On 9 September 1864 the world lost a great man. Not a statesman. Not a politician. But man of God. An “apostle of every rank and class”. This is how he is remembered.
French-born he lived a pious life in our small island, as a devoted missionary curing the sick, lifting the spirit and morals of the poor and the despised, until his death. But it is said servants of God never die.
When he was ordained priest in 1838 he said having a strong desire “to be the servant of Jesus Christ amongst despised people”. He did it, with fervor, devotion and love. He is renowned for having cured people of leprosy. This miracle made of him a figure of reverence. That man was Father Jacques Désiré Laval (Père Laval as he is more commonly known).
The shrine of Père Laval is a centre of spiritual attraction every year during this time in Mauritius. Thousands of people of all faiths, Christians in particular, flock in pilgrimage to Ste Croix in the northern suburb of Port Louis. The march starts on the night of 7 through the 8th when old and young absorbed in prayer with candles in their hands proceed to the beatified Father’s tomb for a tribute to the one who devoted his life to the cause of the deprived.
Born on 18 September 1803 in France, Father Laval came to Mauritius in 1841 to further the moral and spiritual uplift of the emancipated slaves. Before he set himself to priesthood he studied at the Faculty of medicine in Paris and became doctor in 1830. He served the poor in Normandy for five years when geminated in his mind the seed of priesthood.
Father Laval was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 29 April 1979 in Rome.
9 September is a moment of intense prayer and remembrance for those who celebrate Father Laval’s day every year.