LE HAUT, France (LifeSiteNews) – It has been seven days, seven endless days, since Émile, a little boy aged only two and a half, went missing last Saturday afternoon without a trace from a hamlet in the Provençal Alps, in France, where he was staying for a vacation with his grandparents and young uncles and aunts.
Émile disappeared in a matter of minutes while the family was getting ready to go on an excursion after his nap. Two witnesses say they saw him walking down the street near the family’s holiday home in the tiny remote village of Le Haut Vernet: it is so small that it is not unusual to see children playing alone outside, and they did not worry. A first search by family members and neighbors was fruitless. The gendarmes were called in, and one of France’s most intense hunts ever took place for five days. It yielded no result.
It so happens that little Émile’s parents and grandparents are deeply Catholic. Since Sunday, while the news of his disappearance made headlines in all the French media, their extended family, friends, and acquaintances flooded the internet with calls for prayer that have expanded to innumerable countries all over the world. When the mainstream media got wind of this, a smear campaign against Émile’s father and mother was launched, triggering cynical remarks about their or their family’s possible implication in the toddler’s disappearance. They were even presented as “extremist” right-wing activists. Their profound faith was also taunted, either through ignorance or malicious intent.
From Saturday afternoon until Monday evening, two helicopters, drones with thermic cameras, army vehicles, gendarmes, military mountain units and specialized search units, as well as Saint-Hubert dogs, joined the hundreds of volunteers who came to help Émile’s family in their desperate hunt for the little boy. He is said to be a good walker for his age, and the search covered several kilometers around Le Haut Vernet, with the help of locals who know the rugged mountain terrain well, with its high grass, forests, crevices, and little rivers. But as of Tuesday, the authorities decided to shut off the village from curious visitors and to conduct the search even more professionally with added army and police reinforcements.
All the houses, cars and vehicles in the village were thoroughly searched one by one, and all the inhabitants present at the time of the disappearance were questioned.
They not only looked for Émile himself, but for the tiniest marks or clues showing a sign of his presence at some point. Haystacks were even examined with metal detectors to check for objects such as zippers or snap buttons on his clothes. Strangely, specially trained Saint Hubert dogs soon “marked” a spot just outside the village where they seem to have recognized his scent but found no other trace of his presence beyond that.
The search was stopped on Thursday evening, but police forensics is analyzing the over 1,500 calls from the public received since Sunday. Mobile phone data is also being analyzed to determine who was in the child’s vicinity on the fateful afternoon, in view of further questioning.
While to date the judicial authorities are not considering the disappearance as a legal kidnapping, meaning that they think he has not been taken far away by an identified person, the mystery surrounding Émile is profound. The authorities are certain that if he were in the mountains surrounding the village, he or some trace of him would have been found, alive or dead. Several explanations have been suggested. He may have been killed in a car accident, and the driver hid the body to avoid prosecution, but again no trace of blood has been found, or he may have been abducted. According to the mayor of Le Vernet, the larger village nearest the hamlet, only this scenario holds out hope of Émile being found alive, because the hot weather permits no chance for him to survive alone in the mountain after so many days.
Either way, not knowing whether their little son is alive or dead after a harrowing week of searching and waiting is a truly horrendous situation for his father and mother. They immediately came up to Le Haut Vernet from their home near Marseille, 100 miles away, as soon as his disappearance became known.
His mother soon after called for prayers to venerable Benoîte Rencurel, a 17th century mystic who lived in the Provençal Alps and was graced with apparitions of Our Lady, the crucified Jesus, and several saints over a 54-year period.
She wrote: “Please pray to venerable Sister Benoîte Rencurel, the mystic of the apparitions of the Laus. The devil regularly took her to the mountain to persecute her and the angels brought her back.” A prayer asking for the grace of Benoîte’s beatification and the miracle, through her intercession, of finding Émile back “safe and sound” was soon circulated on the Internet, and the story of “Notre Dame du Laus” became the center of media attention.
It is truly a story for our time: Benoîte, who was born in 1647 into a large and poor family, lost her father when she was very young and was soon obliged to work as a shepherdess, deprived of schooling, to help her widowed mother provide for her brothers and sisters. After having been prepared to see the Virgin Mary through visions of saints, she saw Our Lady many times and became a Dominican Tertiary to fulfill the mission that was given her: to have a church built that would be especially devoted to the Divine Mercy, where pilgrims would find confessors and reconciliation with God. This received the approval of the local bishop, and thousands flocked there. Sister Benoîte received many of them, having the gift of reading consciences and helping them to prepare their confessions. Local priests were astounded by the quality and profundity of their penitents’ confessions. Benoîte herself suffered with Jesus on Fridays, the day of His passion, and was also persecuted for some 20 years before the rigorist Jansenist priests (whose errors were later condemned by Rome) who took over the shrine were replaced by fully Catholic priests.
