PARIS – May 28, 1871 puts an end to the dark episode of the Paris Commune, a bloody civil war that pits the legitimate French government of the Third Republic against the socialist and revolutionary republicans who have controlled Paris for 72 days.
The terrible wave of repression that followed this period of insurrection, considered the most violent episode in the country’s history since the French Revolution (with around 6,500 dead), tends to cover up the ruthless atrocities committed by the Communards on those whom they considered to be their enemies. , including many clergymen.
One hundred and fifty years later, the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Otages (Notre-Dame-des-Otages) in Paris will commemorate the events of the Commune with several events, including news on the progress of the cause of beatification of the five ecclesiastics who died at the hands of supporters of the Commune, called the Communards.
The Commune began shortly after France lost the war against the Kingdom of Prussia at the Battle of Sedan on September 2, 1870, resulting in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III and the collapse of the Second Empire. The humiliation caused by the defeat, in addition to the extreme poverty that spreads across the country, has exacerbated growing anger among the population. The newly created national government of the Third Republic, with a strong monarchist component, was strongly contested by many Parisian citizens, in particular the workers and the petty bourgeoisie, who also criticized the head of the new government, Adolphe Thiers, for ‘having capitulated to the demands of Prussia.
It was in this context that, on March 18, 1871, a crowd supported by regiments of the National Guard launched an insurrection against the government, whose members left the city and took refuge in the neighboring city of Versailles. On March 28, the Paris Commune – presented as a popular autonomous government against the bourgeoisie and aristocrats and supported by certain military units – was officially established. Karl Marx would later describe this political experience (towards which, even today, many anarchists and a significant part of the left continue to show their nostalgia) as the first example of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
One of the unrecognized facets of this ephemeral dictatorship of the proletariat was its fierce anti-clericalism, mainly because the Communards – loyal to their ancestors of the French Revolution – associated the Catholic Church with conservatism, aristocracy and imperial power. They were also considerably galvanized by the militant atheism of one of their leading figures, the revolutionary socialist Auguste Blanqui.
Shortly after its creation, the Commune revoked the Concordat of 1801 which made Catholicism the “religion of the great majority of the French” and classified members of the clergy as civil servants. On April 2, the Communards then proclaimed the separation between Church and State, which implies the secularization of the goods of religious congregations.
According to historian Yves Chiron, during the Commune, two-thirds of the churches in Paris were closed, looted, vandalized or transformed into prisons, workshops or meeting rooms for political clubs.
By virtue of a decree of April 5, 1871 which provided that “all persons accused of complicity with the government of Versailles will be hostages of the people of Paris”, Mgr Georges Darboy of Paris was immediately arrested. Many other priests and monks – about 300 in total – would follow him soon.
The same decree also specified that “any execution of a prisoner of war or of a supporter of the regular government of the Paris Commune will be immediately followed by the execution of three times the number of hostages retained … and they will be designated by parcel. “
This measure, which shocked even in the ranks of the Communists, will be called the “Cassock Razzia” by one of the first historians of the Municipality, Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray.
After the government of Versailles had repeatedly refused to release the revolutionary Auguste Blanqui in exchange for Archbishop Darboy, the Communards summarily executed the prelate in the prisons of La Roquette on May 24, along with four other priests.
The next day, while the Versailles troops reconquered Paris, it was the turn of five Dominicans from the College d’Arcueil (in the neighboring department of Val-de-Marne) to be slaughtered on May 25, avenue d’Italie, along of with eight lay staff of the quorum.
The murderous fury of the revolutionaries reached its climax with what is called “the episode of the Villa des Otages” in the rue Haxo (20th arrondissement of Paris) which occurred on May 26, and during which no less than 50 hostages – including 10 members of the clergy, including the popular Vincentian Father Henri Planchat, four priests of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, called Fathers Picpus, three Jesuit priests, the vicar of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and a seminarian – were killed by squad gunshots or massacred by the crowd.
