In the area around Civray there are lots of crosses, often in rather remote but visible places, and often they have an inscription which just says ‘Mission 1953’ or some other year. Have you ever wondered what it is all about…. yes, something religious and obviously something evangelical, but why in the early 50’s and why in such remote places?
Well I did a bit of research and there is not that much that I could find but its seems that it is all down to a Cardinal Suhard. He was the Roman Catholic cardinal of Paris, in the 1940’s. It seems that the Cardinal had the view that certain sections of the French population were not as God fearing as he would have liked them to have been. Especially in some of the rural areas and maybe also in some more industrialised areas as well, ie where times were hard. It is perhaps not surprising that after the first world war and the depression, the faith of some of the less fortunate in society had become somewhat diluted. And of course times were only going to get worse as the second world war kicked in.
Cardinal Suhard said in 1941 ( this is a translation from the original French, so sometimes it sounds a little strange , but I think you will get the gist of it)
“Il y a un mur qui sépare l’Eglise de la masse. Ce mur, il fa.ut l’abattre à tout prix pour rendre au Christ les foules “ There is a wall separating the Church from the masses, and this wall must be felled at all costs to restore to Christ the crowds, who have lost it.
This observation becomes a requirement for Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, Archbishop of Paris. Under his impulsion, The Assembly of Cardinals and Archbishops of France decided on 14 July 1941 to install in Lisieux a Seminary of the Mission of France, near the Carmel of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus.
Entrusted to Father Louis Augros, the seminary opens its doors on October 5, 1942. Soon, the candidates flock and the seminar becomes a place for meetings and debates. At the end of their studies, the priests are sent as a team. Communities are formed in dechristianized rural areas, then in the suburbs Workers in large cities. Some priests have a professional activity that can lead to engagement social commitment (trade union).
29 May: a canonical status is given for three years on trial. It is little implemented.
The solidarities woven in this new or unknown world worry some and frighten. The development of the Mission calls for decisions. The superior is dismissed. the seminar must leave Lisieux,
Moved to Limoges, and was closed the following year. That same year, Rome banned internships and work of the priest-workers. They must leave factories and workshops on 1 March 1954.
August 15: Under the impulse of Cardinal Achille Liènart, the Pope granted the Mission of France an original status.
October: the seminary opens its doors in Pontigny, with a superior distinct from the Vicar general.
There are 50 teams, including three in the Maghreb.
The Mission of France takes a public position for the respect of the rights of the Algerian Independence. It is the starting point for the presence of teams in other countries: Côte d’Ivoire in 1960, Argentina in 1962.
So it wold seem that it had a short life span from 1941 until around 1958 and then it continued in South America for a while. It is possible that Cardinal Suhard was the driving force and he died in 1949 so that with his demise the movement lost its way. Having said that there is a cross (illustrated above) with the date 1955 so it was still active then.
I wonder what the ‘mission’ involved, was it just the erecting of crosses in areas where the population were thought to need a bit of religious elbowing. Or did it involve a meeting with some evangelical curate inspiring? the locals. Were leaflets delivered? No doubt money was collected.
If you have any info on this then please pass it on and I can add more to this post than just the bare bones that we have here.