August 11 – MONTFORTIAN PILGRIMS
In March 1716, Montfort asked the 33 white penitents of Saint-Pompain to make on foot the 120 km that led up to Notre-Dame des Ardilliers at Saumur to “obtain true missionaries and Wisdom through Mary”. In 1982, the Brothers of St Gabriel had the idea of restarting this pilgrimage for the same intentions, with the whole Montfortian Family, which would also be enlarged with lay people. On 11 August 1982, they were only 17 for the departure, but they kept on increasing in the following years with a change in programme: common exercises of piety in the morning, noon and evening, and everything else two by two with a companion whom one did not choose and with whom one shared and prayed. The Montfortian year that opened in 1997 at Saint-Laurent and closed in 1998 at Pontchateau led to a change in the usual route: Saumur to Saint-Laurent in 1997 and Saint-Laurent to Pontchateau in 1998. The marchers were fifty-six that year, coming from eight:different countries and with all the categories mixed – four Montfortian missionaries, eleven Brothers of St Gabriel, six Sisters of Wisdom, three religious Sisters of Saint-Jacut and thirty-two lay people.
Spain organises a similar walk annually between Descargamarfa and Nostra Senora de la Pefia de Francia in the Salamanca region. The course is shorter (83 km), the stages so are and the marchers have more time for common sharings.
One other form of pilgrimage: since the 1980s there has been an increase in the number of walks “in the footsteps of Montfort” due to the increase in participants. In all they last for about fifteen days with two important centres: Montfort-sur-Men and Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevre. From Montfort, the pilgrims first go round the nearby places (Iffendic, Rennes) or far away (Mont-Saint-Michel, La Cheze) by car or bus. From Saint-Laurent they push on to Poitiers, La Rochelle or Mervent. Between the two poles, the · stop at Pontchateau is a must. The pilgrims who arrive in Paris begin by the Montfortian places in the capital. More and more, the footsteps of Montfort criss-cross those of Father Deshayes at Beignon and Auray.
All those who make this pilgrimage and who believe in the charism of places say they are much moved by this return to the sources, whether they are Brothers from Asia or Africa, or lay people led by them from Canada, Spain or Thailand, or sexagenarian Brothers who have included this stage in their long summer session of spiritual renewal.
The greatest Montfortian pilgrimage is always the one to Lourdes at the end of the month of April (See 27 April).