By Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
August 11, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — France’s most famous theme park, the “Puy-du-Fou,” was in the news in France recently for having bestowed a gift of 50,000 euro (over 55,000 USD) to the “Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune,” devoted to helping children with Down syndrome and their families, and funding medical research on genetic mental deficiencies. The Puy-du-Fou’s founder, Philippe de Villiers, personally chose the beneficiary of the Park’s annual charitable donation and presented the check to Jean-Marie Le Méné, president of the Foundation that bears his father-in-law’s name, in the presence of Birthe Lejeune, Jérôme Lejeune’s widow, and the Park’s very special guests: several dozen children and young people with Down syndrome, accompanied by their families.
That evening, the Puy-du-Fou’s unique “Cinescenie,” the summer night-time show that retraces the history of France and of the Vendee with 1,200 voluntary actors and even more volunteers behind the scenes, was dedicated to the young Down syndrome guests.
Professor Jérôme Lejeune was the prominent French geneticist who was the first to discover the chromosomal abnormality associated with Down syndrome. He was also a pioneer of the pro-life movement in France and in the world, and a special friend of Saint John Paul II, who prayed on Lejeune’s grave during his visit to France in 1997.
Lejeune opposed abortion and prenatal screening. His scientific work earned him international fame but when he received the famous Allan Prize in 1970 he made a memorable pro-life speech that met with a chilly response. That night he wrote to his wife: “Today, I lost my Nobel prize in medicine.”
Lejeune was one of the Puy-du-Fou’s early visitors. The park brilliantly commemorates the history of the Vendée, which suffered so badly at the hands of the French Revolution: close to 100,000 “Vendéens” were systematically killed during the Terror period when the first modern genocide took place. Philippe de Villiers and Jérôme Lejeune were soon to become friends, their friendship being enhanced by their common dedication to truth and life.
Villiers played a prominent role in French politics: he served as a national and then as a European member of Parliament and was also for a long time at the head of the general council of the Vendée. He was not afraid to state publicly his opposition to abortion. All the while he was deeply involved with the Puy-du-Fou, writing the scenarios of all the historical attractions that make it unique.
Philippe de Villiers’ decision to honor the Fondation Lejeune last month, together with his son Nicolas who is now the president of the Puy-du-Fou, was met with scorn by the mainstream media, which scoffed at the Foundation’s pro-life, anti-abortion, and anti-euthanasia stance and accused Villiers of wanting to pave the way for the upcoming regional elections. That is not exactly likely: being pro-life does not open a highway in French politics as the media reception of Villiers’ gesture amply shows.
But telling the world that Down syndrome children deserve to live and to be respected certainly made a more important political statement than the mainstream media can understand.
Philippe de Villiers gave the following interview to LifeSiteNews about the Puy-du-Fou’s donation to the Jérôme-Lejeune Foundation’s cause.
Philippe de Villiers, the Puy-du-Fou Espérance Foundation very recently endowed the Jérôme-Lejeune Foundation with a generous gift of 50,000 euro. The ceremony took place in the “Grand Parc” of the Puy-du-Fou. Why did you choose to endow the Jérôme-Lejeune Foundation?
There are two reasons. First of all, I wanted to express my loyalty to a man who knew the Puy-du-Fou well – and who loved it better – and who left a profound personal mark on me: professor Jérôme Lejeune. Second, the “Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune,” under the masterly direction of its president Jean-Marie Le Méné, does a huge amount of work for the protection of children with Down’s Syndrome who are often abandoned by our media-ridden society and who are now facing a new hazard: society’s temptation to make children to order from a catalog. It deserves to be supported.
In France, 96 percent of unborn babies who have been tested positive for Down syndrome are done away with. It’s easy to imagine a connection between the way the Puy-du-Fou’s fosters the remembrance of the genocide of the Vendée in the wake of the French Revolution and this new genocide of the imperfect. Do you also make that link?
At the moment of handing over the check from the Puy-du-Fou Espérance to the Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune, I stressed the community of spirit and the similar approach of the two Foundations, as well as the link between the beauty we foster at the Puy-du-Fou and the goodness that is cultivated by the Fondation Lejeune. I added something that is also obvious. There is a common attitude as regards what I have called “refusing the unspeakable”: the ugliness that defaces beauty, and the damage done to the very principle of life, which defaces civilization itself.
