1, Chapter 3
given by His Grace, the Most Reverend Marcel Lefebvre, Titular Archbishop
of Synnada in Phrygia and Superior General of the Society of St.
Pius X, on the occasion of the community celebration of his seventieth
birthday, 29 November 1975, at the International Seminary of Saint
Pius X, Ecône, Switzerland:
the course of my life, I have had many consolations, in every position
given to me, from young curate at Marais-de-Lomme in the Diocese
of Lille, to the Apostolic Delegation of Dakar. I used to say when
I was Apostolic Delegate that, from then on, I could only go downwards,
I could go no higher; it was not possible. Obviously, they could
still have given me a cardinal's hat! Probably God wanted me to
do something else...to prepare His ways.
And if in the
course of my missionary life I had real consolations, God always
spoiled me...always. He spoiled me in my parents, first of all,
I must say, who suffered greatly from the war of 1914-18. My mother
died from it, in fact. And my father, having helped Englishmen,
especially, to escape from the zone occupied by the Germans, had
his name put on the German lists, and when the last war came, his
name having been carefully recorded, he was arrested and died in
a German jail. Both my parents were models for me and certainly
I owe much to their virtue. If five out of eight children in the
family are religious priests or sisters, it is not without reason.
So I was spoiled
in my parents; spoiled also in my studies at the French Seminary,
in having as Superior and Director of the French Seminary the venerated
Père Le Floch, who was a man of great kindness and of great
doctrinal firmness, to whom I owe much for my formation as a seminarian
and as a priest. They reproached me for having spoken of Père
Le Floch at my consecration. It seemed to me that I could not do
otherwise than to thank those who had formed me and who were, in
fact, indirectly the cause of my nomination and my selection as
But I was openly
reproached with that simply because Père Le Floch was a traditionalist.
I was not supposed to speak of this man, who had even been discussed
by the French Parliament, because he wanted to form his seminarians
in complete conformity to Tradition and to truth. He too was accused
of being an 'integrist.' He was accused of involving himself in
politics. He was accused of being with Action française,
whereas never, in any of his spiritual conferences, had Père
Le Floch spoken to us of Action française. He spoke
to us only of the encyclicals of the Popes; he put us on our guard
against Modernism; he explained to us all the encyclicals and especially
those of Saint Pius X; and thus he formed us very firmly in doctrine.
It is a curious thing - those who were on the same benches as myself,
many of whom later became bishops of France, did not follow the
doctrine that Père Le Floch had taught them, although it
was the doctrine of the Church.
So I was spoiled
during my seminary training, then spoiled even as curate at Marais-de-Lomme,
where I spent only one year, but where I had such joy in taking
care of a working-class parish, and where I found so much friendliness.
Then I spent fifteen years in the missions in the bush, as well
as at the mission seminary for six years, then again in the bush
in Gabon. I became so attached to Africa that I had indeed resolved
never to return to Europe. I liked it so well there and was so happy
- a missionary in the midst of the Gabonese jungle - that the day
I learned that they were recalling me to France to be Superior of
the seminary of philosophy at Mortain, I wept, and I would indeed
have disobeyed, but that time my faith was not in danger!1
I was obliged
to obey and to return, and it was at Mortain, after two years as
Superior of the seminary of philosophy, that I was called to be
Vicar Apostolic of Dakar. I spent very happy years at Mortain. I
have the best memories of the seminarians of that time and I think
that they too, many of whom are still living, those who are now
priests and missionaries, also have happy memories of that period.
When I learned that I was named to Dakar, it was a heavy blow for
me, for I knew nothing of Senegal, I knew none of the Fathers there,
and I did not know the language of the country, while in Gabon,
I knew the language of the country, I knew all the Fathers, and
I would certainly have felt much more at home. Perhaps I would even
have been capable of a better apostolate toward the missionaries
and the Africans of Senegal.
I did not know
that a year later yet another nomination awaited me, which was that
of Apostolic Delegate. That increased the crosses a little, but
at the same time the consolations, because I must say that, during
the eleven years from 1948 to 1959 that I was Apostolic Delegate,
God filled me with joy in visiting all those dioceses with which
I had been charged by the Holy Father. I had to visit them, send
reports to Rome, and prepare the nomination of bishops and Apostolic
confided to me at that time numbered thirty-six, and during the
years that I was Apostolic Delegate they increased to sixty-four.
What I mean is that it was necessary to divide the dioceses, to
name bishops, to name Apostolic Delegates, and then to visit the
dioceses, to settle the difficulties that might exist in those territories,
and at the same time to get to know the Church. This missionary
Church was represented by her bishops, who accompanied me on all
the journeys that I made in their dioceses. I was received by the
Fathers, and by those who were in contact with the apostolate, with
the natives, with the different peoples, and with the different
mentalities, from Madagascar to Morocco, because Morocco was also
dependent upon the Delegation of Dakar; I travelled from Djibouti
to Pointe Noire in Equatorial Africa.
