On the Breton islands, priests on the bridge

Father Jean-Baptiste de Barmon offers himself a moment of respite in the heart of an overloaded summer program. “Right now, I’m running everywhere”, he laughs, well installed behind the office of his office in the Palace. Arrived from the Lorient countryside to Belle-Île-en-Mer in September 2020, the 53-year-old priest is still surprised at the changes in his ministry, transformed by summer visitors.

“Inside, it’s always full, he exclaims, pointing out the window at the Saint-Gérand church, across the street, which can accommodate 400 people. Usually I have between 30 and 50 elderly devotees. There, I see a lot of families and young people! “

→ REPORT. In Belle-Île-en-Mer, find a Christian response to suffering

Every summer in Belle-Île and in the islands off Morbihan, tourists flock by the thousands on the port jetty, attracted by the beaches and the wild coast sculpted by the Atlantic Ocean; with nearly 5,000 permanent inhabitants, the “Bien Nommée” saw its attendance soar, sometimes up to 80,000 people per day. This influx of tourists changes the mission of the Church, which must adapt and offer initiatives to visitors.

Situations that differ from one island to another

As a result, Barmon’s father celebrated more masses. “On Sunday alone, we went from three services to five, he says. The island is also popular in summer for weddings and baptisms: a couple came to Malaysia to get married! ” The proliferation of offices forced him to ask for outside help. “I had to call on a student priest, confides the Bellilois priest. There are four bell towers to cover all over the island. “

“It’s a different world than in winter”, confirms Father Jean-Pierre Penhouët, rector of the island of Groix, also arrived last fall. At 75, he is delighted with his appointment. Alone, he manages to cover all the celebrations in the church and the two chapels of the island, while developing evangelization initiatives for secondary residents. This summer, we gave lectures on France’s debt, on the era of the tuna vessels in Groix or on Fratelli tutti, he explains. We want to show that the Church is interested in people’s lives and brings the history of places to life. “

Barmon’s father is a little frustrated at not being able to adopt similar projects. “When I arrived, I was really thinking of setting up a tourism ministry, he regrets. But I have too much to do. ” Because in addition to the celebrations, there is the logistical management of the various music festivals or scout camps that take place in Belle-Île in the summer. “We must open parish halls, ensure that the altars are not moved to put a piano in place, supervise the installation of the choirs and bless the Scout promises”, he lists.

“Difficult to remotely guide initiatives from the continent”

Due to the lack of priests, cultural activities and the multiplication of celebrations elsewhere are almost impossible. Less than an hour by boat from the Palais, the islands of Houat and Hoëdic are popular destinations for tourists. But both parishes have been vacant for a year, their last priest having reached retirement age.

→ LARGE FORMAT. On the island of Hœdic, winter is a cocoon and summer a challenge

“It’s difficult to remotely control anything from the continent, especially with an already very busy ministry, notes Father Dominique Le Quernec, rector of the islands and dean of Carnac, who is in charge of the two offshore parishes until the end of August and the appointment of a new rector. We limit ourselves to the celebration of offices, with the help of other priests. I also have a few friends from the Saint-Martin community who come to spend the holidays in Hoëdic, they ensure the processions and the Assumption Mass there. “

Priests in turn welcomed

At his request, Father Brice, originally from the Congo and a student priest in Rome, came to Houat to ensure the celebrations for the month of August. Like his colleagues, he was won over by the friendliness of the parishioners during the summer. “I am invited to dinner all the time, to take boat trips and I am thanked for the welcome in the parish. “

“What I like in the summer is walking in the pedestrian center of Groix and meeting the summer visitors, adds Father Jean-Pierre Penhouët. I am truly a pastor among his people. “


“Full churches are our summer pleasure”

Marie-Christine Granger,liturgical animator at Belle-Île-en-Mer

“In the summer, our main task is to recruit new mass leaders. While we operate in shifts of three in winter, it takes at least five in summer. Sometimes we recruit among secondary residents who have their habits and whom we know well on the island, because the locals also go on vacation. It gives a facelift to our volunteers! Then, we must also print more liturgical leaflets: from a hundred, on Sundays out of season, we go to 1,200 in August, as the churches are full. It is very gratifying to sing in front of ten times more faithful, it is our pleasure of the summer. “


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