PONTIFICIUM OPUS A SANCTA INFANTIA
Two dates, one at the beginning and one at the end of his
life: 1789-1840, to which we can add a third, April 18, 1999, the date of his
Precisely this last date was the occasion for the Pope to present Father
Champagnat to the faithful again, and principally to those of us who are
dedicated to the animation and formation of children and young persons in all
their spheres of action.
He was born in France in the Department of the Loire. As a youth he had the
unhappy experience of seeing an adolescent die who knew nothing about the
existence of God. Right after this great, heart-rendering experience, he felt
the urgent need to train catechists, an urgent need that recurred and still
recurs now. He would often say, “We need educators who make known among children
and let them see the great love that God has for them”. He said this and then he
In fact, “St Marcellin proclaimed the Gospel with a burning heart. He was
sensitive to the spiritual and educational needs of his time, especially to
religious ignorance and the situations of neglect experienced in a particular
way by the young. His pastoral sense is an example for priests: called to
proclaim the Good News, they must also be true teachers for young people who
seek to give meaning to their lives, by accompanying each of them on their way
and explaining the Scriptures to them".
It is for this reason that “Fr Champagnat was also a model for parents and
teachers, helping them to look with hope at young people, to love them with a
total love which fosters their true human, moral and spiritual formation”.
For this, being aware of his own limitations, he only counted on God’s help and
the protection of the Virgin Mary to which he added the fundamental motor of his
pedagogy: “In order to educate a young person, it is necessary to love him; it
is indispensable to love him”. One cannot be a missionary animator without
witness, and the greatest witness is love”.
Aren’t these the elements that ought to characterize the spirituality of the
missionary animator? “Marcellin Champagnat also invites us to be missionaries,
to make Jesus Christ known and loved …”.
“With Mary as our guide and Mother, the Christian is a missionary and the
servant of human beings. Let us ask the Lord to give us a heart that burns like
that of Marcellin Champagnat, to recognize him and to be his witnesses”.
(The words in bold print come from the
Discourse of H.H. John Paul II, April 18, 1999)