Pilgrimage on the abolition of slavery in France

on 18 Sep, 2018
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France, 09/09/2018, Srs. María Esperanza Olarte-Mateus and Pascale Moisy.- A pilgrimage on the Route of the abolition of slavery in France was proposed by Sr. Véronique Margron, provincial superior of France and her council. It took place from August 26 to September 1, 2018; ten sisters from the province participated in it.

This route was launched in 2004 in the framework of the « International year for the commemoration of the struggle against slavery and its abolition ». It is written in the international project: “Slavery Route” of the UNESCO. Its objective is to remind and make a presentation in support of the law adopted in France on May 10, 2001, which asks “for the recognition of slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity”. The pilgrimage or « route of slavery » includes five stages which are spread out in the Great Eastern region of France. In each place we had the opportunity to discover a symbolic figure in the struggle for the abolition of slavery in the French colonies of 18th and 19th centuries.

Our first stage was Chamblanc, a small village where lived Sr Anne Marie Javouhay, foundress of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny. In 1828 at the request of the State, she left for French Guiana because the State asked of her a new mission: to accompany and form 149 free slaves in order to facilitate their future integration in the society at the time of their full liberation. In memory of this mission and her commitment to the abolition of slavery, the mayors from the villages of Chamblanc, Suerre and Jallages (villages connected with the life of Sr. Anne-Marie) took the initiative in 2010 to plant trees in remembrance of these slaves. In each one of the three villages, 49 trees were planted and at the bottom of each tree a small placard was placed indicating the names of the slaves freed at the time of Sr. Anne-Marie Javouhay.

Three days later, we left for the Castle of Joux situated at Pontalier in Doubs. There, we had the honor to discover the person of Toussaint Louverture, a freed slave from Haiti who became the main leader for the fight against slavery in his country. For this reason, under the order of Napoleon, he was arrested, brought to France and imprisoned in the castle of Joux. Unhappily, he could not resist the cruel winter of the east of France and died in his jail on April 7, 1803. It is interesting to note that the island of Haiti will be proclaimed independent from France, a year after his death and it will become the first independent black state in the history of the world.

Message from Anne Marie J.Message from Anne Marie J.

Then, we left the fortified castle to discover during the three following days, the person of Victor Schoeler, the house of Black culture (village of Champagney) and Abbé Grégoire. In the village of Fessenheim situated in the department of Haut-Rhin, we got to know Victor Schoeler, the author of the decree of 1848 for the abolition of slavery. The museum area provides a review of his life and brings to light his numerous fights for the Rights of every human being (man, woman, child) for dignity, work, rest...His whole life was dedicated to this struggle and he is a model for us. Then we went to Champagney, a simple village in Haute-Saone, which in 1789, in the notebooks for grievance, manifested to the king of France, Louis XVI its disagreement with the slavery of the black people and asked for its abolition.

“The house of the Black culture”, situated in the center of the village reminds of the slavery of the Black people and its abolition in the French colonies. This house is also called to be a place for reflection on the actual situation of Human Rights and the fight that still exists today in our world against slavery in all forms. The last stage of our pilgrimage was a small village in France called Embermentil en Merthe and Moselle, very close to the German border. This village is not bigger than Sainville (Eure-et Loir). Hardly 215 inhabitants are there according to the census. It is a very small village but a village that pays homage to Abbe Gregoire, great defender for the abolition of slavery!! But who is Abbe Gregoire? Henri-Jean- Baptiste Gregoire, better known under the name of abbe Gregoire, was the parish priest of this village from 1782 to 1789 and was committed, since very young age, to all kinds of struggles in favor of humanity- against the oppression of women, Jews in France and slaves and for the freedom of worship. He is also known for taking his position in debates on education and racial equality.

And an extra... two visits to cultural places, apart from the route of the abolition of slavery. On our way, amidst a magnificent nature with mountains and forests, we had the joy of benefiting from two spiritual stops: the first was in the abbey of Citeaux, the cradle of the Order of the Cistercians, which was founded in this place in 1098. We participated in the Eucharist. Then Brother Gerard, member of the monastery made us discover the immense historical and spiritual richness of this place by inviting us to go around with him in the gardens and outhouses of the monastery.

Our second and last visit outside of the route of the abolition of slavery led us to Chapelle de Ronchamp en Haute-Saône, a Marian sanctuary of Our Lady of Haut. This sanctuary with modern architectural style, was constructed in 1955 by the famous architect Le Corbusier. Two important Marian processions take place there: the one of August 15 and the one of September 8. In 2011, Renzo Piano, the architect enriched the site by constructing on the slopes of the hill the monastery of Saint Clare, for the community of Clarist Sisters. Since 2016, this contemporary art as a whole, has become part of the patrimony of UNESCO.

The pilgrimage is now over... but the slavery continues even today in diverse forms. Alas, it is far from being wiped out. Our world needs men and women capable of making their voices heard in all places where the life and dignity of Man are at stake.

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