On October 29th, 1967, Brother Benilde was canonised in Rome.
Consequently, the year 2017 is the fiftieth anniversary of his canonisation. The people of Saugues wanted to celebrate the occasion. The question was “How?”
Starting in 2016, a group of a dozen or so people was set up to devise a programme and allocate the various preparatory tasks involved.
Two parishes were concerned
In Thuret, the birthplace of Pierre Romançon the future Brother Benilde, there was the parish group of Saint-Bénilde-en-Limagne. In Saugues, where he worked and died, there was the parish group of Saint-Bénilde-en-Margeride. The two parishes joined forces, united by the humble Brother Benilde.
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary, the first line of action was to promote contacts between the two groups which up to then had completely ignored each other. So, on July the 9th, which is the feast day in Thuret, around fifty people from Saugues went across to Thuret, and on August the13th a good sixty people from Thuret came to Saugues. Both groups were enriched by the discovery of the other’s sentiments and their different ways of venerating Brother Benilde, and this happy discovery was followed up by some email exchanges and family visits.
The celebrations in Saugues unfolded in a number of main stages.
In the morning, the Eucharistic celebration brought a large crowd together. The collegiate church filled up well before the commencement time. Those who continued to arrive were accomodated in the marquee erected in the adjacent town square with a sound and video link. Those who arrived last were obliged to stand.
The congregation was led with great energy by organ, choir and cantors. The Mass was presided over by Cardinal Paul Poupard and by the bishop of the diocese, Mgr Luc Crepy. In his homily, the Cardinal invited the congregation to imitate Brother Benilde by following «the simple way» to holiness. The written version of the Cardinal’s text enabled us to prolong our meditation.
At midday, the whole congregation was invited to a wine reception hosted by the municipality. Then there followed the official reception with speeches by the Mayor, by Brother Jean-Paul Aleth in the name of the Institute and by Cardinal Poupard. The book of gold of the town of Saugues was then signed, and a time of joyful conviviviality ensued helped by the wine.
The beginning of the afternoon was a time when many of the pilgrims could view the diorama on Saint Benilde, or visit the Chapel of the Penitents and other significant locations of Saugues. Some spent time praying before the reliquary of Brother Benilde.
At 16.30, there was the procession of the relics of Brother Benilde and the statues of the patron saints of the parishes. Around twenty statues and banners were carried in the crowd. The procession passed through the principal streets of the town, with two stops marked by readings and prayers. They then came back to the collegiate church which filled up once more, and the participants proceeded to venerate the relics. It was a time of deep recollection and an expression of a living and trusting faith.
The feast of the fiftieth anniversary of the canonisation was solemn, joyful and prayerful, just as the people of Saugues wanted it to be, with a big crowd actively participating in the prayers, with well organised celebrations and fine weather.