13 Feb In the South of France
With the Fraternity of St. Joseph Guardian
Editor’s Note: France is a bellwether for the Faith in the West. Most of the parish news is bad – abandoned, empty churches, decades of neglected catechism and deserted seminaries.
However, some news is exceedingly good, like the unlikely story of a Latin American order of priests who are bringing the Faith back to remote village parishes in the south of France. Herewith, REGINA Magazine is pleased to present the first-person account of a Canadian lawyer living in Stockholm who undertook the famous Ignatian Exercises under the guidance of the Fraternidad de San Jose Custodio.
By David Campos
I was blessed to discover the traditional liturgy in 1999 in Toronto, Canada. Prior to my recent move to Stockholm, I was accustomed to attending Mass and Vespers at the Toronto Oratory (Holy Family Parish) where the commitment to perfect traditional liturgy was second to none.
Here in Europe however, I was not as fortunate to have such a treasure. Perhaps it was that lack of proper Liturgy that stirred in me the desire to embark on a spiritual retreat. I had heard of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and decided that I would embark upon finding the right place to do such a retreat.
My Search Online
I began to search online for traditional Catholic communities of priests or religious that offered the possibility to laity to stay there for a while and who would supervise the Exercises. A number of the communities which offered TLM Masses did not have anyone qualified to supervise the exercises. The experts in the Exercises of St Ignatius tend to be Jesuits, and they don’t tend to be the most inclined to the traditional liturgy.
Having narrowed down a few viable options, I was most impressed by a relatively new community in the south of France called the Fraternidad de San Jose Custodio. This community originated in South America – mainly Chile. They were priests who were diocesan or members of other communities who had a particular attachment to tradition and proper catechesis.
Their mission includes not only helping address the shortage of priests, but to renew Catholic tradition in its cradle – Europe. Ignatian Retreats were not something they advertised or regularly offered on their website, but when I contacted them to explore the possibility they were very receptive.
How They Came to France
About two years ago, upon learning of this community and their rapid growth in vocations, the Bishop of Toulon in the South of France invited them to his diocese to run parishes in two towns – Bormes-les-Mimosas and La Londe — where today they offer well-attended Mass in both forms. In its few years of existence the Fraternidad already boasts several parish churches, many vocations of religious (men and women), a Formation House and eight priests.
THE SURROUNDING AREA IS BREATHTAKING, AS PICTURESQUE AS ANYONE WOULD IMAGINE THE SOUTH OF FRANCE TO BE. Village-dotted hills, all with view of the sea. Rustic old buildings, beautiful cobblestone roads and old churches. It really is a sight for sore eyes.
THE FRATERNIDAD MEMBERS, UNDER FATHER HERNAN DUCCI, APPEAR TO HAVE LEARNED FRENCH QUITE QUICKLY. The community and parishioners seem to love them, and for good reason. They work hard every day focused on the service and praise of God and the salvation the souls they are charged with.
FROM THE MOMENT I ARRIVED I WAS IMPRESSED AND AMAZED with how hard these priests and religious work every day — always in good spirits and with a sense of purpose that anyone can see is from and for God.
ADORATION: I have been accustomed to parishes offering adoration of the Blessed Sacrament once a month. These priests make adoration available to their parishioners seven days a week! In addition, their chanting of the Lauds and Vespers each day are open for the public to attend.
My Experience with the Fraternidad
THE FRATERNITY BEGAN IN CHILE as a result of the efforts of Father Federico Alcamán Riffo, pictured here with the author. (More info about Fr. Riffo and the Fraternity here)
From my first contact with Father Hernan Ducci, the Fraternidad showed me utmost charity and Christian love in accommodating my desire to stay there and undertake the Spiritual Exercises under their supervision.
Most of our communication was in Spanish, but most of the Priests in the community also speak English; a few of the Brothers in formation also spoke perfect English. They provided extremely competent and meticulous supervision and guidance of each spiritual exercise and the full day commitment to prayer, Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day started in the local church where we chanted the Lauds in Latin. It would end in much the same way with Compline, with Vespers, Rosary, Mass and meals in between.
The Fraternity generously provided me with a private apartment across the street from the Formation House, as the exercises are to be done in silence. They would bring me my meals and prior to each exercise one of the Priests would spend about 40 minutes with me, one-on-one preparing me for the exercise.
My only contact with people was the priests and religious during the Lauds, Vespers, Compline, Rosary and Mass. As is normally the case with Ignatian Exercises, all contact with the outside world was cut off – no internet, no phone, no TV, no newspapers, etc.
All day, every day, was focused solely on the contemplation of God. Needless to say, it was the best experience of my life.
A Very Powerful and Moving Inspiration
They were indeed a very powerful and moving inspiration for me. Their formation of priests was also clearly exceptional. They were not the waffling type, who only reply to questions with platitudes. These holy priests understood scripture and doctrine in a very impressive way, much better than with most priests I have encountered in the past.
I would recommend to all Catholics, to at least once in their life find a good community of priests like this and to do the Spiritual Exercises. I view them now as indispensable. I ask all readers to pray for the Fraternidad de San Jose Custodio that they receive abundant resources and vocations and faithful to continue to carry out their mission. They really are something special.
Editor’s Note: Those interested in learning more can find the Fraternidad de San Jose Custodio here
THE INTELLECTUAL QUALITIES OF THESE PRIESTS AND THEIR IMPRESSIVE COMMITMENT TO THEIR WORK resulted in me having an exceptional retreat with the Ignatian exercises. I really can’t imagine it having been any better than it was.
THIS COMMUNITY OF GOD-FEARING RELIGIOUS AND PRIESTS ARE THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY from their homes and families in South America. And they make such sacrifices for the service of the Lord.