Bookmark and Share

Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval

Priest, "Apôtre de l'île Maurice"
Born on 18 September 1803 in Croth, Eure, France
Died on 9 September 1864 in Port Louis, Mauritius
Beatified (with Fr Francis Coll OP) on 29 April 1979 by Pope St John Paul II (JPII's first beatification)
Buried in Sainte-Croix, Mauritius
Feast day - 9th September

Pope St John Paul II's homily at the Beatification of Fr Jacques Laval CSSP
St Peter's Square, 29 April 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Alleluia! Alleluia! On this third Sunday of Easter, our paschal joy is expressed as an echo of the overflowing joy of the Apostles who, from the first day, recognized the Risen Christ. On Easter evening, "Jesus himself stood among them". "See my hands and my feet". He invited them to touch him with their hands. And he ate before their eyes (cf Lk 24, 36, 39, 40). Amazed and slow to believe, the Apostles recognized him at last: "The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord" (Jn 20, 20; Lk 24, 41); and now no one could take their joy from them (cf Jn 16, 22), or silence their testimony (cf Acts 4, 20). A few moments earlier, the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus were also burning within them while Jesus spoke to them on the way and explained the Scriptures to them; and they too had recognized him at the breaking of bread (cf Lk 24, 32, 35).

The joy of these witnesses is ours, dear Brothers and Sisters, we who share their faith in the Risen Christ. Glorified at the Father's side, he never stops drawing men to him, communicating to them his life, the Spirit of holiness, while preparing a place for them in the Father's house. Today, as it happens, this joy finds a striking confirmation, since we are honouring two admirable Servants of God who, last century, shone forth on our earth with Christ's holiness and whom the Church is now able to declare blessed, to propose them to the special veneration and imitation of the faithful: Father Laval and Father Coll, whom we must now contemplate.

2. It is plainly impossible to point out here all the outstanding events in the life of Father Jacques-Désiré Laval, or all the Christian virtues that he practised to a heroic degree. Let us remember at least what characterizes this missionary, with regard to the mission of the Church today.

It is in the first place his concern to evangelize the poor, the poorest, and, in this case, his "dear Blacks" of the island of Mauritius, as he used to call them. A Frenchman, he had begun by practising medicine in a little town in his native diocese, Evreux, but gradually the call to an undivided love of the Lord, which he had repressed for a certain time, made him abandon his profession and worldly life. "Once I am a priest, I will be able to do more good", he explained to his brother (cf biography).

A late vocation at St Sulpice Seminary in Paris, he was at once put in charge of service of the poor; then, as parish priest of the little Norman parish of Pinterville, he shared all he had with those in want. But on learning of the misery of the Blacks of Africa and the urgency of bringing them to Christ, he obtained permission to leave for the island of Mauritius, with the Vicar Apostolic, Mons. Collier. For 23 years, until his death, he dedicated all his time, used all his strength, and gave his whole heart to the evangelization of the inhabitants: indefatigably, he listened to them, catechized them, and made them discover their Christian vocation. He often intervened also to improve their medical and social condition.

His tenaciousness is an unending source of astonishment for us, especially in the discouraging conditions of his mission. But, in his apostolate, he always went to what is essential.

The fact is that our missionary left behind him innumerable converts, with a firm faith and piety. He was not given to sensational ceremonies, fascinating for these simple souls but with no lasting effect, or to flights of oratory. His educational concern was closely integrated in life. He was not afraid to return continually to the essential points of Christian doctrine and practice, and he admitted to baptism or to first communion only people prepared in little groups and tested. He took great care to put at the disposal of the faithful little chapels scattered over the island. Another remarkable initiative which links up with the concern of many pastors today: he had recourse to collaborators, men and women, as leaders of prayer, catechists, people who visited and advised the sick, others in charge of little Christian communities, in other words poor people, evangelizers of the poor.

What is, then, the secret of his missionary zeal? We find it in his holiness: in the gift of his whole person to Jesus Christ, inseparable from his tender love of men, especially the most humble among them, to whom he wishes to give access to the salvation of Christ. Whatever time was not dedicated to the direct apostolate, he spent in prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, and he continually combined acts of penance which deeply impressed his confreres, in spite of his discretion and his humility.

