A long or short life, triumph or apparent defeat, rock solidness or the fragility of a maiden: it matters little! The example of St. Joan of Arc shows us that the sufferings of Calvary will always be followed by the morning of the Resurrection.


At this solemn moment in which an entire Christian nation, represented by its most eminent personalities, offers a Mass of thanksgiving to the Lord under the vaults of a marvellous cathedral, which has risen to life like a sick man who overcomes a grave crisis with energy and endurance;1 at this moment when you celebrate the Fifth Centenary of the rehabilitation of St. Joan of Arc, like an large family that finds in one of its children the embodiment of its highest and most representative values, We too feel great consolation in manifesting the joy that fills Our soul in congratulating you, beloved children, for this celebration of a house of God and of a heroine of sanctity, which are your legitimate glories.

But who, on that sad day in the spring of 1431, upon returning home with downcast eyes and an oppressed heart after having witnessed the tragedy of the Place du Vieux-Marché, and looked to the grandiose façade of your cathedral to seek comfort, would ever have imagined that this historic day would bring together Joan and this cathedral, as if, over both, hovered the destiny of a divine vocation, of apparent death and glorious resurrection? […]

An edifice symbolic of immortal realities

It would be necessary to turn back to the centuries in which history becomes entwined with legend to recall the vicissitudes that your cathedral has undergone. […]

It was here that, as in a bible of stone, your ancestors read the truths of the Faith, beheld with admiration the great feats of their ancestors, contemplated the purest beauties placed at the service of the highest ideal, learned to pray and, at the same time, felt more like brothers to one another under the refuge of its great arches. Its bold lines pointed out to them the path to Heaven, and the lightness of its structures taught them detachment from the world.

Sparks of fire would streak across the bright sky of Normandy, clouds of war laden with terror and desolation, and even the darkness created by the dereliction of men and the sacrilegious excesses of the Revolution. But the cathedral will always stand; it will always find the hand and heart that will give it new life, because it symbolizes immortal realities and its foundations rest on the rock of Faith, of a Faith felt and transformed into the substance of life until it forms the most essential characteristic of a people. […]

A fragile virgin, a solid edifice of virtues

What a contrast between this unalterable stability and the frail appearance of the humble young girl called to play such an important role in the history of France! Nevertheless, this child of such fragile appearance also became a solid edifice; like a cathedral rooted in the ground, she laid her foundations on love of country, a vehement desire for peace and a thirst for justice that would draw her out of the shadow in which she seemed to be confined and thrust her into the violent course of history.

Having been chosen by God, an unshakeable awareness of her mission and an ardent desire for holiness, nourished by the will to more fully correspond to her lofty vocation, drove her to overcome obstacles, to disregard dangers, to confront the powerful of the earth, to engage in the international problems of her time and to become an ironclad commander who was fearsome during an offensive. A campaign of more than a year, strewn with battles and victories – the taking of Orleans, the consecration of the king at Reims, the endless cavalcades, the wounds and the imprisonments – seem like magnificent pages of a golden legend.

But in the face of exemplary simplicity, perfect detachment and an irreproachable ideal, worldly prudence, greed, incomprehension and corruption emerge to isolate her, immobilise her and destroy her like a dangerous enemy. Sinister shadows returned to the sky of Normandy, darkness once again covered the luminous city of Rouen for a moment.

And behold, once more the flames of a pyre revive the fire in one of its squares; the words of a martyr faithful to her vocation resound in the silence, full of faith in the Church, to which she appealed, invoking the sweetest name of Jesus, her only consolation. Through the rising smoke, she keeps her eyes fixed on the cross, certain that one day she will obtain justice. […]

Example of faith, docility and strength

A long or short life, triumph or apparent defeat, rock solidness or the fragility of a poor mortal girl: it matters little when there is an immutable truth, an unshakable faith, the love for an immortal homeland, the expectation of a peace which is a natural demand of the human heart, the thirst for a justice which will necessarily prevail at the moment fixed by history, at the moment of reconstruction, of rehabilitation and resurrection. A necessary law which always unites sacrifice to triumph, humiliation to glory, the mystery of Calvary to the radiant dawn of the morning of the Resurrection.

Blessed are the people who remember this, even if it is to face, if necessary, the judgement of men, as Joan knew how to do with admirable constancy and unalterable serenity; so as not to refuse the sacrifice that she saw coming, without fear and with marvellous determination; so as to be always faithful to her vocation, above all in the most difficult moments. Thus, Joan of Arc appears to the Christians of our time as a model of solid and active faith, of docility to a very high mission, of strength in trials. […]

By her exemplary life, her dedication to an ideal and her perfect sacrifice, she teaches everyone the sure way in this age of sensuality, materialism and indifference, which seeks to make one forget the path traced by the best heroes and the way that leads to the majestic portal of the ancient cathedrals.

Lift up your eyes and admire

It often happens that at the most critical moments – just as a gust of wind parts the clouds and makes visible the star that will guide the navigator to the port – the Lord sends the supernatural inspiration that is to transform a soul into the salvation of his people.

Lift up your eyes, then, beloved children, worthy representatives of a nation that glories in the title of Firstborn Daughter of the Church, and gaze upon the great examples that have gone before you; lift up your eyes and admire those splendid cathedrals that remain among you as a living symbol of the Catholic Church in which you have grown to adulthood. […]

If an ill wind should blow outside, if lies, greed and incomprehension plot evil, if it even seems that you yourselves will become victims, consider your rehabilitated heroes, your rebuilt cathedrals, and you will be convinced once again that the last victory is always that of the Faith, of the indestructible holy Faith, of which the Catholic Church is the sole depository. 

Excerpts from: PIUS XII. Radio message for the fifth centenary
of the rehabilitation of St. Joan of Arc
, 25/6/1956 –
Translation: Heralds of the Gospel



1 Editor’s Note: Severely damaged during the Second World War, the Cathedral of Rouen was re-consecrated by the Metropolitan Archbishop on June 17, 1956.


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