WHO WAS
PIERRE GOURSAT ?

An artist, a mystic, a layman,
an adorer & an evangelist

 

 

Pierre Goursat was born in 1914 and died in 1991. He was an artist who was also a mystic. Pierre had many strings to his bow – as a layman he was dedicated to adoration and to evangelisation " in the world but not of the world " ; he was a student of antiques, a hotelier, a distributor of books and an editor, a journalist and member of a cinema jury panel. He was also secretary of the Catholic Office for Cinema for nine years. Pierre was both a man of action and a man of prayer ; he could speak of contemplation in everyday activities.

He was truly a free person, such as one rarely encounters, indifferent not only to considerations of " what people will say " but also to all opinions as well as to all esteem. He had the boldness that one finds coupled with the determination of those who create and who reform.

As a reformer ; he loved the Church. Day after day, the Eucharist and Adoration of the Blessèd Sacramant placed him at the heart of the Church, just like Saint Therese of the Child Jesus of whom he was a follower. But, like Saint Theresa of Avila, he never made any concessions that would prejudice the interests of the Renewal of the Church.
He had a happy early childhood but very soon his father, Victor, abandoned the family and left his mother to bring up two boys and run a boarding-house in Place St Philippe du Roule. Victor was the youngest of a family from Perigord ; he was gifted but never achieved the level of success of his brother, George. The latter, known by the name of Sem, was the best known cartoonist of the years 1910-1940.* But Victor drew caricatures with unbridled enthusiasm of the very people who could have helped him to get somewhere. At the same time, he teemed with ideas - like supplying Paris with " newlaid eggs ", and hundreds of other discoveries that he was unable to put to any use.

Pierre probably took after his father when it came to creativity, and his mother with respect to her ability to stand firm and size things up ; which qualities enabled her to make a success of things. Someone in the cinema world once said of Pierre " Pierre Goursat muddles through and blunders along, but he makes a success of whatever he undertakes. "
It was as a film critic that Pierre was best able to put his gifts to use. As the Director of a film magazine he knew everyone in this highly specialised world and he went to festivals and observed how things worked. For nine years, he was in charge of the Catholic Office for French Cinema and during this period he introduced film ratings which were then adopted by all Catholic papers and magazines. Other papers simply copied these, reducing the ratings by one point. Several producers had a high regard for Pierre and one of them liked him to be present at certain stages of the shooting of his films. As a result of his cinema activities he also organised cultural debates with an evangelising dimension to them. Many of these he organised from his sick-bed as he was, and remained, a victim of tuberculosis for 25 years. He would get up, take a bath, attend the showing of the film and lead the debate ; after which he took a taxi home to bed where he sometimes vomited blood.

Pierre contracted this disease before the age of 18 and it somewhat sapped the extraordinary energy he displayed throughout his whole life without ever letting it get him down. A friend said to him towards the end of his life " in a way, it’s a good thing you are ill ; if you had enjoyed perfect health you would have killed us all with the rate at which you live."
His illness also provided the circumstances for his conversion. As a student of the history of art, a specialist in celtic antiques, Pierre, the Parisian esthete, in the footsteps of his father and his uncle, worked hard to succeed and , according to him, he put God aside for the world. But he contracted tuberculosis and was sent to the sanatorium of Plateau d’Assy at the age of 19 where he suddenly began to think about his brother. His only brother Bernard had in fact died at the age of 8 when Pierre was 10 years of age. There, in his hospital bed he suddenly thought he could hear Bernard speaking to him and saying " You don’t bother to think of me any more because you heart has grown hard. " In an instant, Pierre was on his knees at the foot of his bed where he received the extraordinary grace of conversion. " I have never doubted since. "
A long road lay ahead of him – the road of a Christian education, worthy of his culture. He had to deepen and learn through practice what the Christian life in the world entailed. The Lord was his leading Light. While priests, confessors and friends regularly tried to spur him on towards the priesthood, Pierre was suddenly absolutely convinced of his vocation as a layman given to adoration. Possibly the last person to confirm that this was the right way for him was Cardinal Suhard who liked to gather lay counsellors like Pierre round him. One evening in Montmartre he showed him the city of lights twinkling round the hill and he said to him " How are we going to evangelise them ? "

But others were not converted in the way Pierre had imagined they would be. " When I talked to my friends about what I had discovered, it was as if we were speaking through a thick pane of glass ; they could see my lips moving but no sound came through. " From 1932 to 1972 , he took endless initiatives without much apparent success. During this period the Church was outwardly becoming secularised. Pierre wanted to witness to Christ in the world, the way they did in the JOC (Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne) [YCW - Young Christian Workers] when they started up ; ie. with Eucharistic Adoration as a starting point. In spite of all, Pierre continued to hope and believe that the Lord would save the world.

