“Deeply moved” by the situation of the abandoned people, the Missionaries of Provence continued explaining their vision:
The undersigned priests: …
-knowing from experience that the callousness or indifference of these people renders the ordinary help supplied by your concern for their salvation insufficient and even useless…
Request to the Capitular Vicars of Aix, 25 January 1816, O.W. XIII n.2
This statement is a very sad description of the reality of the Church in Provence. Battered by the excesses of the French Revolution and Napoleon, the Church now found herself in the stage of restoration, rebuilding and healing. Church buildings had been destroyed or desecrated, the monks and nuns had been expelled or killed and their monasteries and convents had become national property and sold. A large number of priests had been killed or had gone into exile outside of France (like the de Mazenods). Those who stayed behind either “sold their souls” by swearing allegiance to the civil constitution or else went into hiding and ministered clandestinely and at danger to themselves (our founding Fathers Mie and Maunier were part of the latter). With Napoleon the situation had eased somewhat, some seminaries had re-opened and the exiled priests started to return – but under draconian state control.
Those who suffered were the Christians: it was not their fault that they had become callous and indifferent. No one had ministered to them in any meaningful way – they were truly abandoned and without direction in matters of their faith. It was this situation that deeply moved Eugene and his companions.
The local church did have a pastoral concern for their salvation but, with the best will of those involved, it still remained insufficient and even useless. The task was too big and the availability of persons was limited. Hence the need for a decisive intervention.
Eugene’s response to this heart-breaking situation was described in the Preface. “The Church, that glorious inheritance purchased by Christ the Saviour at the cost of his own blood, has in our days been cruelly ravaged…” Deeply moved by this, the Missionaries came together to respond to this situation.
Today the Mazenodian family continues to live this same response as is seen in Constitution 5: “We are a missionary Congregation. Our principal service in the Church is to proclaim Christ and his Kingdom to the most abandoned. We preach the Gospel among people who have not yet received it and help them see their own values in its light. Where the Church is already established, our commitment is to those groups it touches least.