He himself often expresses regret for his spiritual lukewarmness — let us say rather the feeling of his aridity: is it not precisely that he sets the greatest store by fervent love of God and Mary, to which he wishes to initiate his faithful? That is also the secret of his apostolic patience: "It is on God alone and on the protection of the Blessed Virgin that we depend" (Letter of 6 July 1853, cf biography). What a magnificent confession! His missionary spirituality had been, from the beginning, in keeping with the general pattern of a young Religious and Marian Institute, and he was always anxious to follow its spiritual requirements, in spite of his solitude and geographical distance: the Society of the Sacred Heart of Mary, of which he was one of the first members alongside the famous Father Libermann, and which was soon to merge with the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. The apostle, now as in the past, must in the first place maintain spiritual vigour within himself: he bears witness that he is continually drawing from the Source.

That is a model for evangelizers today. May he inspire missionaries and, I venture to say, all priests, who have in the first place the sublime mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ and training the Christian life!

May he be, in a special way, the joy and stimulus of all religious of the Holy Spirit, who have never stopped implanting the Church, particularly in the land of Africa, and are at work there so generously!

May the example of Father Laval encourage all of those who, in the African continent and elsewhere, are endeavouring to build a brotherly world, free of racial prejudices! May Blessed Laval be also the pride, the ideal and the protector of the Christian community of the island of Mauritius, so dynamic today, and of all Mauritians!

To these wishes, I am happy to add a very cordial greeting to the Delegation of the Government of Mauritius, as well as to that of the French Government, which have come to take part in this ceremony. ..

4. The hope that I express this morning, in conclusion, is that today's double Beatification will serve to strengthen and promote commitment in the catechetical action of the whole Church. It is well known that the subject of the Fourth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held here in Rome in the autumn of 1977, was precisely that of catechesis. The Synod Fathers — of whom I too was one — tackled and studied this theme of prime importance for the life and action of the Church at all times. They stressed the urgency of giving catechesis definite priority over other initiatives, less essential even if, perhaps, more spectacular, because the absolutely original aspect of the Church's mission is carried out by means of it. A mission — they confirmed — which involves all members of the People of God, though in their different functions, and commits them to a continual search for adequate methods and means for a more and more effective transmission of the Message.

The thought of the Synod Fathers was addressed particularly to the young, of whose growing importance in the world of today they were well aware: for amid uncertainties and disorders, excesses and frustrations, the young represent the great force on which the fate of future humanity depends. The question that troubled the Synod Fathers is precisely this one: how to get this multitude of young people to have a living experience of Jesus Christ, and that not just in the dazzling encounter of a fleeting moment, but by means of a knowledge of his person and his message that becomes more complete and luminous every day? How to kindle in them the passion for the Kingdom, which he came to inaugurate, and in which alone the human being can find full and satisfying self-fulfilment?

To answer this question is the most urgent task of the Church, today. It will depend on the generous commitment of all, if a testimony of the "message of this salvation" (Acts 13, 26) can be offered to the new generations, a testimony capable of winning over the minds and hearts of the young, and of involving their will in those concrete choices, often costly ones, which the logic of the love of God and of one's neighbour demands. It will depend above all on the sincerity and the intensity with which families and communities are able to live their adherence to Christ, if the young are effectively reached by the teachings imparted to them at home, in school, in church.

Let us pray, therefore, the new Blesseds to be close to us with their intercession and to guide us to personal and deep experience of the Risen Christ, who will make our hearts also "burn within us", as the hearts of the two disciples burned on the way to Emmaus, while Jesus "talked to them on the road and opened to them the Scriptures" (cf Lk 24, 32). In fact, only he who can say: "I know him" — and St John has warned us that anyone who does not live according to Christ's commandments cannot say this (cf. Second Reading) — only he who has reached an "existential" knowledge of him and of his Gospel, can offer others a credible, incisive and enthralling catechesis.

The lives of the two new Blesseds are an eloquent confirmation of this. May their example not be proposed to us in vain"

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's words at the Regina Caeli
3rd Sunday of Easter, 29th April 1979, St Peter's Square - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dearest Sisters and Brothers!
1. Today is a day of great joy for all of us: the Church venerates two new Blesseds, Francis Coll and Jacques Laval. We have just concluded the solemn liturgical celebration, but I wish to return briefly to these two exceptional figures of witnesses to the Gospel and true catechists in the past century.