“The hostages were taken to the streets of the 20th arrondissement under the insults and death calls of a hostile crowd,” said Father Yvon Sabourin, postulator of the cause for the beatification of the martyrs of rue Haxo, in an interview. to Register, noting that the leaders of the Commune were also present on the scene. “They let the soldiers of the National Guard, the armed Communards shoot. … The crowd took part in this indescribable massacre, and the priests were the last to be killed.
Three other priests were executed the next day, including Mgr. Auguste-Alexis Surat, Archdeacon of Notre-Dame de Paris. A total of 23 clergy were killed during this so-called “Bloody Week”.
Posterity and causes of beatification
“This hatred is difficult to understand, but it has its source in the wound that lies deep in the heart of humanity,” said Father Sabourin. “We know that our Servants of God who died on rue Haxo were able to confess in prison and were able to commune with the consecrated Hosts that two Jesuits had hidden”, continued Father Sabourin, reporting that they also wrote letters in prison, forgiving and praying for their persecutors.
A chapel was first erected on the site of the martyrdom at 85 rue Haxo in 1894, and the Notre-Dame des Otages church was built a few years later.
Following the Commune, the Catholic martyrs were the object of growing popular devotion among the faithful. Four causes for beatification were opened in the years following the insurrection: one for Bishop Darboy and his four companions; one for the five Dominicans; one for the Jesuits; and one for Father Planchat and Fathers Picpus Ladislas Radigue, Polycarpe Tuffier, Marcellin Rouchouze and Frézal Tardieu.
But while the various causes slowly faded away in the 1970s, that of Father Planchat and his companions resumed in 2008 and is – according to his postulator, Father Sabourin – nearing completion. Their martyrdom could be recognized by Pope Francis by the end of this year.
In 2017, Father Planchat’s body was exhumed from Notre-Dame de la Salette church and was found intact – although riddled with bullets.
“As the first priest of the Congregation of Religious of Saint Vincent de Paul, he was a living contradiction for communist ideologues, because he embodied the concrete commitment of the Catholic Church in the service of the most deprived”, François Vayne, a French journalist and follower of the spirituality of Father Planchat, declared in the Register. “This servant of the poor died without judgment, his eyes open and turned towards the sky, after having devoted all his energies to the fight for social justice, working alongside the workers and their families in the dechristianized working-class districts of Grenelle and from Charonne. “
The progress of the cause for the beatification of the five ecclesiastics has aroused greater public awareness for the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Paris Commune, which will be the subject of several commemorations around the parish of Notre-Dame des Otages.
After a conference by Father Sabourin on Father Planchat and the Picpus Fathers on May 27, a “Martyrs’ March” will lead the faithful on the path taken by the hostages of the former La Roquette Prisons to rue Haxo, on May 28 .
The Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit will then celebrate a solemn mass in memory of the fallen priests of the Paris Commune on May 30. A plenary indulgence was granted by the Holy Father to all the faithful who will participate in these days of pilgrimage, notably virtually, by virtue of a special decree of April 15.
“These models of [what it means to be a] priest, this cause of beatification, comes at the right time, because we [as a society] trying to discredit the Church because of its current scandals and prevent it from speaking, ”concluded Father Sabourin.
“The loving heart of these martyrs, following in the footsteps of Christ, absorbed the hatred generated by the Municipality which wanted to build a new society based on rationalism, without reference to God.
“It has not been successful as a political movement, but its ideologies continue to spread, deceiving the younger generations who seek the meaning of life.
PRAYER FOR BEATIFICATIONS
Eternal and almighty God, you have always given many martyrs the strength to suffer for the love of Christ; come back to the aid of our weakness; may we imitate the courage of the hostages and have the joy of glorifying you with all our lives.
Bless our community, so that many may taste the greatness of your mercy and the depth of your peace, acquired at the cost of the suffering of Christ and his disciples.
Keep us under the loving protection of Our Lady of the Hostages, so that, through the torments of this life, we can all reach Heaven, our homeland.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Source: Notre-Dame des Otages parish, rue Haxo