All these dioceses
that I had the occasion to visit made me conscious of the vitality
of the Church in Africa, for this period between 1948 and 1960 was
a period of extraordinary growth. Numerous were the congregations
of Fathers and the congregations of Sisters that came to help us.
That is why I also visited Canada at that time, and many of the
countries of Europe, to attempt to draw men and women religious
to the countries of Africa to aid the missionaries, and to make
the missions known.
And each year
I had the joy of going to Rome and approaching Pope Pius XII. For
eleven years I was able to visit Pope Pius XII, whom I venerated
as a saint and as a genius - a genius, humanly speaking. He always
received me with extraordinary kindness, taking an interest in all
the problems of Africa. That is also how I got to know very closely
Pope Paul VI, who was at that time the Substitute2
of Pope Pius XII and whom I saw each time that I went to Rome before
going to see the Holy Father.
So I had many
consolations, and was very intimately involved, I would say, in
the interests of the Church - at Rome, then in all of Africa, and
even in France, because by that very fact, I had to have relations
with the French government, and thus with its ministers. I was received
several times at the Elysée, and several times I was obliged to
defend the interests of Africa before the French government. I should
also say that at that time the Apostolic Delegate, of whom I was
the first in the French colonies, was always considered as a Nuncio,
and thus I was always given the privileges that are given to diplomats
and to ambassadors. I was always received with great courtesy, and
they always facilitated my journeys in Africa.
Oh, I could
well have done without the detachments of soldiers who saluted me
as I descended from the airplane! But if it could facilitate the
reign of God, I accepted it willingly. But the African crowds who
awaited the Delegate of the Holy Father, the envoy of the Holy Father
- in many regions it was the first time that they had received a
delegate of the Holy Father - now that was an extraordinary joy.
And the fact that the government itself manifested its respect for
the representative of the Pope increased still more, I would say,
the honor given to the Pope himself and to the Church. All that
was, as you can imagine, a great source of joy for me, to see the
Church truly honored and developing in an admirable manner.
At that time
the seminaries were filling and religious congregations of African
Sisters were being founded. I regret that the Senegalese Sister
is not here today. She is at St-Luc, but she was unable to come.
I know that she would certainly have been happy to take part in
this celebration. Yes, the number of Sisters multiplied throughout
Africa. All this is to show you once more how God spoiled me during
my missionary life.
And then there
was the Council, the work of the Council. Certainly it is there,
I should say, that the suffering begins somewhat. To see this Church
which was so full of promise, flourishing throughout the entire
world...I should also add that, from 1962 on, I passed several months
in the Diocese of Tulle, which were not useless for me because I
was able to become familiar with a diocese of France and to see
how the bishops of France reacted and in what environment they were.
I must say
that often I was somewhat hurt to see the narrowness of mind, the
pettiness of their problems, the tiny difficulties which they considered
enormous problems, after returning from the missions where our problems
were on a much greater scale, and where the relations between the
bishops were much more cordial. In the least matters, you could
sense how touchy they were; that was something which caused me pain.
And I was also
surprised at the manner in which I was received into the French
episcopate. For it was not I who had asked to be a bishop in France.
It was Pope John XXIII at that time who obliged me to leave. I begged
him to leave me free, to leave me in peace and to let me rest for
a while after all those years in Africa. But he would hear nothing
of it and he told me, An Apostolic Delegate who returns to
his country should have a diocese in his country. That is the general
rule. So you should have a diocese in France, so I accepted since
he imposed it upon me, and you know what restrictions were placed
upon me by the bishops of France and particularly the assembly of
Archbishops and Cardinals, who asked that I be excluded from the
assembly of Archbishops and Cardinals, although I was an archbishop,
that I should not have a big diocese, that I should be placed in
a small diocese, and that this would not be considered a precedent.
This is one of the things that I found very painful, for why should
a confrère be received in such a way, with so many
No doubt the
reason was because I was already considered a traditionalist, even
before the Council. You see, that did not begin at the Council!
So in 1962 I spent some time in Tulle. I was received with great
reserve; with cordiality, but they were also afraid of me. The Communist
newspapers already spoke of me obviously in somewhat less than laudatory
terms. And even the Catholic papers were very reserved: what is
this traditionalist bishop coming to do in France? What is he going
to do at Tulle? But after six months, I believe that I can say that
the priests whom I had the occasion to see, to meet...I had the
occasion to give Confirmation in almost all the parishes, and our
relations were truly excellent. I admired the clergy of France,
who were often living in poverty, but who constituted a fervent,
a devoted, a zealous clergy, really very edifying.
Then I was
named Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, and there again,
I had occasion to travel, this time not only to Africa, but South
America, North America, and everywhere where there were Holy Ghost
Fathers...the Antilles, all the English territories of Africa and
all the English-speaking territories; the Belgian Congo; South Africa;
and so on - all of which obviously permitted me to become more familiar
with all these missions, and I really believed that God was everywhere
pouring forth extraordinary graces on His Church. At that time the
effects of the Council, and all this degradation, had not yet begun.
So it was a very happy period, very consoling.
