Nestled in the southern French Alps lies the small farming village of St. Saint-Etienne d'Avancon. On September 16, 1647, Benoite (Benedicta) Rencurel was born -- the second of three girls-- to very poor parents. When Benoite was only seven years old, her father passed away leaving her family in even deeper poverty with debtors seeking payments. There family was in such poverty, that some days they only had stale bread and water to eat. In order to maintain the family, all the children had to work outside the home. Even so, while there was no time for her to be educated at school, Benoite's mother was conscientious of teaching her to pray the rosary and to pray at all times. Although high spirited, she was a contemplative soul and enjoyed praying for long periods of time. Her family was faithful in going to Mass and so she was taught through the Sunday homilies and learned about Mary, Mother of God. This particular dogma fascinated the young girl and she spent long periods of time contemplating this mystery while tending the sheep in the fields during the day. This contemplation led to a desire to see Our Lady.
During these years of economic crisis, young Benoite began to work as a shepherdess for a neighbor. There is a story that during these years there were men of bad reputation who were heading towards the house, one of whom tried to approach her offering her money for her purity. She fought him off and fled to warn her mother of the approach of the men. When Benoite was 12 years old, her family's financial situation grew even more desperate so she took another job shepherding a second neighbor's flock of sheep.
When Benoite was 17 years old, she was shepherding the flocks in the field when she saw an old man dressed in the vestments of a bishop of the early Church before her. He asked her:
-"My daughter, what are you doing here?"
- "I'm watching my sheep, praying to God, and looking for water to drink."
- "I'll get some for you," replied the man as he went to a well that Benoite had not seen.
-"You're so beautiful!" she said. "Are you an angel or Jesus?"
- "I am Maurice, to whom the nearby chapel is dedicated . . . My daughter, do not come back to this place. It is part of a different territory, and the guards would take your flock if they found it here. Go to the valley above Saint-Étienne. That is where you will see the Mother of God."
-"But Sir, She is in Heaven. How can I see Her there?"
- "Yes, She is in Heaven, and on earth too when She wants."
The man disappeared, but the next day Benoite did as he told her to and took the sheep to a different field. She was praying a rosary when she saw a resplendent lady holding the hand of a beautiful child standing on a rock. "Beautiful Lady!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing up there? Do you want to eat with me? I have some good bread which we can soften up at the fountain." This simplicity made Our Lady smile, but she remained silent. Benoite persisted, saying, "Beautiful Lady! Could you give us that child? He would make us so happy." She smiled again, allowed her to hold him, and then disappeared.
She continued to see Our Lady in the fields as she shepherded her sheep there each day for four months. Our Lady corrected her vivaciousness and her abruptness, her stubbornness and her attachment to things and animals. She taught her the Litany of Loreto by having her repeat what she said, word by word. She had taken Benoite as her student. One day she even invited Benoite to rest beside her and allowed her to sleep on the hem of her mantle. During this time, Benoite had told her employer about the apparitions, but she didn't believe her. One day, she followed young Benoite out to the field and was not able to see Our Lady, but was able to hear her words. During this apparition, Our Lady asked Benoite to warn her employer " about the dangers her soul was facing—«Her conscience is in a poor state. She must repent!" Upon hearing these words, her employer did return to a Christian life--she returned to the sacraments and repented of her sins.
On August 29, 1664, Benoite asked for Our Lady's name. She responded by saying, "My name is Lady Mary." She also told Benoite that she would stopping coming to see her for a while, which saddened Benoite. Yet almost a month later, at the end of September, she sensed that Our Lady was near and rushed toward her. She actually had to ride one of the goats she was tending to cross a river that she was not able to wade through herself. Our Lady then told her that if she wanted to continue to see her, she would have to go to the little chapel in Laus. She searched the next day for a long time to find the little chapel. She knew she had found it when she smelled the sweet smell of flowers and saw the door open. When she arrived, she was thrilled to see Our Lady again waiting for her, but was embarrassed at how dirty and poor the chapel was. She offered her apron for Our Lady to stand on, but Our Lady assured her that soon the chapel would be well adorned. She asked that a church be built in her honor and promised that many sinners would be converted there.
