Christian Eco-Village Soon to Be Launched in Lourdes
The ‘Hameau Graines d’Espérance’ project seeks to recreate intergenerational bond through assistance to vulnerable people, under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes, to ‘form a community of friends and neighbors who look together to Christ.’
LOURDES, France — “An isolated Christian is a Christian in danger.” It is with this conviction that one cannot be a believer alone, all the more so in a Western world atomized to the extreme, weakened by the erosion of the family and the cult of the self, that young market gardener Aurélien Vayne arrived for the first time in the land that is destined to become a privileged place of welcome for the last of this world.
The mission of Vayne, who arrived on the premises at Easter 2021 with his wife, Anaïck, represents the first stone of an ambitious project of a Christian eco-village located just a few miles from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, in southwestern France, and which is expected to be fully completed by 2024.
At the origin of the project are Marie-Odile and Jean-Yves Fuzeau, a Catholic couple running the Maison Dominique Savio in France, a residence for young people with family and social difficulties, offering a family-type setting in a rural environment.
Originally, their aim was to find an additional place in the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains to occasionally welcome the young people in their care, but Providence’s plan was much wider than they had imagined.
Mixing Generations and Frailties
The Fuzeaus’ research led them to a community of Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who owned a wide 6-hectare plot of land in which they hosted holiday camps for underprivileged children.
Located in the village of Ségus in the Hautes-Pyrénées department in the region of Occitania, at an altitude of around 1,900 feet, the land includes several meadows with a small wooded area and a set of nine buildings in need of restoration work.
“The nuns wanted the place to stay devoted to the service of vulnerable people, and they liked the Dominique Savio project, but it was not enough to acquire the whole land; some bigger project was needed,” Marie-Odile Fuzeau told the Register.
This is how the couple came up with the idea of a large intergenerational living space, which would bring together on the same site various initiatives for vulnerable people and which would at the same time serve as a vacation spot for families or single people wishing to recharge their batteries.
The hamlet, named Graines d’Espérance (“Seeds of Hope”) — and purchased through the dedicated financial endowment FDD Semer l’Espérance — will initially gather four major projects: an agroecological farm designated to people on site and inhabitants of neighboring villages; a home for the elderly; a shared house for people with mental disabilities; and a vacation cottage for the young people of the Maison Dominique Savio, as well as for families, groups or individuals.
For the time being, only the farm project has been initiated, with the other three requiring development work. They should be completed between 2023 and 2024, while other initiatives should be launched in the coming years.
“The idea is for these vulnerable people to live side by side and share their daily lives with people from all walks of life,” Fuzeau said. “We think that the frailty of each one can be a source of mutual help; for our young people in difficulty, being in prolonged contact with elderly or disabled people can have a very strong, life-changing impact.”
The vocation of Graines d’Espérance, as highlighted by Fuzeau, is to be “a place of encounter, open to the world, where the people welcomed are listened to, accompanied and respected with their cultural and even religious differences.”
Following an approach at the service of man and the protection of the environment, the project’s philosophy is thus at a crossroad between Benedict XVI’s human ecology and Pope Francis’ integral ecology, as promoted in encyclical Laudato Si.
In this sense, the farm headed by Vayne, a practicing Catholic who makes a point of applying the social doctrine of the Church in his work, will play a decisive role in laying the groundwork for a solid local and independent support network.
Named Les Jardins de l’Aigue Vive (“The Living Water Gardens” in Occitan, the local dialect), the agricultural holding is based on ethical production methods that respect biodiversity. Its products are already being sold at local markets, while some fruits and vegetables are given for free to families who are in experiencing financial difficulties.
In the future, in addition to supplying the hamlet community, Vayne hopes to supply some religious communities and associations living on donations in Lourdes and its surroundings.
Turning Off Screens and Growing in Faith
For him, this initiative represents a unique opportunity to live the Gospel concretely by “bringing together areas that are not often seen together,” in this case “overworked farmers and the social world.” It is planned that the different groups on site will meet for special days at the farm and that shared garden spaces will be arranged.
“The idea is to help people replace TV and screens with storytelling, camping, reading and games, and I’m thinking about creating some kind of ‘nature/scouting club,’” Vayne told the Register. “We want to allow parents to rest, thanks to a climate of family mutual aid; to get elderly people out of isolation.”
The Christian matrix of the project is, according to him, the guarantor of the durability of the place and its inhabitants. Inhabitants and visitors of the hamlet are called, he said, to “form a community of friends and neighbors who look together to Christ, and thanks to whom our faith and our intelligence can grow.”
“We are all really different, because of our social backgrounds, sensitivities, and wounds... But here a cause gathers us, that of the will to give ourselves to the other, placing ourselves under the gaze of the Father, and under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Mother of this hamlet,” he concluded. “If we allow ourselves to grow in Mary, then our little cenacle, our Bethany, will shine in our hearts and then Jesus will be able to make a place for himself, drawing all life to himself.”