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Charles de Foucauld Chapel

Boulogne-Billancourt, France

In the great Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament has been closed by a glass wall and placed under the patronage of Blessed Charles de Foucauld. I had the joy of designing and furnishing it. 

Opening speech

Immaculate Conception Church, Boulogne-Billancourt, France 
December 10, 2016

When Father Marc Ketterer asked me to create a place of prayer, dedicated to Perpetual Adoration, and under the patronage of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, I could not say no! For three reasons.

- Because the human desert of our cities, however crowded, needs to be re-enchanted by the desert that Brother Charles experienced. A full desert. Full of beauty, full of God.
- Because I know that Perpetual Adoration is an unparalleled treasure. God is present among us, available at all times, for a heart to heart. In silence, our complexities fall, our shortcomings are illuminated and love can once again make its way.
- Because finally I owe it to Brother Charles de Foucauld for showing me the way to rediscovering faith. His biography written by Alain Vircondelet (as well as Etty Hillesum's A life tansformed) made me find faith. All I had to do was read the Gospel of John again and, like Etty, fall on my knees before the Lord.

I have two very vivid memories of Charles in the years after I rediscovered faith. As a student, I went to the Saint Geneviève library in Paris. After mass at the very close church Saint Etienne du Mont, I thought of him and suddenly I saw the big white garment, the wide leather belt and especially the big red Sacred Heart right in front of me. No, of course, it was not him, but a brother of his spiritual family who was passing by. I think I was dumbfounded for several minutes by this incredible chance. I almost looked for grains of sand on the library floor! The symbol of the heart took hold of me at that time. I have worn it around my neck for many years. This is why you will find it in the oratory in many places: engraved on the altar, carved in the wood of the armchairs, carved on the tabernacle and the monstrance. It is the Sacred Heart of Christ, it is the reminder of God immense love. That it is not beauty that will save the world but love...

The other memory is a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Charles, from Tamanrasset to the hermitage of Assekrem. In the red sand, between the dry stones, I understood why he had gone there. Because the immensity was all filled with God, with that silence that is a whisper, a light breeze that our busy lives find it hard to hear. So, I wanted to bring these sunburnt landscapes here for you, and I started by putting them on the walls, and then in every piece of furniture. At “La Frégate”, a chapel he built in clay, Charles de Foucauld carved a very simple altar, where his fingers traced the undulating lines of the desert. I did the same in bronze.

The altar, the ambo, the tabernacle are covered with this pattern of wind and sand. Not out of exoticism, but to find the calm and the silence of the desert immensities.

In front of each of these golden blades takes place a spiritual element. The cross in front of the altar because at each communion it is Christ who offers himself. Note that the altar also contains, as tradition dictates, a relic of Brother Charles.

The altar, the ambo, the tabernacle are covered with this pattern of wind and sand. Not out of exoticism, but to find the calm and the silence of the desert immensities.
Finally on the tabernacle, the heart of Jesus, the heart of God, the heart of Charles. The sanctuary of love. Whether the tabernacle is closed or open, this heart will always be visible, but in the monstrance, the lunula which carries the host is embraced both by this heart and by a fire of rays, those of the sun of God which does not set. Never.

You should know that this monstrance is unique. That there is probably no other of this type, Father Marc asked me to bring together both a pyxis and a monstrance, that is to say both a ciborium without a foot and a monstrance and therefore the reserve of hosts and the great host of adoration. It is therefore all Jesus, present in a church, that you will be given to come to meet and pray.

Because precisely, my work, the efforts of the craftsmen with whom I collaborated for this place, would be nothing without the holy sacrament. They would only be empty shells. It is because the Lord is going to make his home there now that this place is out of the ordinary. This is also the time when it no longer belongs to me. So come, let yourself be led into the desert, come and contemplate the divine sun and let yourself be transformed by it, there are no shadows that it does not know how to draw back to deploy its light instead.