Although it was nearly a 3 mile walk to the chapel, Benoite went frequently to the chapel during the winter of 1664-1665. Over the next few months, the message of Our Lady of Laus began to be clarified. She asked Benoite "to pray continuously for sinners." News of the apparitions began to spread throughout the region and pilgrims began coming to the little chapel.
As the notoriety of the apparitions grew and more people began to make pilgrimages to the little chapel in Laus, people became quite divided regarding the authenticity of the apparitions. The Vicar General of the Diocese of Gap, Fr. Pierre Gaillard was fully supportive, but wrote to Father Antoine Lambert, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Embrun, in whose territory the chapel fell. Fr. Lambert was very unsympathetic to the apparitions. On September 14, 1665, he travelled to Laus to meet with Benoite and prove that the apparitions were a hoax. Benoite was frightened, but Our Lady told her, "No, My daughter, you must not run away. You must remain, for you must do justice to churchmen. They will question you one by one and try to catch you with your own words. But don't be afraid. Tell the Vicar General that he can very well make God come down from Heaven by the power he received when he became a priest, but he has no commands to give the Mother of God."
As the questioning began, Fr. Lambert and the priests who had accompanied him began to ask her questions trying to get her to go back on her word, but she was clear and articulate. Even so, he was convinced of the falsity of the apparitions and threatened to close down the chapel. In response, she spoke to him as Our Lady had told her. Surprised, Fr. Lambert relented by saying that he needed a miracle to be convinced.
Inclement weather prevented him and his companions from leaving Laus that night, so they stayed for another two days. There happened to be a woman in town with a nerve condition that caused her feet to bend backwards to touch her lower back. She had come to the chapel seeking healing through a novena to Our Lady. The night the novena ended, she felt her legs relax--she had been cured. The next morning she entered the chapel on her own while Fr. Lambert was saying Mass. The miracle shocked everyone, including the Vicar. He wrote up the report of the miracle himself saying, "There is something extraordinary occurring in that chapel. Yes, the hand of God is there!" He thus gave permission for the construction of the church that Our Lady had requested.
During the following winter, the winter of 1665, Our Lady instructed Benoite to use the oil from the sanctuary lamp to anoint those who came to Laus seeking healing and if they apply it with faith and recourse to her, they would be healed. Indeed, numerous reports of miracles and healing were reported--61 cures in the following months.
Our Lady was also making known that Laus be a place of conversion having told Benoite that "I asked my Son for Laus for the conversion of sinners, and He granted it to me." While Benoite had already been sacrificing and praying for sinners, Our Lady now asked her to exhort sinners to go to confession. This was tremendously difficult for Benoite, seeing herself as too unworthy and not being convinced that Our Lady had asked her to do it since she had asked so gently. She describes this saying, "The Mother of God commands me to do it in such a mild manner that I don't believe She absolutely wants it. And when I fail, my good Mother corrects me without getting angry. So because of the shame I feel on admonishing others, I often wait for a second command, and then I obey." Our Lady encouraged and admonished her saying, "Take heart, My daughter! Have patience . . . Do your duty cheerfully . . . Bear no hatred towards the enemies of Laus . . . Do not be troubled and sick over it if people do not profit from your advice . . . Do not be disturbed by temptations, visible or invisible spirits, or temporal affairs . . . Strive never to forsake the presence of God, for whoever has any faith will not dare to offend Him."
Our Lady specifically asked Benoite to encourage the conversion of women leading impure lives and those who had had abortions. She instructed the visionary to also encourage priests who ministered at the shrine to welcome sinners and pilgrims with charity and warmth. For this reason, Our Lady of Laus became known as the Refuge of Sinners and a place of reconciliation.
To further this grace she was bestowing through her maternal presence at this shrine, she granted Benoite the gift of reading souls which Our Lady encouraged her to use to help people truly recognize their sins. She found it most difficult to reproach the souls that Our Lady asked her to, but when she delayed in her task, Our Lady delayed her visits. She helped them see sins or faults they may not have even been conscious of. Yet, because she was so kind, most people she encountered were very grateful and resolved to amend their lives. She not only had to guide the pilgrims who came so they could truly cleanse their consciences, but she also had to be quite demanding on the priests themselves who ministered to them. She often saw the state of their soul while they celebrated Mass--either surrounded in light or tarnished--and she would warn those whom she saw as 'tarnished'.