When you handed over the check, you were surrounded by children with Down syndrome. I suppose there is a special kind of joy attached to letting them discover the Puy-du-Fou?
It was a moment of contagious awe. The awe of the children with Down’s Syndrome, and the awe of other children seeing the wonderment of the children with Down’s Syndrome. What also touched me deeply were the tears of joy of their parents who saw them at last – it happens so seldom – not at the periphery of an event for grown-ups, but at the very heart of an event that was also a sort of advent. True beauty is that of the heart and the soul.
The Puy-du-Fou is a place to find back one’s roots in history, and even to be re-rooted in history: isn’t it only natural that it should be involved in the deepest roots of paternal and maternal love, and the love of children? Do you find a link there too?
Of course! It is what I wrote in my most recent text for the Puy-du-Fou: “Perhaps the children will sense in the fragrances of the day, in the wind that blows from hill to hill, the voice of other children who sing and remember…” The Puy-du-Fou was based on the idea of transmitting a heritage, on the idea of generation in a society devastated by that globalism which is constructing beings without a sense of sonship and institution. The Puy-du-Fou literally breathes its every breath through these ideas of generation, of transmitting a heritage, of returning all things to their roots. It is only normal that children should have the first place.
In your book, The Secrets of the Puy-du-Fou, you speak of the creation of the Fondation Puy-du-Fou Espérance as an expression of a “spirit of poverty.” This struck me as very interesting, especially after having read Laudato Si’ which left me no little perplexed. Can a “spirit of poverty” come forth from something so rich and successful, manifesting itself through this attention towards the poorest of the poor?
The success of the Puy-du-Fou has one cause, only one. We remember past glory: the glory of all the generations that defended France and Christendom, the generations that lived by France and by Christendom, who carried high the values of France and of Christendom. They lived them out, they defended them, they made them become flesh in themselves, the most naturally in the world.
Beyond and despite its success, the adventure of the Puy-du-Fou must remain faithful to its initial austerity, without ever sacrificing to the spirit of riches. The spirit of riches would be to surrender to the hybris of the Greeks, to pride, believing that we are the source of our own success. Our success is due to the fact that we act like heirs and not like childish demi-gods and miracle-doers of the tabula rasa. So the spirit of poverty of the Puy-du-Fou is a spirit of loyalty to all the poor of the history of France who gave their immense riches to France: the riches that are none other the poverty of their hearts.
The danger for the Puy-du-Fou would be that the young “Puyfolais” – the people of the Puy-du-Fou – overwhelmed as they are by compliments, should forget where they come from, where the Puy-du-Fou comes from. The Puy-du-Fou is the dream of a child come true: the reincarnation of the drama of the history of the Vendée, a tearing apart. The Puy-du-Fou is an immense economic, commercial, cultural and media success. But its success will only last if we have this yearly booster shot, these charitable events under our motto: “We are not here to make money.”
The Puy-du-Fou will never be a business. The Puy-du-Fou is not an amusement park. The Puy-du Fou is the crucible of civilization at its most intimate. It is a flame of French hope. One of the last joys left to France… That is why the Puy-du-Fou is at its core a not-for-profit organization. That is why there are no dividends and no public funding. We do not want to wax fat on the amphetamines of compulsive subsidizing or capitalistic shareholding. We want to remain free!
Is this what allows you to be generous?
When I created the Puy-du-Fou, I considered it to be a moral debt. I wanted to write a hymn to repay the debt I owe to my father and my mother, to the Vendée: the debt of my happy childhood. So please let’s not talk of our generosity. Let us speak of our heritage of a thousand years, of the poor who came before us, who dispossessed themselves of the best they could give in order to transmit to us the greatest of all riches: a spiritual heritage. The builders of our cathedrals were so poor that no one even remembers their names. Being French is to keep those riches intact: riches that are poverty itself. Being French is to be a link in the chain, a cathedral sculptor who leaves his lifework without leaving his name.