A Pilgrimage to Dury, France, birthplace of Simeon Lourdel (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

A number of Ugandan, Congolese and Rwandan exiles in London have come together to form a group of disciples of Simèon Lourdel and Amans Delmas. They call themselves ‘The Mapeera Lourdel and Uganda Martyrs Dury Pilgrims Europe’. They began meeting a little over a year ago. Today, they number about 40 people, meeting regularly and praying together. Their aim is: to make known the story of the Martyrs of Uganda, to promote the beatification of Simèon Lourdel, to build a family spirit among themselves, and to offer support to the retired missionaries in Europe who gave their lives to bring the Gospel to their people in Uganda and other African countries.

For them, Simèon and Amans stayed with the martyrs and encouraged them in their time of trial. They then stayed on in the mission and died in Uganda. They did not suffer the same fate as the 43 martyrs, but they gave their lives for the Gospel and they should share the same glory.

Church of Dury (France)

This year they organised a second pilgrimage to Dury, the birthplace of their beloved Simèon Lourdel. Due to circumstances and to the difficulty of obtaining visas for those with Ugandan passports, four of the intending pilgrims could not join the group. We set out as a group of 8: 7 with their cases cramped into the Ford Zephyr which usually serves as a night taxi in London, and one who went ahead of us in the overnight coach service from Victoria. The group comprised of Mr Ricardo Mulinda and his three children, Edward who very generously drove the car, Simon and me. It was a much easier journey than those first missionaries made on the trails of Uganda 140 or so years ago, but it was still a cramped experience with 7 people in the car with their luggage on their knees!

Ricardo had organised the pilgrimage in advance, contacting and booking rooms for us in the Maison Saint Vaast, the diocesan guest house in Arras. He arranged for us to be met by Sr. Therese Broutin, Coordinator of the Missionary Commission for the Diocese, with Mr Marc Campbell, the Mayor of Dury and Abbé Jean-Claude Facon, the parish priest. When we arrived there, we were met by Sr. Therese and her friend with a “nice cup of tea” as only the French can make! After allowing us time to deposit our luggage in our rooms and take a short rest after the journey, Sr. Therese guided us on foot to the magnificent Cathedral of Arras. She had very kindly arranged for two of the Cathedral volunteer guides to show us the delights of the cathedral and tell us its history.

Pilgrims at the Baptismal Font of Dury Church

Upon our return to the Maison Saint Vaast, we were happy to find Fr. Bernard Lefebvre M.Afr waiting for us. He had been informed of our pilgrimage by none-other than Richard Nyombi in Uganda. I could not help but think how different the times are. When Simèon Lourdel arrived in Uganda, it took months to pass any communication between him and Cardinal Lavigerie in Algiers. Today, our pilgrimage from London to Arras is assisted by Richard Nyombi sitting in an office in Kampala and communicating with a third person in Paris!

On Saturday morning, Sr. Therese continued her ministry of missionary welcome by guiding us around the “Grandes Places” of Arras. After lunch, she accompanied us on our visit to the Bishop of Arras, Mgr. Jean-Paul Jaeger, who very kindly accepted to receive us.

The Bishop was most grateful to Ricardo and his group of pilgrims for their visit and for opening his eyes to the life of one of the sons of the Diocese of Arras and to the contribution he had made to the spread of the Gospel in Uganda. He was happy to hear of the efforts of the Church in Uganda to have this son of Arras beatified. Ricardo was able to present the Bishop with a letter from the Archbishop of Kampala in which he explained how the Church in Uganda finds it important that this first missionary should be beatified. He expressed his own desire to visit Arras and more particularly the birthplace of Simèon Lourdel. Bishop Jaeger would be more than happy to receive him. He hopes this would be the beginning of a new friendship between the two churches.

With that visit over, we then had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor of Dury who had come, with his wife and a friend, to collect our group of pilgrims and drive us out to Dury. How astonished I was to meet this couple, Mr and Mrs Campbell, keen friends of Scotland who drive around the country lanes of Dury in a Jaguar car with a Saltire (Scottish national flag) on the lid of the boot!! They are also now the friends of the Pilgrims of Dury, London. They gave us a very warm welcome.

They drove us back to Dury and straight to the cemetery where many of the family of Simeon Lourdel, including his parents, are buried. Our group was happy to take some time and pray there for this family who gave their son to the Mission. Over the road from the Village cemetery is a cemetery of war graves from the World War 1. Here more than 300 Canadian soldiers are buried. We spent some time visiting their graves before moving on to the farm-house home of the Lourdel Family.

There we found a group of people waiting to welcome us, including two grandnieces of Simeon Lourdel who had come to meet us from their village some 30 kms away. There were also other members of the family who had come as well as the present owners of the house and farm. It was a joy to be welcomed in this way and to meet these good people who were ready to accommodate our return to the source of our faith.

Next we moved on to the school in which Simeon Lourdel received his primary education for 6 years. The benches and the décor of the classrooms may have changed, but the building is just the same. There are some interesting pictures on the walls taken at the time Lourdel was a pupil there.

At the Lourdel Farm, family members and Pilgrims in front of the house

The time had now arrived for the Sunday Eucharist, celebrated in this village church on Saturday evening. The Parish Priest, Fr. Jean-Claude Facon, coming straight from his third wedding that day, welcomed us with open arms. Bernard Lefebvre presided over the celebration and spoke about Simeon Lourdel and all that has flowed out of his gift of himself in Uganda and other countries of East Africa.

Many people came to the Evening Mass to welcome our group of Pilgrims. After the celebration, we returned to the school yard where the Mayor served us sandwiches and drinks. It was a very pleasant evening, meeting the family members and friends of the proposed “Blessed” Lourdel. These, in their turn, are happy that their Ancestor in the Faith should be still remembered and honoured. They too are encouraged in their faith by the witness of this group of Ugandan exiles who came all the way from London to seek out the birthplace of their relative.

This is surely a pilgrimage that will be repeated.

Terry Madden, M.Afr.

Leave a Reply