23 May 2024

Record Attendance at the Chartres Pilgrimage: What’s Next?

The Pilgrimage is beginning to be noticed in the secular world. Most of the French Bishops, however, still think the pilgrims are all fascists.

From The European Conservative

By Hélène De Lauzun, PhD

The pilgrimage has gone from being of interest only to a handful of traditionalist Catholic community media to arousing the curiosity of major national outlets.

The 2024 edition of the Notre-Dame de Chrétienté Pilgrimage was a great success once again this year. 18,000 pilgrims flocked to Notre-Dame de Chartres, which can be counted as one of the most famous cathedrals in France. Initially conceived for the faithful attached to the traditional Latin liturgy of the Catholic Church, the ‘phenomenon’ of the Chartres pilgrimage has now been taken on board by the major media as an unmissable event in the French and international Catholic world. 

In just a few hours, the pilgrimage was fully booked after the opening of the registrations. In the face of the flood of applications, registrations were closed in record time, and the organisers had to impose restrictions—limiting the possibilities, for example, for pilgrims to join the walk en route, over the three days needed to cover the hundred kilometres or so that separate the centre of Paris from Chartres cathedral. Once again, the pilgrimage organisers have mastered the task, with their well-honed processes and meticulous ballet impressing observers. 

This year, the influx of pilgrims was such that not all were able to take part in the launch Mass celebrated in Paris in the church of Saint-Sulpice—the second largest church in Paris used by the faithful since the fire at Notre-Dame. A first contingent therefore left the city in the early hours of the morning to attend Mass a little later, outside the capital. 

The phenomenon was already noticeable for the 2023 edition but was confirmed this year. The pilgrimage has gone from being of interest only to a handful of traditionalist Catholic community media to arousing the curiosity of the major national media. BFM TV reported a “record attendance” and “ever younger” participants. Catholic media outlets, that were not so long ago anxious to keep their distance from those who are sometimes affectionately and sometimes contemptuously referred to as “tradis,” followed the three-day march with interest. 

Given the popularity of “Chartres,” a new language has appeared in the mainstream press. Journalists are careful to point out that, while the pilgrimage is dedicated to traditional liturgy, the public taking part is not limited to that. The majority of walkers are not regular devotees of the Mass known as that of “Saint Pius V”—celebrated in Latin according to the canons laid down by the holy pope at the Council of Trent, with the priest facing God. It is as if they wanted to reassure themselves that, after all, the appeal of this liturgy, which so many have worked so hard to sell as austere and reactionary, was only secondary. A little more and the crowds would be turning out just for the nice atmosphere and to meet good comrades.

Of course, there is truth and falsehood in all this. It is undeniable that the Chartres pilgrimage speaks far beyond the circles used to the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass). But there are few one-off pilgrimages that are capable of attracting so many people, even though the pace is very intense and represents a real physical ordeal. So those who agree to take part have to find “something extra”—the traditional liturgy, to be precise.

Once again this year, political and media figures took to the roads of France, drowned out by the anonymous but clearly identifiable mass of their supporters. Marion Maréchal, head of the Reconquête party’s list for the European elections, was among the pilgrims. Interviewed on Radio Notre-Dame, the candidate explained that the social doctrine of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church played a key role for her in her political commitment, particularly on the issue of immigration, mentioning article 2241 of the CCC, which reminds us that welcoming others must always be done with respect for the country of adoption. The Duke of Anjou, Louis de Bourbon, head of the eldest branch of the Bourbons and legitimist pretender to the throne of France, was also present—thereby fuelling the criticism of those, such as the newspaper La Croix, who criticise the Chartres pilgrimage for its message on “Christianity” for sometimes having  too political an overtone. More unexpected was the presence of American journalist Candace Owens, who took to social media to talk about her recent conversion to Catholicism—a conversion brought about by her attraction to traditional liturgy. 

The novelty of the 2024 edition was the rebroadcast in its entirety of the Mass celebrated on Whit Sunday by the CNews channel, not afraid of being once more labelled as reactionary by doing so. Great care was taken with the production and the teaching, so that the average viewer of the channel, who is unfamiliar with the traditional rite, could follow and understand the essential gestures. 

The closing mass of the pilgrimage, held in Chartres cathedral, was celebrated by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—a figure described as “amazing” by the progressive Christian magazine Le Pèlerin, which yet sees him as one of the leaders of the conservatives hostile to Pope Francis. 

The press is asking: now what? The way in which the ‘tradi’ phenomenon is being addressed, both in France and abroad, is clearly inadequate. 

On the occasion of the pilgrimage, the weekly Famille Chrétienne gave the floor to Loïc Mérian, director of Elidia publishing house, who converted via the traditional Mass. He regrets that perverse mechanisms of exclusion have been put in place: 

We marginalise people with whom we have a disagreement, we establish a cordon sanitaire and, one day, we are surprised that these people are a little withdrawn, critical, bitter, and that the disagreements have grown. I’m amazed that in the Church we’re so little able to understand these basic psychological mechanisms. 

Loïc Mérian is saddened by the bishops’ view that “the tradi is above all a reader of Charles Maurras and a militant of the Rassemblement National,” and not above all a faithful person thirsting for beauty, meaning and spirituality. 

Can we continue to ignore the scale of the phenomenon? The response from Rome is hard to hear. 

The final word goes to Br. Augustin-Marie, prior of the Fraternité Saint Vincent Ferrier, who gave the homily on the day of Pentecost:

Pilgrim of Chartres, rekindle your courage. Restore your image, be worthy of your destiny! Do you fear your past life, the multitude and horror of your sins? Sin is the food of God’s mercy. Today, change your life, purify your desire. Turn your gaze no longer towards creatures, but towards the Creator.

If we are here walking, it’s because we are certain that we have a path to follow to move from sin to grace, from mediocrity to fervour, from an ordinary life to holiness.

The real question is not how many of us are walking the road to Chartres, but how many of us will be truly converted at the end!

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