As someone who lived in Nantes, France for nearly a year I can say that there’s nothing more depressing to do in France than attending Mass on any given Sunday.
The churches are virtually empty, save for some elderly church ladies, plus a smattering of African and Eastern European expats.
The only upside to all this is that the Mass is frequently the only place where you find any ethnic intermixing in a country that prides itself on not assimilating its foreigners and confining them to banlieuex. The 12% weekly attendance religious service attendance in France reported in a Gallup poll is no doubt primed by mosque attendance. When you take this into consideration it becomes obvious that the Catholic numbers probably don’t even get close to touching double digits.
Al Jazeera reports French Catholic churches are getting a much needed attendance boost from Muslims this weekend:
Muslims have attended Catholic mass in churches around France in solidarity and sorrow following the brutal murder of a priest in an ISIL-linked attack.
More than 100 Muslims were among the 2,000 who gathered at the cathedral of Rouen near the Normandy town where two teenagers slit the throat of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel.
“I thank you in the name of all Christians,” Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told them. “In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God.”
Nice’s top imam Otaman Aissaoui led a delegation to a Catholic mass in the southern city where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel carried out a rampage in a truck on Bastille Day, claiming 84 lives and injuring 435, including many Muslims.
“Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism,” he said.
The Notre Dame church in southwestern Bordeaux also welcomed a Muslim delegation, led by the city’s top imam Tareq Oubrou.
“It’s an occasion to show [Muslims] that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist,” said Reverend Jean Rouet.
Even if this can’t be said for all Catholics, The Wall Street Journal reports that Pope Francis is well-aware of this important distinction:
Pope Francis said the inspiration for terrorism wasn’t Islam but a world economy that worshiped the “god of money” and drove the disenfranchised to violence.
“Terrorism grows when there is no other option, and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person, “ the pope told reporters late Sunday as he returned to the Vatican from a five-day visit in Poland. “This is fundamental terrorism, against all humanity.”
Speaking on his flight from Krakow, the pope was responding to a question about links between Islam and recent terrorist attacks, particularly the killing on Tuesday of a priest in northern France by followers of Islamic State.
Pope Francis suggested that the social and economic marginalization of Muslim youth in Europe helped explain the actions of those who joined extremist groups. “How many youths have we Europeans left empty of ideals? They don’t have work, and they turn to drugs and alcohol. They go [abroad] and enroll in fundamentalist groups,” the pope said.
His own experience in interreligious dialogue had shown him that Muslims seek “peace and encounter,” he said. “It is not right and it is not just to say that Islam is terroristic.” And he said no religion had a monopoly on violent members.
“If I speak of Islamic violence, I should speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent, not all Catholics are violent,” Pope Francis said, dismissing Islamic State as a “small fundamentalist group” not representative of Islam as a whole.
The pope’s economic analysis and rejection of attributing violence as something inherent to religion shares a lot with the earlier analysis of anthropologist Rene Girard.
For an interesting imaginative experiment in thinking through French Muslim intentions you might want to read Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, which suggests that, despite the sporadic terrorist attacks, perhaps only Muslims truly appreciate how great French Catholicism in particular, and medieval Christendom were.
For more weird religious news from around the world see: Demons of Liberal Democracy Haunt Poland After the Hell of Communism
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