PORTRAIT. Sanctuary of Lourdes: in the life of the chaplain Don Maxence

Don Maxence is chaplain of the sanctuary of Lourdes. He recounts his daily life.

The Notre-Dame de Lourdes sanctuary could not do without them and pilgrims necessarily cross their path. About thirty chaplains take turns to say mass, the rosaries, confess… If they are omnipresent, their life remains unknown. Don Maxence, 35, arrived a year and a half ago, agreed to talk about his daily life.

A day that generally begins at 7:30 a.m., with an hour of prayer. If don Maxence is housed in an apartment, he shares a wing of the chaplains’ house, a large building located not far from the Saint-Joseph gate, with three other priests from the community of Saint-Martin, to which he belongs. The four priests share a common kitchen and living space. In another wing are housed the Oblates of Mary Immaculate; in a house, the Capuchins.

Need to “redeposit” what we have received

The “rather hectic pace of life” of the sanctuary “requires a good life of prayer, healing and a healthy lifestyle with sport”, he confides. It is therefore in community that the four priests pray, before having breakfast together.

The working day then begins. Each week, the chaplains receive their schedule, indicating the masses to be celebrated, the confession slots to be ensured. Don Maxence has an additional charge: he is in charge of youth ministry. He is also the chaplain of Sarsan. For this reason, he only performs four to six hours of confession per week. But some listen to the pilgrims for two to four hours a day!

“I wondered if I would get tired of talking about Bernadette”

Don Maxence is going to have a significant year in 2023. Two key events dedicated to young people will be held in Lourdes. Le Frat, in April, which will bring together between 8,000 and 10,000 young people. A time that he is already preparing. Then the reception of young people on the road to the World Youth Days, which are held in Portugal. Already 18,500 pilgrims have registered. Moments of which he appreciates “the climate of fervor and prayer, which carries a lot”.

On his arrival, he admits having doubts: “I wondered if I would get tired of talking about Bernadette, he notes. We talk about it from morning to night. I was also wondering How to renew myself? But not only, I don’t I don’t get tired, but there is always something to deepen, to dig.” Not to mention that “the diversity of people here is unique”: people who don’t believe, from all backgrounds… It’s up to the chaplain to know how to talk to everyone.

“I saw that you were on Insta, I hallucinated!”

Don Maxence also greatly appreciates leading catechesis for middle and high school students in Sarsan. And knows how to adapt to them… “I saw that you were on Insta, I hallucinated!” Said one of the young people. He has the feeling that this mission with these twenty young people “hooks him up to reality”. “Here, at the sanctuary, we don’t feel the crisis of the Church, he analyzes.

At noon, the 30 chaplains, of all nationalities, have lunch together. In season, they can even be 50 to 60! Don Maxence resumes: “I didn’t know what this life in community was going to look like. But there is a unity, an atmosphere, despite the ages, the characters, the sensibilities… We are carried by the same mission and that is very unifying.”

Serving the universality of the Church

In the afternoon, everyone goes back to their business. In the evening, another thirty-minute prayer time, before dinner at four. Before, often, preparatory meetings for pilgrimages that he accompanies by video. Sunday evening, the office is given by the bishop for vespers.

A very rhythmic life, very different from the missions he knew in the parish. Not really a typical day, a very intense season, and, above all, “the impression of being in the Holy Land”. He adds: “In the parish, we learn to serve the Church at the local level. We are close to the families, we celebrate baptisms, communions, masses… There is support for family life. very beautiful. Here, we serve the Church in its universality, with people of all ages, of all origins. It’s a unique experience, where we see the whole world pass by, where we delve deeply into the sacrament of confession… And living with the Virgin Mary is very beautiful.”

Availability of heart and agenda

As for his renunciation of founding a family life, he does not regret it. He feels he needs his “whole heart” for his “mission”. However, the chaplain, ordained a priest eight years ago, has not abandoned his personal life. Squash games with a priest friend, readings occupy his free time and his weekly rest day.

He is also entitled to four weeks of vacation, taken out of season. In September, he spent three days hiking in the mountains. He slept there. He also uses this time to see his family and friends. Recently, he reviewed all his promotion of his studies in Angers. Before entering the seminary, he took a double degree in modern literature and political science.

A small minimum wage

A “moving” time, where he also discovered the children of his friends. A time when he reunited with people who consider him first as a college friend and not as a priest, which also corresponds to his need to find “real life”, outside the sanctuary, from time to time. On Sunday he gave a celebration for those who wished.

The priest receives “a salary” from the Church, not a salary. €400 to €600 depending on the diocese, to which are added offerings and donations, generally forming “a small minimum wage”. A sum is levied for meals taken with the entire community. For the rest, a common pot exists between the four priests of Saint-Martin. With the housing provided, don Maxence believes that it is sufficient to finance his telephone, his car, his personal needs.

Young people from Lourdes who had never set foot in the sanctuary

At the sanctuary, he also learned to rub shoulders with a community of employees. He who has not known a professional life “feeds” a lot of these exchanges, on the joys, the sorrows of professional life and, sometimes, the difficult balance with personal life.

At the moment, in low season, Don Maxence is preparing for the arrival of young people. He also continues the chaplaincy in Sarsan… Always by making people discover the message of Lourdes. “I make them come to the sanctuary, either because they like it a lot, or because they don’t know it or know it very little. I had young people who spent 17 years in Lourdes and who had never been there!”

PORTRAIT. Sanctuary of Lourdes: in the life of the chaplain Don Maxence