by Yves & Anne-Marie Jacques
In May/June 2011 Yves had the great privilege of accompanying Christian Burgeaud, Full-Time Pilgrim of St. Michael, on a tour of apostolate in France. Together, they held many meetings to introduce the work of MICHAEL, reiterating at the same time, the importance of bringing back the practice of the family rosary. In their travels they passed through the town of L’Ile-Bouchard located in the Diocese of Tours where there is a beautiful shrine dedicated to the Mother of God, Our Lady of Prayer. From December 8-14, 1947, the Blessed Mother appeared to four little girls, asking them to pray. Together they recited the rosary, the Magnificat and other Marian prayers. Our Lady told the girls that she especially loved to hear the Hail Mary sung, and she sang it with them in their native language, French. Her main message was, *”Tell the little children to pray for France, because she is in great need.”
In our experience as the parents of seven children, we have come to realize the power of their innocent prayers. If there was something serious to pray for in our family, or if we needed something “BIG” and important, we would ask our children to pray, and, more often than not, God would answer their prayers. When it would happen that Yves was away doing missionary work, we would take full advantage of this “power”, and have the children pray for him. We sincerely believe that in this way our family played an active and significant part in Yves’ apostolate, and he, in turn, enjoyed much success in his work. It is no wonder to us then, that the Blessed Mother should choose little children to make known her message to the world. She recognizes the value of their innocent prayers, and through the children of L’Ile-Bouchard she wishes to teach the children of the world to pray.
Our Lady of Prayer
The events that took place in L’Ile-Bouchard happened in the year following the end of World War II. Many of the countries of Europe were trying to recover from the effects of the war. Central and Eastern Europe were under the threat of the Bolshevik Communists led by Josef Stalin, and the expanding Soviet Empire had influenced the fascists in France as well. They were the cause of numerous acts of sabotage; train derailments, food shortages, and the calling of a general strike throughout France which was seriously affecting their economy. The country was in complete chaos, and despite the fact that allied millitary forces were spread throughout France trying to bring back order, the Communists were poised for a take-over; everyone seemed prepared for the worst.
During this same period, in the village of Chateauneuf-de-Galaure in southeastern France, there lived a holy victim soul named Marthe Robin, whose cause for beatification has now been opened. She had been confined to her bed for almost 30 years due to complete paralysis, and she suffered the stigmata and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. She neither ate nor drank anything, her only sustenance consisting of the Holy Eucharist which she received once a week. This amazing woman accepted her suffering with tremendous patience, and was in constant prayer and intercession for the world. On December 8th, 1947, feast of the Immaculate Conception, Marthe was visited by her spiritual director, Fr. George Finet, who said Mass for her that day in her bedroom. He later commented on the sad condition of their poor country, and lamented that everyone believed that France was on the verge of a collapse and would soon be placed under communism. Marthe, with great confidence, told him that there was no need to worry, France would be saved by the prayers of little children.
On that very same day, in a small village in the heart of France, four small girls, Jacqueline Aubry (12 years old), her sister Jeannette Aubry (7 years old), their cousin Nicole Robin (10 years old) and their neighbor Laura Croizon (8 years old) had just left school for their noon lunch-break. The good sisters had told all the children that day that France was in terrible danger. The four girls decided to stop at the village church of St. Gilles to pray a decade of the Rosary for their country. They had only recited five or six Hail Marys when Jacqueline suddenly saw a beautiful Lady before her. She was dressed all in white, with hands joined in prayer and a rosary over her right arm. To the left was an angel holding a lily, eyes fixed in contemplation of the Lady. The three others also saw the vision and together they ran to tell everyone at the school.
The girls described a beautiful Lady, surrounded by a golden light, wearing a brilliant white dress edged with gold, and a blue sash, and carrying a white rosary. Her veil was a white of a different hue and fell down to near her feet, while the girls could see her striking long blond hair falling down the front of her body, in two parts, to her knees. Her smile was wonderful, and they thought her to be aged about 16 or 17. The angel, surrounded by an intense white light, was kneeling on his right knee in profound contemplation, and wore a rosy-white robe, also edged with gold. Like the Lady he had blue eyes and blond hair. In his right hand he held out a lily stalk, while his left hand was placed upon his heart. He had white wings, also trimmed with gold, whose feathers shone and moved slightly in a “breeze” the children could not feel. The two figures were in a rocky grotto. The Lady stood on a rectangular stone block, decorated with a garland of five pink roses, while on the rocks just below were the following words in letters of gold, about three inches high: “O Marie conçue sans péché, priez pour nous qui avons recours à vous.” (O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. (This is the same invocation made famous at the Rue du Bac to St. Catherine Laboure and inscribed on the Miraculous Medal.) Neither the sisters, nor Fr. Clovis Segelle, who was pastor of the little church, seemed willing to believe the children’s story. However, when each of the girls were questioned separately, and each one of them told the exact same story in every detail, the sisters and Fr. Segelle came to realize that something supernatural was taking place.