Benoîte died in 1718. She was declared a Servant of God by Pius IX, and Pope Benedict XVI declared her Venerable on April 3, 2009. The apparitions of Notre-Dame du Laus had been officially recognized one year earlier, on May 4, 2008, by Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco of the diocese of Gap.
After Émile’s mother’s appeal, a photograph of the little boy was placed on the shrine’s altar.
Many other prayer initiatives have been launched over the past week. A Facebook page – now with 12,500 members – was set up organizing round-the-clock rosaries and making suggestions for prayers during the day. Many people touched by the tragic events have left messages proclaiming their faith in God and asking the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the saints and the angels for protection for Émile. Some are recounting that they had lost the faith for years and had found their way back into churches to light candles and say Hail Marys for the little boy.
A prayer vigil was held in his hometown, and on Wednesday a Mass was celebrated in the chapel of Le Haut Vernet, attended by his family, friends, and local inhabitants.
Other friends of the family organized a night-long Eucharistic adoration and Rosary in at least two parishes in Brittany at the beginning of the week. Others visited shrines and churches to pray.
On Wednesday, many joined a day of fasting and prayer called for by a priest, with a special invocation to Émile’s guardian angel.
The Twitter account of the French Bishops’ conference called on French Catholics to join in the prayers.
These are continuing all over France and indeed in places as far apart as Dubai and Africa, Europe and America. It cannot be that these prayers are not heard; but prayer is not magic, and God’s will is not man’s will. However, “ask and ye shall receive,” said Jesus.
France also remembers the message of Our Lady of Pontmain, who appeared to children on January 17, 1871, in the west of France; the country was invaded by Prussian forces who had advanced almost as far as Laval. As the children watched, a banner unfurled beneath Our Lady with the words: “But pray, my children, God will soon answer your prayers, my Son allows Himself to be touched.” That same day the Prussian troops halted before Laval, and the next morning one of their generals said: “We cannot go farther. Yonder, in the direction of Brittany, there is an invisible Madonna barring the way.” Twelve days later the armistice was signed in Versailles.
Nothing is impossible to God!
Perhaps the faith and the very discrete attitude of the family who have refused to talk to the press are what irritate the secularist media in France. Some have even called Émile’s mother’s call to prayer “weird” and alleged that she had claimed the devil had taken him into the mountains.
They are also saying that Émile’s father was a member of a now-banned political group and a local candidate for a movement that supported Eric Zemmour during the last legislative elections. They point at the family’s atypical character: Émile’s mother hails from a large family which was home-schooled and organizes sacred concerts in their local churches. They are accused of going to “Latin Mass” instead of attending the Sunday Mass in their local parish. Journalists accuse them of ills ranging from “sectarian attitudes” to belonging to a “cult,” and increasingly are invoking their Catholic convictions and their discretion to cast suspicion on them, more or less alleging that they are a “problem” family and may well be responsible for the disappearance of the little boy.
This has been denied by the local public prosecutor, Rémy Avon, who held regular press conferences about the affair, and, together with the mayor of Le Vernet, protected the family from unhealthy curiosity and harassment by the press by blocking their hamlet from tourists. Avon said on Thursday that all possibilities for Émile’s disappearance are being taken into account but that there is no evidence that leads to believe that the family was involved.
Meanwhile, vile messages have been circulated. One tweet celebrated Émile’s disappearance, saying: “Well, that’s one Nazi less.” Charlie-Hebdo, targeted by an Islamic terrorist attack in 2015, has published two drawings mocking the toddler’s disappearance and his grandparents.
Even members of high society have ranged against the bereft family. Former French president François Hollande’s ex-partner, former minister Ségolène Royal, also published a tweet earlier this week saying: “Was the mother only interviewed on Tuesday? What about the father, whose personality is highly alarming? So has no one looked into the possibility of a family problem or revenge?” While her allegations were criticized in France, some foreign media cited Royal’s former position to add weight to these accusations, mainly stemming from the traditional Catholic identity of Émile’s devastated family.
Thankfully, many local inhabitants of his hometown and of Haut Vernet, where the family has owned a house for several decades, have stressed in the media that this family is “beautiful,” “united,” and “talented,” with well-brought up children and a very good reputation.
The secular media bias is just one more reason to support them with prayer and sacrifice.