She warned them about holding grudges, their imprudence in their questions when hearing confessions, and their negligence in their duties. She required from everyone simplicity and purity of soul, humility and a firm will to improve.
In 1668, Benoite moved to a little house near the shrine so she wouldn't have to walk the five kilometers from her house to the shrine each day--the path she had been walking already for four years.
Beginning in 1672, a twenty-year period of great persecution against Benoite and the apparitions at Laus began. After many of the priests who had supported her, especially Fr. Lambert who had been the Vicar of the diocese, passed away, other priests in positions of authority who denied the authenticity of the apparitions took advantage of the opportunity. A sign was soon posted on the door of the shrine forbidding that Mass be celebrated or that any public devotion take place there. Our Lady told Benoite "Remove that paper... and let Mass be said here as it was before." She was obeyed. It was also during this time that Benoite was kept under house arrest for 15 years, only being permitted to attend Sunday Mass. Benoite was even threatened with excommunication along with any priest who celebrated Mass in the chapel.
Between the 1669 and 1679, Benoite also received five visions of Christ Crucified. On one of these occasions, July 7, 1673, Christ told her ""My daughter, I am showing Myself to you in this condition so that you may participate in the sorrows of My Passion." From that moment on, every Thursday evening through Saturday morning for 15 years, she experienced in her own body the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord. This caused further ridicule and suspicion from those who were already critical of her and the apparitions. This agony ceased only from 1677-1679 when she was serving food to the workers who were building the house for priests that Our Lady had requested, though they resumed again in November, 1679. Yet while this experience attracted the ridicules of some, it also attracted the veneration of others which was equally as painful for her humility. She pleaded with the Blessed Mother, "May my sufferings be even more cruel if such is God's good pleasure, but let them be less visible!" The Blessed Virgin appeared to her the following Saturday and responded to her petition, "You will no longer have the Friday sufferings, but you will have many others."
In July of 1692, everyone who assisted at the shrine, including Benoite, and much of the population around Laus had to flee because of the invasion of the Duke of Savoy. Upon their return, the bishop appointed two priests who were highly suspicious of the apparitions and were less than zealous for souls--not embodying the charity that Our Lady requested towards sinners and penitents. They even preached on the falsity of the apparitions from the pulpit.
During this period as well, she suffered many attacks of the devil. Among these attacks were strong temptations against trust in God and chastity and even physical attacks against her person. False 'visionaries' also arose to contradict what Our Lady was trying to accomplish through her apparitions in Laus. One day the devil revealed the reason for his anger and his incessant attacks exclaiming, "She is the reason I am losing so many souls." She remained faithful despite the attacks and temptations of the enemy.
Finally in 1712, the bishop came around and entrusted the pilgrims flocking to the shrine to the care of a community of priests, the Pères Gardistes, who were described as "a deeply religious group of sound doctrine, moved by an ardent desire for the apostolate." They endeavored to meet Our Lady's request, bringing the pilgrims to the intercession of Our Lady and the devotion to the Sacred Heart which was beginning to be propagated. Even with the pilgrims now in good hands, Benoite still suffered the torments of the devil through which she remained faithful to Our Lady. For a moment when Our Lady stopped visiting for a period to purify her, Satan cried out, "She has forsaken you . . . You will no longer have any recourse but in me!" Benoite replied, "Oh, I would rather die a thousand times forsaken by Mary, than forsake Her for a single moment!"
The apparitions would continue for the rest of Benoite's life -- for almost 54 years. Six years after the arrival of the Pères Gardistes at the shrine, Benoite fell ill and was bedridden with a very high fever. On Christmas Day of 1718, she asked to receive Holy Viaticum and asked for forgiveness for any bad example she may have given during her life, at which moment Our Lady appeared again leaving a sweet scent in the room. Three days later, she received the last rites at 3:00 PM. The priests who had been serving in the shrine for the last six years were begging the Lord for "two years more" with her, but she knew her time to return home had come. The priests asked for her blessing as her sons, she hesitated in her humility, but then ceded, saying, "It is up to our good Mother to bless you," she said while she raised her hand from her bed, not wanting to refuse them this consolation, and she said to them, "I give it to you most willingly, good Fathers."
