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Op-Ed: Catholic France, Adieu; Welcome, Islam

Minarets instead of church towers, muezzins instead of churchbells. A different France.
Published: Thursday, January 30, 2014 8:59 PM


The secular and libertarian magazine Causeur asks: “Is this the end of the bell towers of France?”.

Until last week, the church bells of Boissettes, a town of five hundred inhabitants in the district of the Seine, were ringing every half hour. Then, the Administrative Court of Paris has stopped the bells, as an alleged violation of the 1905 law on the separation of church and state.

The story seems a perfect epitaph to an essay that appeared ten years ago by Danièle Hervieu -Léger, “Catholicisme, la fin d’un monde”. The French sociologist used a term, “Exculturation”, which doesn’t depict a battle still open, but a game over. For French Catholicism.

France ceased to be "la lumiere du monde", a light unto the world, a long time ago. But it is also no more the “fille de Aînée l’Eglise”, the eldest and favorite daughter of the Church, as it once was defined. Catholic France is mortally dying, caught between two fires: state secularism and Islam.

Commenting on the case of Boissettes, the famous writer Renaud Camus was clear: “Secularism is the Trojan horse of the Muslim conquest”. The most prominent Muslim leader in France, Dalil Boubakeur, hypothesized that the number of mosques France will double to 4,000 to meet the demands.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has closed more than 60 sacred buildings, many of which are destined to become mosques.

Demographically, Islam is the winner. The non- Muslim French are growing at a rate of 1.2 children for family, while Muslim families up to five times faster. In the last thirty years more mosques and prayer centers for Muslims have been built in France than all the Catholic churches built in the last century. Monsignor Vingt -Trois, Archbishop of Paris, said it well, “French villagers that every Sunday had the experience of a church now have a mass every two months in a church which is three quarters empty”.

The status of Catholicism in France is a litmus test to understand its destiny in the rest of Europe. Only one Frenchman in twenty today attends Christian services. According to the Conférence des de Évêques, only 97 priests were ordained across the country last year. The famous “curé de campagne”, country clergyman, immortalized by the novel of George Bernanos, is replaced by the African priests imported to meet the shortage of priests.

France today has just 9,000 priests, as opposed to 40,000 during the Second World War. The number of children baptized in France has decreased by 25 percent since 2000, while the number of religious marriages has dropped by as much as 40 per cent.

The Institut Français d’Opinion Publique released these figures: from 1965 to 2009, the number of French people who called themselves “Catholics” declined from 81 to 54 percent. The frequency at Sunday functions has dropped from 27 to 4.5 per cent, so that observant Catholics, the famous “Catholiques pratiquants”, have become an eccentricity in France.

There are now large dioceses such as Pamiers, Belfort and Agen which have no seminarians.

Meanwhile, conversions to Islam challenge the identity of Catholic France. In Creteil, in the heart of middle-class neighborhood of Paris, there is a modern, spacious and stylish building known as “The mosque of convertì”. Every year 150 ceremonies of Muslim conversions are performed in that structure with a beautiful minaret of 81 meters, a symbol of the strong presence of Islam in France.

Conversions to Islam have doubled in the last twenty five years while old churches have been demolished.

A few days ago in Gesté, citizens said farewell to their historic church, Saint-Pierre -aux -Liens, built between 1854 and 1870 on the ruins of another church, which was destroyed by the armies of Robespierre. The church was empty and abandoned.

It is the war between “the cube and the cathedral”, from the title of a book written by George Weigel, where the cube is the Grande Arche de la Built Défense built in Paris by President François Mitterrand as a monument to sparkling secular modernity, and the cathedral of Notre -Dame, now reduced to a museum for tourists.

The cube is winning over the cathedral, but both are dominated by a growing Islamic crescent.