I have just returned from a wonderful and eventful week in Paris where I was fortunate to stay only a few streets away from the basilica of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. I had read a great deal about this well-known church before, but following this first visit I came away with a greater understanding of how such places can be beacons of hope in an increasingly aggressive secular culture.

The construction of the basilica was the initiative of Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury, who vowed to build a grand church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as reparation for secularism. They, alongside others, believed that France’s defeat by Germany in the war of 1870 had spiritual as well as political causes. France was partly occupied and the pope was effectively a prisoner in the Vatican as he could no longer be defended by French troops.

Land was made available for the basilica following the passing of a law in the French parliament declaring that construction was in the public interest. Funding largely came from donations, many from poor peasants, following collections throughout France. Therefore, from the beginning there was great public support for the basilica and recognition of the spiritual need to build something so prominent as an act of reparation. Today, carved in stone within the great church are the words of that vow which so many in France at that time were committed to upholding.

From its earliest years Sacré-Cœur brought inspiration and renewal. Notably, Charles de Foucauld and St Thérèse of Lisieux both visited the basilica and devoted themselves to the Sacred Heart while the building was still under construction. For many others this place was a catalyst for going on to do great things for God.

Today the building stands proudly, at times overwhelmed by tourists. However, the beating heart of the place is Perpetual Adoration which has continued unhindered by wars since August 1 1885.

In April 1944 the faithful persisted in keeping their watch before the Blessed Sacrament despite the windows being blown out in the bombing. In a world where so many things appear to be fleeting, the continuity of that gentle devotion and presence can have a prophetic message about the changelessness of God and his divine love rooted in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

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