By Emilie Ng
CATHOLICS from the island nation Mauritius will soon be able to venerate the country’s great hero, French Catholic priest and missionary Blessed Jacques-Désiré Laval.
Mauritians across the state will visit Marian Valley, Canungra, on September 20 for the blessing and opening of Blessed Laval’s shrine, the first in Queensland.
Blessed Laval’s shrine at Marian Valley is a significant achievement in Australia’s Catholic history. The Church in Australia was administered by Mauritius between 1820 and 1834.
Blessed Laval, affectionately known to Mauritians as Pere Laval (Father Laval), trained as a doctor before falling from a horse and realising he could be called to the priesthood.
He was ordained in 1838 and later entered the Congregation of the Holy Spirit to become a missionary priest.
In 1841, Pere Laval was sent to Mauritius, then a French colony, and ministered to poor slaves for nearly 23 years.
It is believed he converted more than 67,000 people to Christianity.
Pope John Paul II beatified Pere Laval on April 24, 1979.
Pere Laval is considered a source of hope for many Christians and people of other religions in Mauritius, a country of great poverty.
Mauritians Serge and Josette Kishtoo have spent the past year preparing for the shrine to celebrate their country’s champion for the poor.
The couple invited Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green to dinner last year when he was still at Marian Valley as a Pauline priest.
They said Bishop Macbeth-Green suggested the Mauritian community place a shrine to honour Pere Laval at Marian Valley.
“He gave us the idea, but it is a big responsibility and a lot of work so we didn’t think too much about it,” Mrs Kishtoo said.
But a second dinner with the now-bishop “ignited the flame” to move the Kisthoos into action to set a grotto for their beloved saint.
“We couldn’t rest until we surrendered to God’s will,” Mrs Kishtoo said.
The couple said prayer was the single greatest contributor to making the idea for a Pere Laval shrine into a reality.
“We prayed for it to happen, and we are pretty sure it is our trust in God, praying contently and believing in Him and Pere Laval that we have done this,” Mrs Kishtoo said.
Mr Kishtoo said he always tried to “walk in the footsteps” of Pere Laval.
“He showed every emotion to people, regardless of colour, creed or religion,” he said.
“There were times in his ministry in Mauritius where people said he was wasting time looking after the slaves.
“But nobody else was with them.
“That’s something I relate to, and I always try to help out anyone I can.”
The couple said the shrine embodied Pere Laval’s love for the poor and his great humility.
A French-English Mass will be celebrated at the official blessing on September 20 from 11am at Marian Valley, followed by a procession to the Chapel of Blessed Laval and lunch with the Mauritian community.
For more information contact Josette Kishtoo on 0408 477 064.