, 1846, the two children climb
the slopes of the Mont sous-les-Baisses, each urging four cows up the
mountain. Besides his own flock, Maximin had a goat and his dog Loulou.
Sunlight flooded the Alpine slopes. Far down the mountain the Angelus
bells rang out from the village church. This was a sign for the shepherds
to lead their cows toward the "flock spring", a small pool formed by the
brook as it tumbled down the Sézia ravine. Then they goaded the cows
toward an adjoining field on the slopes of Mount Gargas. The animals
browsed quietly in the hot sun. Maximin and Mélanie went back up the
hollow to the "people spring" and broke out their frugal lunch of bread
and cheese. Other shepherds come up from the lower pastures and joined
them in friendly chatter. When they left, Maximin and Mélanie crossed the
brook and came down a few steps toward two stone benches near a dry stream
bed: this is the "small brook". Mélanie set down her small bag, and
Maximin placed his smock and his lunch on a nearby stone.
On September 19, 1851, Bishop Philibert de
Bruillard, Ordinary of Grenoble issued his "doctrinal pronouncement". Its
basic message is the following:
We judge that the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to two shepherds on
September 19, 1846 on a mountain of the Alpine chain, situated in the
parish of La Salette, of the archpresbitery of Corps, bears all the
characteristics of truth, and that the faithful have grounds for belleving
it to be undeniable and certain. The impact of this decree was
considerable. Many bishops had it read in the parishes of their dioceses.
For better or worse the press took hold of it. It was translated into
many languages and appeared in the Osservatore Romano on June 4, 1852.
Congratulatory mail streamed into the bishop's offices at Grenoble. The
pastoral instincts of the Bishop of Grenoble urged him on. On May 1, 1852,
he published another decree announcing the construction of a shrine on the
mountain of La Salette, as well as the founding of a group of diocesan
missionaries to whom he gave the title of Missionaries of Our Lady of La
Salette. And he added: "Who can doubt that it was for the whole world that
the Blessed Virgin appeared at La Salette?" The future would confirm and
exceed all expectations. With a team in place, one can say that the
mission of Maximin and Mélanie had come to an end. Bishop Ginoulhiac, the
new bishop of Grenoble summarized the situation as he saw it on September
19, 1855: "The mission of the two shepherds has come to an end, that of
the Church now begins. Those men and women of all nations and races who
have found in the message of La Salette the path to conversion, a
deepening of their religious faith, a vital force for daily living, and a
rationale for their commitment to Christ in the service of others, are