Opinion

Celebrating Mother Javouhey and Remembering Bastille Day!

Mother Javouhey and her family helped hide priests who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the State. The 1789 storming of the medieval Bastille prison walls in Paris also gave birth to a generation of heroes and heroines.
19 Jul 2020 14:03
Celebrating Mother Javouhey and Remembering Bastille Day!
Bleseed Anne-Marie Javouhey.

Opinion:

Today, I start my column by wishing the St Joseph’s Secondary School alumnae, current students, staff, the extended school family and the Sisters of the St Joseph of Cluny a blessed Feast Day of Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey, the foundress of the Cluny congregation in Fiji and worldwide. Last Wednesday, I joined my sisters in school in celebrating the life of a remarkable woman who was born 241 years ago in Chamblanc village in Burgundy in France.

I thoroughly enjoyed the historical teachings of the Blessed Mother Javouhey leading up to the Feast Day celebration and the charming take away lessons from her life story. The conversations around this extraordinary woman have also sparked a yearning to know her more.

Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey’s actions and obedience in following the will of God during challenging circumstances stunned me. She was, to me, the epitome of a prayerful servant and a legacy to be agents of change in our own communities.

Mother Javouhey teaches me to be the right kind of example to others and to be comfortable in my walk with God. Her work and dedication have also had a great impact on the church and were powerful during her time, as well as, the present time. Blessed Anne-Marie Javouhey was a born leader with an extra-ordinary drive and determination and a life of service to God.

She was phenomenal in the emancipation of slaves and in establishing a support system, which helped and educated those who were most in need. In 1843, Mother Javouhey returned to France after the liberation of slaves in Mana in French Guiana where she had been a pillar of support in setting up the small village of Mana as a fort for the freed slaves.

Mother Javouhey responded to the needs of her time and many of the same needs still cry out in our world today, inviting us to respond as she did in the 19th century. She died in 1851 in Paris.

She was beatified in 1950 by the Church. Pope Pius XII described Anne-Marie Javouhey as the “first woman missionary”. In 2004, as part of the “International Year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition”, Chamblanc, Seurre and Jallanges (the cities where Mother Javouhey grew up in France) were registered in UNESCO’s international project, “the Route of Abolition”. Again, in 2011, retracing the footsteps of their ‘dear mother’, the descendants of 185 slaves arrived in France to plant trees in memory of those who had been freed by Mother Javouhey in 1838. The forests of memory project were planted in the three villages where she grew up in.

I also learnt that Mother Javouhey was one of many individuals that rose from the ashes of the French Revolution.

The 1789 French Revolution was founded on the ideals of liberty, equality and justice that have since inspired many liberal scholars and believers from that era and to date. One can also argue that it was this revolution that broadened and expanded the definitions of liberty and equality and the beginning of a national celebration as well as the suppression of the church and the mass exodus of clergymen and women.

Mother Javouhey and her family helped hide priests who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the State. The 1789 storming of the medieval Bastille prison walls in Paris also gave birth to a generation of heroes and heroines. While its history is steeped in revolution, this French national holiday is related to the birth of the French Republic.

In Suva, the Bastille Day celebration ranks among the capital city’s best celebrations honouring the French National Day.

This year’s celebration truly presented something for everyone to enjoy! The tricolour, scents, sounds and flavours of last Saturday’s Bastille Day rock market at the Thurston Garden made it a real stand out – the ambience was great!

Local communities are all trying to adjust to the rapidly changing reality brought on by the novel coronavirus. I have admired all the efforts of various organisers who have simultaneously tried to keep the local market going despite the financial hardships in these COVID 19 circumstances.

The French Ambassador to Fiji, Jean-Francois Fitou and his support team gave small entrepreneurs and local market vendors the space to support them by inviting vendors to sell at Suva’s Thurston Garden. The initiative also opened up the Bastille Day celebrations to the public. One of my favourite memories of Bastille Day was the celebration of French food (but this is another topic to write on).

Within the English-speaking world, the French National day commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison is commonly referred to as Bastille Day; but in France it is le Quatorze Juillet (the fourteenth of July).

It is encouraging to see diplomats using national celebrations to give back to the local community – especially during these hard times.

I pen off with some of Mother Javouhey’s values that I hope will enlighten one’s journey in life;

  • allowing others to be themselves;
  • having a teachable and discerning spirit;
  • human dignity;
  • capacity for self-development;
  • overcoming prejudices;
  • the capacity of women;
  • and having an open heart to the world.

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