It’s an intrusion into the story, but it affected the whole day, so I better insert it. I slept dreamlessly until 5.30 in the morning and I felt great, so up I got and went downstairs for a run. As expected, the emails piled on as soon as I got within range of one of the conference rooms, and there, among the other thirty-five messages, was the news of the school inspection. All had not gone to plan, and while we were set for another couple of years, there were outstanding compliance issues that had caused some considerable grief. Not to put to fine a point on it, I came away thinking a job was done and done well, and I faced a reality that was very different. I felt a long way from home.

All I could really do is go for the run, which at least burnt off the last vestiges of jetlag. Fiona and I did a debrief, and we decided that the only course of action open to us was to engage with our pilgrimage and get everything out of it we could. Fortunately, Chevalier’s story is one to inspire anyone who thinks they face a challenge. If you sit where I am writing this, you can see what I mean – the story of Father Chevalier’s commitment to the Love of God written in the buildings and the stories connected to this place.

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Breakfast brought us all together with a very French petit-dejeuner. I had hot chocolate, some bread, brioche with coffee and juice. Not so much for the day, you might think, but the main meal proved to be very hearty.

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We began the form part of the pilgrimage by looking at our own expectations. Mine were deeply personal – well, not so deep that they are private, but certainly based on addressing some spiritual issues that I felt needed sorting out if I was to be the best leader that I could be. I quickly realised that there were as many reasons for being here as there were participants, and that I would be learning a lot more than I bargained for.

To begin with, there was the business of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which had never really been a part of the charism that I had heard developed at Chev. Not only does Cor Novum have three Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on the team, but it became obvious that the deep insight that led Father Jules to the Devotion of the Sacred Heart was also inextricably linked to a particular view of Mary. The title, as the team explained, was not based on an apparition like so many others; it came from Chevalier’s developing understanding of the Incarnation.

Father Johannes summed it up when he called Chevalier a man born a century too early – he would have deeply sympathised with Vatican II. His theology of the Sacred Heart has a deep vein of social justice: msc people, of all sorts, contribute to the healing of the world by being missionaries in very simple ways, while the idea itself challenges what Chevalier saw as the source of the ills of the modern world: egoism, individualism, etc.

The team used the buildings and the basilica as a visible catechism of Chevalier’s strength of purpose, but one starts by being utterly impressed by Chevalier’s ability to manage and solve the insuperable on the way to a dream most would have failed to believe was possible. It is extraordinary that Chevalier started here in the Fifties with nothing. Thirty years later, against all the odds, he had the Basilica and the cloisters complete.

To go into the Basilica is to be shown this idea as it was and as it is. The modern representation of Notre Dame de Sacre Coeur shows this spirituality alive and waiting to be rediscovered by new followers of this great insight into God’s love. In the afternoon, i have some more pictures to share from our tour of the Centre Jules Chevalier.

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