Emotions ran high in this city of the south of France and it did not take much to incite the passions of a crowd – particularly if the cause of their anger touched on someone whom they loved and respected. Eugene had been generous in his ministry to the poorer classes and had taken many steps to ensure their welfare. Any attack on him was sure to provoke an excited reaction and the pettiness of the Canons did exactly this. Eugene and the Missionaries were close to the people, and so the people were close to them as Leflon narrates:
The Canons, however, had no intention of letting the matter stop there. By way of publicly demanding their prerogatives and asserting the rights of their high position which had been scorned, they decided to prohibit the Founder from preaching the final sermon at the closing ceremony of the mission preached at Saint Sauveur by the Missionaries of Provence. The cathedral, at that moment, was filled with men and women who had just returned from the procession honoring the Cross, and who were singing hymns while they waited for Father de Mazenod’s sermon. But, instead of the orator they were expecting, Father Honorat, pastor of the cathedral, suddenly appeared in the pulpit and to everyone’s amazement, announced that, since the services had ended, there would be no sermon, and that everyone was to leave the church immediately and quietly. Stunned at first by this surprise announcement, and rightly blaming the Chapter for this insult to Father de Mazenod, the people then began making violent protests. Rising up in a body, and making angry gestures, they grew more and more excited, and showed their indignation even to the extent of threatening bodily harm. Frightened by this violent reaction, the poor canons fled to the sacristy, and from there, scurried through a private passageway leading to the bishop’s palace.
One of the canons, Father Rey, either braver or rasher than the others, made the unfortunate mistake of attempting to lecture the demonstrators instead of beating a prudent retreat with his colleagues. Climbing upon a chair, he invited the faithful to join him in reciting a Pater and Ave, hoping to follow it up with an exhortation that would restore calm. Instead of quieting the people who refused to let him speak and who drowned his shrill voice with their angry denunciations, Rey succeeded only in further exasperating them. He, in turn, had to decamp or risk being manhandled. He had difficulty escaping to the same refuge through which his colleagues had fled. Some of the men, unable to head him off before he reached the sacristy, left the church, and rushed to the bishop’s palace, intending to stone the windows and even break down the doors.
Leflon 2, p. 125 – 126
Eugene described the event to the Archbishop:
That arrangement did not please them. Without telling me, Fr. Rey wanted to force the people to leave after the blessing that closed the Office of the Canons. Fr. Beylet commanded the parish priest to announce from the pulpit that the mission was closed and that there was nothing further to be said. The crowd did not budge, waiting for what I had announced shortly before. Fr. Rey took the liberty of scolding them: they murmured rather loudly; then he wanted them to say a Pater and an Ave to make up for what he called a scandal; they did not make an effort to reply, or to put it better, many people gave him definite signs of disapproval. After this exchange, Father Deblieu came up to have them sing hymns. No sooner had the people seen a Missionary appear than they applauded, shouting out: “Long live the Missionaries”. Father Deblieu announced that, since the mission would end only with the closing talk, they were going to start singing till I arrived. That announcement brought on new transports of joy, which he quietened by intoning the hymns. I arrived not suspecting anything; I entered the church and found that calm had been perfectly restored. I prepared to go into the pulpit when they alerted me that M. Beylet had forbidden me to preach. I went to the parish priest to find out if this strange news was true. M. Honorat assured me that the Grand Vicar had commanded him expressly to notify me that I was forbidden to preach. I shuddered at the consequences of such an untimely contradiction; but, believing that in God’s eyes it was more perfect to obey, I climbed up on a chair to prepare this crowd for the news that I hesitated so much to give.
Though I chose my words carefully they were filled with indignation. Shouting, they threw themselves on me. I escaped but they did not leave me. When I got out of the church, the shouts redoubled with, everyone hurrying to embrace me; the men lifted me up, shouting: “Long live Father de Mazenod, long live the Missionaries!” The crowd kept getting larger every moment and it was with great difficulty that I was able to start on the way to our house, accompanied all the way by that crowd which filled our church, our house and Carmelite square. Unfortunately the anger against the authors of the disorder which had just taken place was mixed in with affectionate shouts about us. In the midst of all this tumult, I succeeded in making myself heard from the steps of our church.
I beseeched the people to calm down, to respect authority and keep the peace. I asked this of them as an expression of their attachment to me. Apparently they were touched by my words and promised to leave, all the while shouting out again: “Long live the Missionaries, etc.” The most eager ones had entered the house and did not leave until far into the night in spite of my insistence.
Letter to Archbishop de Bausset of Aix, 1 May 1820, O.W. XIII n. 28
If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? David Otis Fuller