Francis Coll, a son of Spain, born at Gombreny, a village in the Catalan Pyrenees, followed the Dominican vocation. When convents were closed by law in that nation in 1835, Francis, always remaining faithful to his religious consecration, dedicated himself to preaching the Word of God, by means of "popular missions", and in August 1856 he founded at Vich the Dominican Sisters of "La Anunciata," devoted particularly to the education of girls. His death took place in April 1875.

Jacques Laval is a son of France. Born at Croth, in the diocese of Evreux, in 1803, he was first a doctor; and after inner struggles, he surrendered finally to the call of Jesus. Ordained priest in 1838, in 1841 he left for the island of Mauritius to dedicate himself to the evangelization of the Blacks, becoming a Mauritian with the Mauritians. He remained in that island — until his death, which took place in 1864 — for 23 years, dedicated entirely to proclaiming the Gospel in the midst of difficulties insuperable on the human plane.

The whole Church is exultant at the gift that God has made to her of two other intercessors in heaven and two examples to imitate on earth. It is joy also for me, because Francis Coll and Jacques Laval are the first Blesseds of my Pontificate and I hope they will be my protectors.

At this exalting moment I wish to express hearty congratulations to the two Religious Families, the Dominican Order — which is also celebrating today the liturgical feast of St Catherine of Siena, Patroness of Italy — and the Congregation of the Holy Spirit; they have enriched the Church and humanity and have the immense satisfaction and privilege of having given us these sons of theirs. Nor can we forget to address our thought of sincere applause to their respective countries. Spain and France, and for Blessed Laval also to his country of adoption, the island of Mauritius. The Church is particularly grateful to them for this further, magnificent gift of holiness.

The personalities of the two Blesseds, so rich, so open to the spiritual and social problems of the modern world, urge us to renew the hope that all peoples, all nations, all continents may be represented in the earthly Church, on her way to her fulfilment in eternal glory.

2. The two new Blesseds propose to us again concretely the ever existing urgency of Jesus' mandate to the apostles and to the Church: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16, 15). In October 1977 the fourth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dealt with the subject of "Catechesis in our time with particular reference to children and the young". At the end of the work, the Synod Fathers asked Pope Paul VI of venerated memory to address a document on catechesis to the universal Church. This document should be published within the next few months. Furthermore the Synod Fathers sent to the whole People of God a pressing “Message", in which — among other things — they addressed their grateful appreciation to catechists, in these terms: "There are a great many, men, women, young people and even children, who dedicate their time — generally without any material recompense — in such a serious work as that of constructing the Kingdom of God. Filled with true charity they form Christ Jesus in men's hearts".

3. Mindful of those words, today I address an affectionate greeting, due thanks and keen encouragement to all catechists in the world: priests, religious, Sisters, lay men and women. I turn especially to parents, who are and must be the first, irreplaceable and exemplary catechists of their children, bringing them up from childhood to knowledge and love of Jesus and his message of industrious faith, active charity, universal solidarity. I address a special memory also to all those who teach Religion in schools, in the various countries, and, in particular, in Italy.

My good wishes and my Apostolic Blessing to everyone present!

I would now like to turn my gaze to Africa, a land of so many consolations and hopes for the Church and the Gospel. I am thinking in particular of Uganda, in these days of sore trial for that nation. Let us pray together for the people of Uganda, that they may find tranquillity again, that there will be no more bloodshed, and that there may prevail the spirit of reconciliation, of which the Church would certainly like to be a sign and, if possible, also an instrument. It is a Church alive and fervent with faith, which has grown luxuriantly owing to the commitment of its bishops, priests and faithful, and to the contribution of so many missionaries, also priests, religious men and women and lay people, come to bring Christ's message. It was learned just yesterday that a Combonian missionary, Father Lorenzo Bono, has been killed. Let us pray for him. Let a special thought go to all workers of the Gospel, uniting ourselves to the feelings of their distant families, which are often in pain and anguish, in these days, because of uncertainty about the fate of their dear ones, and invoking from the Lord that they may get reassuring news of all, even from those territories in which communications are temporarily interrupted."