Born 600 years ago, she still shapes the political landscape today.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off a year in honor Joan of Arc’s legacy with a pilgrimage to her birthplace. The celebration comes at a time when French are separating themselves from the Church and Mass attendance is at an all-time lows, according to the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique.

It’s from humble beginnings that this sainted girl’s story sprung. She was an illiterate peasant teen during the late Middle Ages. She knew little of life aside from spinning yarn and tending the family’s livestock. Yet, at 16, the girl chopped off her hair and donned the suit of a warrior, leading French soldiers to several unlikely victories over invading English troops during the Hundred Years’ War. The teenager changed the course of French history and has become a holy figure.

She was captured and sold to the English, imprisoned for a year, and put on trial for her life. Through all of this, Joan refused to denounce her rapturous counsel, and at 19 was burned at the stake.
Thirty years later, her guilty verdict was overturned and transcripts that surfaced in the 19th century of both trials led to her canonization in 1920. Last year, Pope Benedict called John of Arc a model for public officials.  

Sarkozy asked that the French think of the saint as the symbol of unity.

“Joan is the incarnation of the most beautiful French virtues,” the French president announced at Domremy-la-Pucelle.

The saint’s story resonates today and it should help inspire a return to Mass for the people of France.