She said goodbye calmly, seeming quite happy and not experiencing agony. At around 8:00 PM, she asked her goddaughter to pray the Litany of the Child Jesus and she passed away quietly at the age of 71.
Today, the shrine itself was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII on March 18, 1893, and attracts 120,000 pilgrims each year. Confession is offered for seven hours each day. One of the emphases of the shrine is reconciliation with God, with oneself, and with others. On May 4, 2008, the authenticity of the apparitions were officially recognized by the Church during a Mass celebrated by Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco of Gap with Cardinals and representatives of the Vatican. A year later, on April 3, 2009, H.H. Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtue of Benoite (Benedicta) Rencurel proclaiming her 'Venerable'.
Excerpts of the Homily Granting Official Church Approval to the Apparitions
Bishop di Falco, in his homily at the Mass broadcast throughout the country by France-2 Television, said, "344 years ago, Our Lady chose to address a simple shepherdess to open the way of penitence and conversion, to invite pilgrims to reconcile themselves with the world and with God."
Bishop di Falco explained that after researching the apparitions, he "became profoundly convinced that Benoite Rencurel spoke the truth. That the message she delivered to us merits all of our attention. That it merits that we open our hearts to welcome and to continue to carry the numerous fruits as has been the case for many centuries.
"Benoite, an uncultured country girl, received her mission from Our Lady: For 54 years, she guided pilgrims, and called for conversion and mercy. To the poor and the small, God reveals himself. And Benoite, a laywoman, was the messenger of God. How can we not see in her the very example of the responsible layman?"
The humble shepherdess, the French prelate continued, "was a modern example of the engaged laity in the life of one's community, as called for by the Second Vatican Council. She speaks to men of our time, she guides those who search, those who dig into this interior source for true life."
The very modern message of Benoite, Bishop di Falco concluded, is "to live heart to heart with God in prayer, enter deeper into conversion where we are reconciled with ourselves, with others and with God, and live your mission where your life is, in everyday community and joy."
He called it the most singular event to take place in France since the apparitions of Lourdes in 1862.
“I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine,” the bishop said.
“Nobody is obliged to believe in apparitions,” he continued, “even in those officially recognized, but if they help us in our faith and our daily lives, why should we reject them?” he asked.
(Taken from Zenit and CNA)
Our Lady of Laus and St. Peter Julian Eymard
The spiritual fruitfulness of the apparitions of Our Lady at Laus can be seen in the lives of several saints including St. Eugene de Mazenod, St. Peter Julian Eymard and the well known author Fr. Jean Baptiste Chautard.
St. Peter Julian Eymard, the founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers and Servants, was born between Lourdes and Laus in 1865 and frequently made pilgrimages to these shrines. After much effort in trying to convince his parents to allow him to make the 50 kilometer (~30 mile) pilgrimage by foot to Our Lady of Laus, they finally granted him permission. He was 11 years old and went for nine days in order to prepare himself for his First Holy Communion. He later acknowledged that it was here that he first encountered the love of Our Lady.
Later, he returned after he had just spoken with his father about his vocation to the priesthood. His father had refused to give his permission which devastated young Peter. With this in mind, he travelled to Laus.
Upon his arrival, he bore his heart to Our Lady, unburdening his sorrows and seeking her guidance in following his vocation to the priesthood. She responded to him through a priest, Fr. Touche, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. He asked Peter to tell him his problem and how he could help. He encouraged Peter to continue to pursue his vocation and remain determined. Years later, he would return to the shrine to thank Our Lady for softening his father's heart--he did eventually grant him permission to enter the priesthood.
There is also a story of St. Peter Julian Eymard later in life when his sister fell gravely ill and was vomiting constantly and had a high fever. He had recourse to Our Lady of Laus, journeying to the shrine to obtain the miraculous oil from the sanctuary lamp in the chapel. Upon his return, he invoked Benoite and Our Lady of Laus with the intention of making a novena as he made a cross on the stomach of his sister with the oil. By that evening, his sister had stopped vomiting and continued to improve until she was completely healed.
At the end of his life, St. Peter Julian Eymard desired to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Laus again, thanking Our Lady. He arrived at Lourdes, but then fell too ill to journey to Laus. He returned home where he soon passed away not having been able to fulfill his desire of returning to Laus.