And then, in his declining years – Pierre died aged 59 – the Holy Spirit launched him on an adventure in which everything was to proliferate with headspinning speed. In December 1971, Father St Pierre – a Canadian Trinitarian – introduced him to the Charismatic Renewal. In February 1972, together with a young medical interne - called Martine Lafitte- who led a school of prayer in Paris, he received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the course of a week-end organised by Fr. Caffarel.. The Emmanuel Community came into existence as a result of the meeting of these two people who quickly found themselves overwhelmed by an unforeseen vocation, which was beyond their control and which drew the crowds. There were 5 of them at Pentecost 1972 and a year later they were 500. There was an inexplicable flood of drug addicts, run away minors, first generation ecologists, passing missionary priests, students or young professional folk. It was the upsurge of charismatic prayer groups which attracted from far and wide people who were thirsting for God and who did not find Him in the secularisation of the Church and Society.
In the autumn of 1974 Pierre left his tiny but very Parisian appartment in the Faubourg Saint Honoré to move in with two young men in the unused presbytery of the University campus of Gentilly. He had an inspired vision for the " Emmanuel Community " that would give it greater solidarity and at the same time enable it to remain completely in the world.
From now on Pierre’s story merges with that of the Emmanuel Community and the numerous initiatives in evangelisation that he took with the Community. There was the SOS – Prayers by telephone service ; the magazine Il est Vivant – Renewal Notebooks; Fidesco for co-operation in Africa and all the continents. Then there was Street Evangelisation, first in Boulevard St Michel, then on the Champs Elysées and in several capitals of the world ; in addition came Radio, Cassettes and Video-cassettes. Before he died, Pierre had the joy of seeing the establishment of the first parishes entrusted to the Emmanuel Community ; in particular the Parish of " la Trinité " in Paris .

Among the young people and the Emmanuel families, Pierre had in fact brought together a group of young men gravitating towards the priesthood – today there are 135 priests and practically as many seminarians. The presence of consecrated celibate women as well as brothers – after Pierre’s example – gave the Emmanuel Community its balanced image of an association of the faithful ; baptised Christians in the world , representing every possible vocation. He shared his intuition of a new force in the Church in which priests and laymen would support one another for a renewal of Christian life in the world and bold evangelising initiatives with several bishops. Among these were bishops as diverse as the bishops of Mauritius ; Antwerp (later Cardinal Danneels, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels), or even the bishop of Orleans, today Cardinal Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris.

The drawing up of the statutes of the Emmanuel Community went through several stages. Pierre’s vision was straightforward and broad. Nothing religious, but a mutually supportive body open to work within the Church, and outside it to go and spread the Good News to the non-practising and non-believers. The new Code of Canon law, implementing the insights and texts of the Second Vatican Council, would allow for the realisation of a solid structure in which all states of life would remain together. At the time of his death, almost 30 bishops had recognised the statutes and Rome was preparing to accord them a universal dimension. This was to be done experimentally in 1992 , and definitively in 1998.
Adoration, compassion and evangelisation – the three graces given to his Community by Pierre – were to find fulfilment at Paray-le-Monial. After Vézelay in 1974 where, together with Albert de Monléon OP, he had organised the first session of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Pierre was to make Paray-le-Monial a new place of pilgrimage for prayer, con-version through mercy and evangelisation. Between 1975 and 1998 an estimated number of 200 000 people have come to attend the Summer Sessions at Paray-le-Monial, while through-out the year retreats and specialised sessions are held, making Paray a place of permanent renewal for lay folk in the heart of the Church.

Paray’s liturgical renewal, developed in the years 1975 to 1985 and spread far and wide through the "green hymnal", is noted for its joyful songs of praise as well as its caracteristic sense of the mystery of the Eucharist. This newly devised liturgy is known as " participatory liturgy " and is a fruit of the charismatic spirit of this major trend in the Catholic Church. In 1986, Pope John Paul II was in Paray and he presided at a mass for 130 000 people. The television networks served to popularise this liturgy in which expression was given to a joyful faith and which emphasised the essential elements of the mass.
But Pierre Goursat never took the credit for all this. Most of the time he was not understood ; he was often scorned, and he remained almost unknown. During times of great growth of the movement which this humble founder had agreed to lead he used to say : " When they see as leader, the pathetic creature, ‘the humble worm’, that I am, they’ll all realise that it’s not me but the Holy Spirit at work. " Taking advantage of the indisposition caused by a serious heart attack, Pierre resigned in 1985 and plunged into adoration, day and night, on the Péniche du Mont Thabor, (the Barge that serves as the Community’s headquarters) , at the Pont de Neuilly, in Paris, which his creative genius had transformed into the Emmanuel Community Centre.

Everyone who knew Pierre remembers his humour. When he gave a talk in the Emmanuel Community everbody laughed for a good twenty to thirty minutes. When he had finished they realised that he had gently put across a strong and very simple message. Pierre refused all honours, all recognition – he did not take himself seriously and prefered to be taken for a fool rather than to fail to serve Christ’s interests and Charity, which are in fact the same thing. In this way he had a kind of freedom in relation to all authorities, all religious opinions ; as regards what people thought of him as well as what he himself thought, so he had no problems about changing his ideas. The only things that mattered for him were compassion for hearts, evangelisation and the longing for the reform of the Church. He used to spend long hours in adoration at night and the Holy Spirit surely found his heart wide open to receive whispered inspirations. In the light of this, one can understand his boldness, his broadness of vision and his absolute demand for truth which, in charity, gave him such a penetrating way of looking at people and such an acute perception of the future of Christianity.
He was born one 15th August and he died quietly one 25th March in the morning. It was between these two great Feasts of the Assumption and the Annunciation that Pierre’s life unfolded. Pierre, this layman who, with the foundation of the Emmanuel Community, had given the Church the secret of mystical life in the world and the boldness of calling for an all embracing incarnational evangelisation of the world. At the beginning of this XXIst century, he has laid the foundations for a new priests-laymen dynamic.

Pierre’s favourite saints quoted were : Therese of Lisieux and Charity in small things ; Mary of the Incarnation and mystical union with God in active, everyday life ; Saint Francis of Sales and holiness in the world refusing ostentatious rigorism, " ask for nothing, refuse nothing ". He also liked tthe wisdom of St Vincent de Paul who had managed to avoid the pitfalls of rules and religious appearances by transforming the Ladies of Charity into " plain girls, without vows ". He drew his inspiration from all these saints to launch the Emmanuel boat on the ocean of the 21st century.

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