The missionaries preached in Provençal, and their use of this language brought them closer to the humble and lesser-educated people. Eugene had founded his missionary family precisely to reach out to the most abandoned people by preaching in their language. The use of the Provencal language was a principle to which he insistently clung.

The official attitude of the Government after the Revolution was that French was the only language to be used so as to unify the country. The result was that the inhabitants of the remote villages who only knew Provençal were made to be even more abandoned. The missionaries defied this in order more effectively to lead them to God.

An example took place in 1833 when the Mayor of La Ciotat had posted strongly-worded notices in the town condemning the missionaries and their use of Provencal. Eugene responded:

We read there that the subject of the Mayor’s inconceivable diatribe is the language which I use in my instructions. I had thought until now that it was necessary to speak to the good farmers and fishermen in the language they understand best. The Mayor’s anger does not make me change my opinion.

BOUDENS, R., “Mgr. de Mazenod et le provençal” in Études Oblates 15 (1956), p. 6-7

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    One of the things that first attracted me to look more deeply at Oblate life was that they were/are ‘close to the people’ and they did that by speaking a language that I understood. The language of the Church has not always been easy to understand – latin – a dead language that I certainly was not able to relate to. And her terminology for all sorts of things did not always seem to invite many of us, me, to draw closer to her, to get to know her better. Terms like ‘ecclesial’ and ‘laic’ seemed to raise walls and so my experience was similar to the humble and lesser-educated people that Eugene was preaching to. In truth the walls raised simply because of language differences and because of my own sense of inadequacy seemed to be meant to protect the Church from such as me and so I walked away. It was not just because of the Church and her way of being but also because of my own wounds and brokenness. Our coming together, her and I through and in and with God – for me a miracle of the highest order. She, this beautiful spouse of Christ has been pure gift to me, to all of us, but to me, for as I sit here this morning I am filled with immense gratitude for all that I am given, for who I am as God created me to be and for the road that God has set me upon as I journey home to and with him. As I look at my words I realise that the separation between God and myself seems at times to lessen and that is as it should be.
    A thought – just as I seem able to more readily allow the threads of life between God and myself to strengthen and pervade within me, so those same threads seem to be woven into and a part of my beloved Church, my beloved Mazenodian Family and of all of creation.
    The language of the heart – that is how we connect. It is spoken with words and with actions, with gestures and simply in our being.

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