The four girls, upon returning to the church, found the beautiful Lady waiting for them. This time her expression was sad, and she spoke to them very gently in these words, ”Tell the little children to pray for France, because she is in great need.” The girls still were not sure just who the Lady was so, Jeannette, the youngest of the four, asked her, “Are you the Mother from Heaven?” to which the Lady smiled and replied, ”But of course, I am your Mother from Heaven.” Jacqueline then asked about the angel, to which he himself replied, ”I am the Archangel Gabriel.” (The children were actually seeing before them what took place at the Annunciation.) The Lady then reached out her hand to them, ”Give me your hands to kiss.” She kissed each of the girls on the back of their hands and asked them to, ”Come back this evening at 5 o’clock and tomorrow at 1 o’clock.” The girls would later relate that the Virgin’s lips felt soft and warm on their hands.
In the evening, and again each day the children returned to the church. Crowds of people also began to come, and the Lady asked to have them pray her rosary and to sing the Hail Mary, which she identified as, ”the canticle I love so well.” She gave instructions for the priest to have a grotto built and to put a statue of herself and of the angel in it. Jacqueline asked the Lady to perform a miracle so that the people could believe. (Jacqueline, having been cross-eyed from birth, wore very thick glasses, and suffered with chronic eye infections.) The Lady answered her, ”I have not come here to perform miracles, but to tell you to pray for France. However, tomorrow you will see clearly and you won’t need to wear glasses anymore.” The next morning, to everyone’s amazement, Jacqueline awoke completely cured.
That same week there was another, and even greater miracle that took place. The Communists called off the general strike in France and all hostility within the country suddenly disappeared. The cloud of despair that had hung for so long over France miraculously vanished, and peace once again returned to the country. Back in the little church at L’Ile-Bouchard, it was now the seventh day since the Lady had first appeared to the girls. She invited them each to kiss the crucifix that was attached to her rosary, saying: ”Pray and make sacrifices, continue to pray the Rosary... I will grant happiness in families... before I go I will send a bright ray of sunlight.” There were over two thousand people present, and at the Virgin’s request through the four young seers, all began to sing the Magnificat. A ray of sunlight immediately began penetrating the church through one of the stained-glass windows. As the light grew progressively brighter, it filled the whole northeast part of the church, exactly in the area where the four girls were looking. This would be the Lady’s last visit in L’Ile-Bouchard.
An interesting side note is that on March 6th, 1429, St. Joan of Arc entered this very same church of St. Gilles in L’Ile-Bouchard on her way to Chinon where King Charles VII would give her an army. Joan prostrated herself before the altar of the Virgin Mary and pleaded for her assistance in her mission to liberate France from invading enemies. She was only a child of seventeen, yet it was her strong faith in God and her childlike trust in His Holy Mother that effectuated such a glorious victory for France. Perhaps this is what is also most remarkable about the events of L’Ile-Bouchard in 1947; that the Mother of God came to ask for the prayers of little children to once again save France, and that she herself came to teach them to pray.
When Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the young people before the World Youth Day held this past August 2011 in Madrid, Spain, his message was not so different from that of Our Blessed Mother to the children of L’Ile-Bouchard. He warned that we are living in very serious times, “...there is a strong current of secularist thought that aims to make God marginal in the lives of people and society by proposing and attempting to create a “paradise” without Him. Yet experience tells us that a world without God becomes a “hell”: filled with selfishness, broken families, hatred between individuals and nations, and a great deficit of love, joy and hope.” Our Holy Father then asked the young people of the world to “...stand firm in the faith of their ancestors...to strive to respond responsibly to God’s call...to grow in faith. You (the youth) are the future of the Church.” ...and recently, on the rosary, he said, “it is a simple but efficacious prayer... persist in the daily recitation of the rosary. Through this prayer, families can... fully cooperate in the plans of salvation God has for you.”
The Pilgrims of St. Michael do a Rosary Crusade as an apostolate to promote prayer in the homes. Going from door to door, we ask to recite a decade of the Rosary, ten Hail Marys, with each individual and family that we meet. For many, this is their first exposure to prayer.
Our visit is the opportunity for them to experience the great love of the Mother of God, and through this simple but efficacious prayer of the rosary, she works wonders in their hearts. For others, who may already know how to pray the rosary but no longer do, because of our prayer with them, they take up this daily practice of the rosary once again.
Mary is our Mother from heaven. She is the one who guides all her children to her Son Jesus. With the Church’s recent approval of the message of Our Lady of Prayer, it becomes truly a message for our times. We are experiencing a global economic crisis with a widespread spirit of chaos in the streets of America, Europe and the world. Our Heavenly Mother invites all of her children to pray and make sacrifices for the conversion of the whole world. It would seem that her request is a very simple one. All that we would need to do is to become more like little children ourselves, heeding her message with a childlike faith. Then we can be sure that God will grant peace to our country and to the whole world through her intercession because of the prayers of little children.
The Archbishop of Tours, Jean Marcel Honore, (proclaimed cardinal by Bl. Pope John Paul II in 1988) gave his full recognition to the Shrine and ordered a grotto to be built, just as Our Lady had requested. He also sanctioned the veneration of Our Lady in this shrine under the title of “Our Lady of Prayer.” In 2001, Archbishop of Tours, Andre Vingt-Trois (now Archbishop of Paris and Cardinal) authorized pilgrimages and the veneration of Our Lady of Prayer in the church of St. Gilles in L’Ile-Bouchard where many cures and conversions have occurred and continue to take place to this day.