Then came the
Council and the results of the Council, and, I must say, it was
an immense pain for me to see the decline of the Church, so rapid,
so profound, so universal, that it was truly inconceivable. Even
though we could foresee it, and those who worked with me in the
famous Coetus Internationalis Patrum (the International Group
of Fathers) did foresee it, the assembly of two hundred and fifty
Fathers who strove to limit the damage that could be foreseen during
the Council, none of us, I think, could have foreseen the rapidity
with which the disintegration of the Church would take place.
It was inconceivable,
and it obliged us to admit in a few years how much the Church was
affected by all the false principles of Liberalism and of Modernism,
which opened the door to practically every error, to all the enemies
of the Church, considering them as brothers, as people with whom
we had to dialogue, as a people as friendly as ourselves, and thus
to be placed on the same footing as we, in a theoretical manner,
and even in practice. Not that we do not respect their persons;
but as for their errors, we cannot accept them. But you have all
been familiar with this portion of history for some time now.
Indeed, I suffered
terribly. Imagine if I had remained with the Holy Ghost Fathers
where, in theory, I should have stayed until 1974. I could have
stayed until 1974 as Superior General. I had been named for twelve
years in 1962. But I submitted my resignation in 1968 and, in fact,
I was glad to do so, because I did not want to collaborate in the
destruction of my congregation. And had I remained Bishop of Tulle,
I cannot very well imagine myself at present in a diocese of France!
In an environment like that, I should probably have had a nervous
It seemed that
God intended my apostolic life to end in 1968, and I foresaw nothing
else than simply to go into retirement at Rome; indeed, I rented
a small apartment at Rome from some Sisters in Via Monserrato, and
I was very happy there. But I think that God decided that my work
was not yet finished. I had to continue. Well, I could never have
imagined - because there I was in a small apartment, which M. Pedroni
and M. Borgeat know well - I could never have imagined at that time
that God was reserving for me such profound joys and such immense
For could there
be, in my last years, a consolation greater than to find myself
surrounded by such faithful collaborators, faithful especially to
the Church and to the ideal which we must always pursue; than to
find myself surrounded by such devoted, such friendly, and such
generous lay people, giving their time and their money and doing
all that they can to help us? And besides them, I should recall,
we must think of the tens of thousands of benefactors who are with
us and who write to us - we receive their letters all the time.
Now that is obviously for us and for myself an immense consolation.
It is truly a family that has been created around Ecône.
And then, to
have such good seminarians! I did not expect that either. I could
never imagine or really believe that, in the age in which we live,
in the environment in which we live, with all this degradation that
the Church is undergoing, with all this disorganization, this confusion
everywhere in thought, that God would still grant the grace to young
men of having this desire, a profound desire, a real desire, to
find an authentic priestly formation; to search for it, to leave
their countries to come so far, even from Australia, even from the
United States, to find such a formation; to accept a journey of
twenty thousand kilometers to find a true Seminary. It is something
I could never imagine. How could you expect me to imagine such a
thing? I like the idea of an international Seminary and I am very
happy with it, but I could never imagine that the Seminary would
be what it is and that I would find young men with such good dispositions.
I believe that
I can say, without flattering you and without flattering myself,
that the seminary strangely resembles the French Seminary that I
knew, and I believe that I can even say that it is of a quality
even more pleasing to God...more spiritual, especially, and it is
that which makes me very happy, because it is the character that
I very much desire to give to the Seminary. It is not only an intellectual
character, a speculative character - that you should be true scholars...may
you be so, certainly, it is necessary - but especially that you
should be saints, men filled with the grace of God, filled with
the spiritual life. I believe that it is even more essential than
your studies, although the studies are indispensable.
For this, then,
and for all the good that you are going to do, how can you expect
me not to thank God? I ask myself why God has thus heaped His graces
upon me. What have I done to deserve all these graces and blessings?
No doubt God wished to give me all these graces and blessings so
that I could bear my cross more easily.
cross is heavy, after all...heavy in the sense to which I made allusion
this morning. For it is hard, after all, to hear oneself called,
and to be obliged in a way to accept that people call you, disobedient.
And because we cannot submit and abandon our faith. It is a very
painful thing, when you love the Church, when you love obedience,
when for your entire life you have loved to follow Her leaders and
Her guides. It is painful to think that our relations are so difficult
with those who ought to be leading us. And all that is certainly
a heavy cross to bear. I think that God gives His blessings and
graces in compensation, and to strengthen us in our work.
For all this,
then, I thank God, first of all, and I thank all of you, and may
God do as He pleases. If He wishes me to be at your service yet
for some time, let it be so. Deo gratias! If on the other
hand He wishes to give me a small reward somewhat sooner, more quickly,
well, let it be Deo gratias also. As He wishes. I have worked
only in His service and I desire to work to the end of my days in
His service and in yours also. So thank you again and let us ask
God to grant that this seminary may continue for His glory and for
the good of souls."
Every Catholic, including priests and members of religious orders,
must refuse to obey even the order of a lawful superior if complying
with that order could endanger his faith.
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