ASIA-OCEANIAGrotto Centenary at St. Vincent’s Orphanage
A hundred years ago, a virulent epidemic spread throughout St. Vincent’s Orphanage. Many orphans, members of the Community and staff were affected by this dreaded epidemic. Fr. Charles CONRAD, Superior of the Institute, realising the seriousness of the situation, was considering the many remedies that should be taken. Being an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, he, with the children, knelt before the statue of Our Blessed Mother and prayed to Her, requesting Her motherly protection and intercession before God to eradicate this disease. He promised the he would build a Grotto on the premises. Our Blessed Mother responded to the pleading of the Superior and children; the epidemic was eradicated.
In the meantime, Fr. Conrad was
transferred and a saintly Oblate, Fr. Charles CROCTAINE, was appointed as
Superior. He had a strong devotion to Our Blessed Mother and it fell upon him
to fulfil the promise made by Fr. Conrad. Fr. Croctaine was new to the environs
of the Institute and lacked finances to start this project. Placing his
confidence in God and Our Blessed Mother, Fr. Croctaine started to build the
Grotto. The brother of a Franciscan, Bro. Joseph Gonsal, offered financial
assistance to build the Grotto. Fr. Croctaine was grateful to God and Our
Blessed Mother for answering his prayers and chose the most beautiful place on
the property to build the Grotto. He requested that it be similar to the Grotto
at Lourdes, France.
He ordered a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes from France and this statue arrived in August 1911. It was blessed and kept at St Vincent’s Chapel until the Grotto was completed.
On November 3, 1911, the solemn blessing of the Grotto and installation of the statue took place. The Oblate community, staff and children of St Vincent’s Home, the Franciscan Brothers and the children from their Institute were involved in the preparations to celebrate this event with much grandeur. The processional route from the Chapel to the Grotto, which was approximately three kilometres, was decorated and the parish priests and parishioners of the neighbouring parishes and many others from the surrounding villages participated in the celebrations.
Richly decorated, the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was taken in procession from the chapel to the Grotto and along the route the faithful were praying and singing hymns to Our Lady unceasingly.
Fr. Jules COLLIN, Vicar of Missions, solemnly blessed the Grotto and installed the statue amidst resounding acclamations from the crowd and singing ‘Ave Maria’ as sung in Lourdes. On November 4, 1911, the first Mass was celebrated at the grotto by Fr. Croctaine; it was then decided to celebrate Mass every First Saturday at the Grotto.
The 75th Anniversary of the Grotto commenced with a three day Novena (Triduum) to Our Blessed Mother and celebrations were held on December 7-8, 1986. On December 7, the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was taken in procession and the Vespers was sung by the then Superior of the Institute, Fr. John CAMILLUS.
On December 8, 2011, we will be celebrating the centenary of the Grotto and we are grateful to Our Blessed Mother for keeping us in her maternal care. (Bro. John GILBERT; Sources: Diary of Bro. Leo RENAUD and the Codex Historicus of St. Vincent’s Home)
Some were saying: “God must be really angry.” Others added: “The end of the world is near!” The Weather Bureau confirmed it: “This year’s was the rainiest season in the last 100 years.” Some even claimed to have seen Noah wandering the streets of the city….who know? There certainly was a lot of water. It caused many deaths, devastating landslides, enormous inconveniences for the people and millions in damages to the country. If that were not enough, in only the most recent days of this period of rain, we had 250 mm of water, a real flood. In spite of all that downpour, even on that evening we had prepared the usual supper at Anna’s House. To tell the truth, we were doubtful and we were saying: “Today, no one will come. It’s impossible to move around in this beastly weather.”
In fact, at 16:30, when we open the center’s doors for the evening meal, there were only 7 or 8 persons at the entrance. But it could not have been otherwise, given the buckets of water pouring down. But a few minutes later, people began to arrive. At the beginning, a few dozen homeless persons. Then, more and more...hundreds of the poor -- battered, soaked, and drenched -- with their shoes in their hands because you could not walk on those streets that had turned into rivers. Upon entering the dining room, one of them told me: “I’m hungry. I have not eaten for two days.” Another said: “I feel sick. I came to get some medicine.” Still another said: “I need a change of clothes.”
In seeing these brothers and hearing their words, my heart was filled with deep compassion.
feeding 450 poor people every day is a great work (in these last 13 years, our
volunteers have distributed more than a million meals!) Offering them medical
care, showers, clothing, legal and employment advice, plus a school of basic
human formation, is also very helpful. But without a doubt, the biggest service
we offer to the street people is giving them hope in the difficult and arduous
journey of life.
The one millionth visitor
By now, all the poor of the city and its surroundings know us and know that we, directors and volunteers of the Center, are always there to welcome them, to listen to them and to help them with great love and respect. That gives confident hope to all of them.
A few days ago, while I stood outside the door to welcome our guests with a smile, I saw standing before me a young father holding by the hand his little son. I immediately realized that his was not the usual homeless person coming for supper. In fact, approaching me, he said: “I want to talk with you.” I had him sit down in my office and there, between sobs and tears, he began to tell me his story of sorrow and frustration. He began by saying: “I had a small business that gave me enough to live with dignity. Gradually, things started to go wrong. To save my work, I took on more and more debt until I had a huge financial collapse. I ended up on the street with a great load of debt. I was angry with myself and with the world. One day, coming home I found on the kitchen table a note from my wife telling me to take care of the child because she could no longer take this life of hardship and she was going another direction. At that point, everything plunged me into an abyss of despair. Humanly speaking, I had only one solution before me: suicide for me and my child. We were alone, desperate, homeless, jobless…without food, without a future…without hope. I only wanted to die, taking my son with me. Then, one day while I was sleeping in a city park with other homeless men, one of them told me: ‘Try going to Anna’s House; there’s a priest there who knows how to listen to people like us.’ So I’ve come to find you.”
Now this man lives in a small room we have offered him. His boy goes regularly to school and the father has begun to work.
That’s Anna’s House: not a center than can resolve the infinity of problems that the poor carry on their shoulders – only God can eliminate them all – but a place that is able to welcome whoever is in need and give hope to whoever is suffering. Today more than ever, there is need for a lively and certain hope.
How nice it would be if, in these times of uncertainty and suffering, each of us who call ourselves Christian – followers of Jesus – were to open our hearts and homes to those in need; if we had the ingenuity, with an intelligent and creative mind, to give hope to those many persons who are challenged by life and by this deep financial crisis. If we don’t want to be Pharisees and liars, this becomes an essential obligation for us who call ourselves children of the God who is Love and followers of a Prophet who said: “Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who hunger… Blessed are you who weep…because my disciples, with the strength of my Spirit, will help you.” (Vincenzo BORDO, Director of Anna’s House)