Benoite's Relationship with Her Guardian Angel
Benoite had a special relationship with her guardian angel, to whom she confided all her pain and troubles and in whom she constantly consulted for guidance. In turn, he responded to her trust and simplicity accordingly with services. She learned the uses of various plants from him, he helped her to clean the chapel. One night she had forgotten her thin shawl in the forest and she was suffering with the cold of the night, so he went to get it for her. He often opened the church door for her and prayed the rosary with her. Because of this intimate relationship, he was also free to correct her when needed. There was a time when someone had given her a beautiful rosary to which she became overly attached. Because of this attachment, her angel confiscated it from her and did not return it for a long time. He also taught her other valuable lessons about the spiritual life, such as that "When a person is joyful, everything he does is pleasing to God. When a person becomes angry, he does nothing that pleases Him."
In the midst of her trials and sufferings, Benoite's guardian angel was a source of great comfort to her. Even in the midst of the worst sufferings, Our Lady continued to appear to her as did her guardian angel. When the devotion to Our Lady of Laus was being suppressed, he encouraged her saying, "The Laus devotion is the work of God which neither man nor the devil can destroy. It will continue until the end of the world, flourishing more and more and bearing great fruit everywhere." He also gave her a glimpse of what was to come when he said that, "There will always be troubles at Laus until there are Religious established here." And sure enough, as soon as the order of priests took over the ministry of the shrine, things began to improve.
Her guardian angel also tried to comfort Benoite when she was so distraught at witnessing the suffering of Our Lord during the visions she received. He said to her, "Do not be troubled, my Sister. Although our Divine Master has appeared to you in this condition, He is not suffering anything; it is solely to show you what He suffered out of love for the human race." Yet she was still horrified that he had suffered so much on account of our sins.
|1647||September 16th||Benoite (Benedicta) Rencurel is born in Saint-Étienne d'Avançon (in the southern French Alps).|
|1654||Benedicta's father dies. The family suffers financial difficulties with creditors.|
|May||Benedicta encounters an elderly man, St. Maurice, who tells her to take her flock of sheep to the valley above Saint-Étienne where she will see the Mother of God.|
|May||Benoite sees Our Lady for the first time -- the first of four months of daily apparitions|
|1664||August 29th||Benedicta asked the Lady what her name was. She replied, “My name is Mary.”|
|September||Apparations temporarily cease until the end of September. Our Lady tells Benoite that if she wishes to see her again, she must go to the Chapel of Laus.|
|1665||September 18th||The apparitions were officially recognized by the diocese and permission to build the church was granted.|
|1666||Benoite took the habit of the Dominican Tertiaries|
|1666-1669||The church is built|
|1669-1679||Benoite received five visions of the Suffering Christ|
|1672||A time of persecution against Benoite and the Shrine begins|
|1673||July 7th||Our Lord told Benoite, "'My daughter, I show myself in this state so that you can participate in my Passion." Benoite begins to experience a mystical Passion and Crucifixion every Thursday through Saturday morning for 15 years (with the exception of 1677-1679 when she was serving those constructing the priest's house.)|
|1689||A period of intense spiritual combat against the devil begins|
|1692||July||Exiled to Marseille because of the invasion of the Duke of Savoy|
|1718||December 25th||Benoite receives Holy Communion for the last time|
|1718||December 28th||Benoite receives Extreme Unction, bids farewell to those with her and passes away in the odor of sanctity|
|1855||Pope Pius IX celebrated the coronation of the Virgin Mary at the hand of the Cardinal of Bordeaux - 40,000 people are present|
|1864||The diocesan investigation into Benoite's life and virtue begins--the first step in the cause of beatification|
|1913||Pope Pius X stops the process of beatification because it was not supported by accounts from her contemporaries|
|1981||Bl. John Paul II allows the process for the beatification of Benoite to begin again|
|2005-2008||The apparitions are again investigated by the Church|
|2008||May 4th||Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco of Gap officially approved the apparitions in the presence of Cardinals and representatives of the Vatican: “I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine."|
|2009||April 3rd||H.H. Benedict XVI proclaims the heroic virtue of Benoit Rencurel, thus granting her the title 'Venerable'|
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