A Miracle in Nimes
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
Thanks to one of those machines for which the 20th century is actually useful, a FAX copier, this letter is being penned in Switzerland, where within days of ordaining four new priests (all American) for the Society of St Pius X at Winona, I have just attended the ordination of eight more Society priests at Ecône. The ordinations at Winona went off very well. God gave us beautiful weather for the Saturday of the ordinations. The seminarians worked hard, as usual, to put together the outdoor altar, the ceremonies and the banquet, guided by the Seminary's stalwart friends, Emily Johnson and the Sardegna family. Some 400 friends of the Seminary attended the ordination Mass, and most stayed over to attend the four new priests' first Masses on the Sunday morning. Ask any who came if it was worth the journey, and mark in your diary next year's Ordinations Day, Saturday. June 23, 1990. The August Seminary letter should bring you another souvenir edition of the VERBUM in color to help those of you to visualize the ceremony who could not come this year.
The ordinations at Ecône on June 29 also went off well, as usual, although the weather was not as sunny as it had been at Winona. Each year the June ordinations bring to Ecône a large number of priests, both Society priests and friends of the Society. It is always moving to see the young priests one knew as innocent. bright-faced seminarians visibly maturing in the combat conditions of today's battle for the Faith. The gleaming truck straight off the production line is beautiful, but it is only useful when it starts to get covered in mud! Not, of course, that the mud is useful, but that there is no normal sanctification without the fulfilling of one's daily duty which in this world is frequently in muddy conditions. Which hand-missal does Jesus prefer? – shiny, trim and brand-new, or battered, torn, dog-eared, greasy-thumbed, and bulging with holy cards? No prize for the right answer. It is similarly moving to meet: the Society's priestly friends, some of whom come to the ordinations at Ecône year after year. One of these is Fr. Maurice Raffalli from Nimes in southern France, who told me this year a story of the famous Nimes flood in October of last year which should put heart into all of you: God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him!
The story begins with the dreadful film, "The Last Temptation of Christ", a wholly blasphemous presentation of Our Divine Lord as some kind of impure weakling. Being introduced all over France on Wednesday evening, September 28 of last year, the film was given its very first showing on the morning of the same day in Nimes, a city of about 130,000 inhabitants, where Fr. Raffalli says Mass each Sunday in the downtown Chapel of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, for about 140 traditional Catholics. Of this film's first showing for Nimes, the city's authorities dared to boast in public, beforehand! -Heaven's reply did not delay.
In the night of October 2nd – 3rd, the following week, French meteorologists picked up on their instruments an extraordinary rain-cloud piling five miles high above downtown Nimes! At about 5 a.m. a rainstorm began over the city with thunder and lightning. By 8 a.m. all. electricity and water mains were cut off (taking a week to be restored). By 10 a.m. the sky was as dark as night, an extraordinarily menacing copper-black color. At about 10 a.m., the streets of downtown Nimes turned into torrents several feet deep, sweeping away and destroying some 3 to 4,000 cars and causing such wreckage in the whole downtown area as will take ten years to repair, says Fr. Raffalli. By the time the rain had stopped at 11:30 a.m. (a fall of 16 inches in about 6 hours) and the flooding had subsided an hour later, the official death-count stood at 20 souls, but the popular estimate was 150 deaths (the insurance companies profit by the official estimates being kept low).
The infamous cinema of the first showing of "'The Last Temptation" was totally wrecked. Amongst the people, the immediate reaction was a recognition of the hand of God, of the wrath of God. But then – sure enough – the media went to work: "Such a downpour happens every 400 years..., it happened in Roman times... the communist municipality put buildings in drainage areas meant for the water to go away", etc., etc. ... Within a few days the people had forgotten the wrath of God and were blaming just unfortunate circumstances. However, the traditional Catholics were given clearly to see the hand of God.
During the downpour itself, Fr. Raffalli had been up in one of the hills surrounding Nimes, so he was naturally worried for his church wholly exposed on a downtown street-corner. Sure enough, down the street running directly alongside the Gospel side of the church, with a door giving straight onto the street, the water had been running 2 1/2 feet deep. Worse, down the left-turn street running across the bottom end of the church and past the open-footed loose iron gates of the Church's courtyard the water had been racing 4 feet deep! Imagine then Fr. Raffallis' astonishment upon entering the church to find that not one drop of water had broken in! Nor were any of his other three buildings on the same courtyard in any way damaged whatsoever! In natural terms this was inexplicable. The church door giving onto the street was by no means water-tight, and beneath the courtyard-gates, at street level, so beneath four feet of water, was a gap large enough for a cat to pass through. Yet during the downpour, inhabitants on the third floor of the apartment block opposite the courtyard noticed that there was no more water splashing in the courtyard itself than that of an average heavy rain!
While some 150 yards down the road, a Pentecostalist church was completely ravaged by the flood. Fr. Raffalli's own parishioners were in no doubt that their church had been supernaturally protected. On an outside wall they placed on December 8 a plaque to commemorate the Blessed Virgin's protection of their church.
This remember, is 1988! We are not speaking of the supposedly dim-witted peasants of "backward" times. Truth to tell, even the Mayor of Nimes realized his city had been punished, and asked the bishop of Nimes to celebrate a Christmas Mass of reparation in the city's Roman arena (Says Fr. Raffalli, the "Mass" was an abomination. Alas!). Still more extraordinary than the protection of Fr. Raffalli's church may have been the protection of his parishioners.
The parish organist had left his car on a street where the torrent left all cars unusable that it did not sweep away, but he found his where he had left it, so he turned the key in the ignition and it started up with no problem.
Mrs. Aucre is another parishioner. The two apartment blocks on each side of hers were wrecked by the water smashing through the windows sweeping everything out the other side, but all that her own block suffered was 8 inches of water in the basement.
Most remarkable of all, Mrs. Nourrit, a daily early morning Mass-goer, found herself taking an unusually long time to get up on the morning of the 3rd and to prepare to leave the house, and when at last she left the house, some mysterious force absolutely prevented her from climbing into her car. She could not get in. Too bad! She would have to miss Mass. Later she understood. Had she driven to church down the Ales road as usual, she and her car would have been swept away in the torrent which washed the coffins clean out of the Protestant cemetery!
Dear friends, what can one say? God exists, He has not handed in His resignation, He knows what we do, and what we do matters to Him. Even in 1989 He speaks to us, and if we have ears to hear, He speaks loud and clear. That daily Mass, or whatever be our daily duty, that day-by-day turning of the shiny Missal into a dog-eared hulk, of a shining seminarian into a war-scarred veteran, can seem to us a pointless drudgery, but that is not how it seems to God. He takes note. He rewards. He protects.
For sure and certain within the next 10 or 20 years, His wrath must come down with crushing and terrible form on great masses of mankind. Not to worry. If I have not abandoned Him, He will not abandon me. If He knows that it is best for me to be protected in this world, He has a thousand means of shielding me, and if He knows it is not best for me, then best if I go. I cannot lose, or, as King David says, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil."
Thank you, Fr. Raffalli, for a grand example of fidelity, and thank you, dear friends of the Seminary, for another school-year's support.
Most sincerely yours in Our Lord,
Bishop Richard Williamson