I left the car, and walked past the village church - dedicated to, if I remember correctly, St Sixtus and St Blaise - down a rather steep short hill, over the Formans brook, and took the road towards Miserieux.
Walking up an equally steep short incline, the road flattened out; and on the right was a neatly hedged and gravelled square, known as the Monument to the Encounter.
It was a significant moment for me, nearly six and a half years ago – because at that spot two hundred and four years ago – 9th February 1818 to be precise - at roughly the same time of day, a young priest paused, whilst pushing a barrow of possessions towards his first posting as a priest. He asked a young shepherd boy in the fields if he was on the right road for his destination; and that boy walked with him, back along the way I had just trod to the presbytery in the village of Ars.
‘You have shown me the way to Ars’ said M. Vianney, ‘I will show you the way to heaven.’ That is the inscription on the statue of the young priest and shepherd boy now standing in that square.
After several minutes recovering my breath, I walked back to the village, and received communion at the daily 6pm celebration of Mass in the Basilica, built on to the east end of the old church.
That was the first visit to the Basilica during a very brief forty hour stay in Ars, culminating on the Friday morning in receiving communion at the side-altar above which the saint now lies, looking at his face, and into his eyes.
There are moments in life where the veil between heaven and earth is so close that it can be palpably felt, and the divine presence is an undeniable living reality. This was one of those moments.