FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Destroying the heart of the village

Geste, France

By Stephane Mahe

The villages of rural France are faced with decreasing numbers of residents. In addition to the closure of bakeries and shops, they are seeing rising costs to maintain the religious and social heart of these communities, the local church. The village of Gesté and its church, Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, has witnessed this first-hand.

Local media reported the final phase of the “deconstruction” of a neo-Gothic church in the village of Gesté, and its 2,600 residents. The municipal council was unable to allocate the funds, some 3 million euros ($4.05 million) in 2007, needed for repairs and upkeep. With some research I discovered that since 2000, more than twenty village churches had faced the demolition ball. Apparently 250 churches in France are threatened with the same fate as municipalities are faced with extremely high costs to repair and maintain them, costs that are higher than the cost of tearing them down.

I appeared on site to discover the Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens church, built between 1854 and 1864, with workmen and cranes tearing down the walls of the church, leaving the bell tower and the crypt intact. People stopped to gather behind barriers to watch as heavy machines partially brought down the church.

Speaking with the crowd I learned that they come often to watch, to photograph the destruction day-by-day of their village’s heritage, this massive church, a symbol at the center of their village. I look at their faces as they watch the gutting of their church. As stones crash to the ground, the crowd watches in silence.

I was taken to a warehouse by the current mayor who showed me where statues of the Virgin Mary and Christ were stored. Stacked one on top of another, they await a new church to be built on the site of the partially destroyed Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens. I learned about the division this has brought about in the village with those behind the project, and those who are bitter about the “deconstruction”.

from Tales from the Trail:

Romney on his work as a Mormon missionary: “We didn’t convert one person”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Tuesday, where co-host Joe Scarborough asked him about his experience as a Mormon missionary in France in the 1960s. "Talk about your rejections as a missionary knocking on door, after door, after door in a hostile environment," Scarborough asked.

Romney recalled five months he spent in one French city, where he said near-constant brush-offs built his resilience:

"We knocked on doors from morning until quite late in the evening," he said. "We didn't convert one person in five months. So, you understand the rejection, you know that's a pretty high level of rejection and you get used to it. You say, 'okay, what do I believe, what's important to me,' and you don't measure yourself and your success by how other people react, but instead by how you're doing and how you feel about the things you care about."

Losers all around in French Muslim council election

(Mohamed Moussaoui (4th R), President of the French Muslim council, speaks to the media after a meeting at the prime minister's office in Paris April 26, 2010. UOIF leader Fouad Alaoui is second from the right in the light suit//Gonzalo Fuentes)

 

Even the winner risks ending up among the losers in France’s Muslim council election on Sunday as the organisation meant to represent Islam here is torn apart by rivalries, boycotts and bitter attacks. Incumbent Mohammed Moussaoui will be returned as head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), but a boycott by the two rival Muslim federations competing with his Rally of French Muslims (RMF) group makes the victory a hollow one.

The campaign has also fuelled the ethnic tensions crippling French Islam, which is split among factions backed by Algeria, Morocco and Turkey and others who oppose any meddling from the Muslim countries that they or their forefathers left behind.

Sleepy French hamlet seen at threat from Apocalypse sects


(Pic de Bugarach, 14 November 2007/Thierry Strub)

The tiny southern French hamlet of Bugarach has drawn scrutiny from a government sect watchdog over droves of visitors who believe it is the only place in the world that will survive a 2012 Apocalypse. A report by the watchdog, Miviludes, published Wednesday said the picturesque village near Carcassonne should be monitored in the run-up to December 21, 2012, when many believe the world will end according to an ancient Mayan prophecy.

Miviludes was set up in 2002 to track the activity of sects, after a law passed the previous year made it an offence to abuse vulnerable people using heavy pressure techniques, meaning sects can be outlawed if there is evidence of fraud or abuse.

Surrounded in legend for centuries, Bugarach and its rocky outcrop, the Pic de Bugarach, have attracted an influx of New Age visitors in recent months, pushing up property prices but also raising the threat of financial scams and psychological manipulation, Miviludes said in its report. “I think we need to be careful. We shouldn’t get paranoid, but when you see what happened at Waco in the United States, we know this kind of thinking can influence vulnerable people,” Miviludes president Georges Fenech told Reuters.

Witch hunt or wise move? Cannes ponders expulsion over Nazi “joke”

(Director Lars Von Trier arrives on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Melancholia" in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, May 18, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

Witch hunt or wise decision? That was the question on the lips of movie-goers, critics and executives at the Cannes film festival after the sudden expulsion of Danish director Lars Von Trier. The annual cinema showcase is the world’s biggest and well-known as a haven for provocative voices like Von Trier’s. But organizers clearly decided the 55-year-old director had overstepped the mark when he jokingly told the world press on Wednesday that he was a Nazi who sympathized with Hitler.

And while the festival cracked down on Von Trier within 24 hours, revoking his accreditation, reaction was more divided from the crowd on the famous palm-lined Riviera waterfront. “I’m against the decision. Everyone here is on two hours’ sleep and anyone can say something stupid at a press conference. He apologized and that was enough,” said 20-something filmmaker Christophe Monsourian.

Harun Yahya’s Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

(Harun Yahya at a news conference in Istanbul May 12, 2011/Murad Sezer)

France’s staunchly secularist educational establishment was shocked four years ago when schools around the country suddenly began receiving free copies of a richly illustrated Muslim creationist book entitled the “Atlas of Creation.” The book by Istanbul preacher and publisher Harun Yahya had come out in Turkey the year earlier. After the French Education Ministry warned teachers not to use it and held a seminar on how to deal with creationist pupils, the issue dropped out of the public discussion. But the Harun Yahya group has been spreading its view in France and is now holding a series of conferences on them. Here is my feature after visiting one of the first meetings in the current series: Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) – Four years after they first frightened France, Muslim creationists are back touring the country preaching against evolution and claiming the Koran predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.

Freudian take on Vatican life makes Cannes film festival smile

(Director Nanni Moretti (C) and cast members Margherita Buy (R) and Michel Piccoli pose as they arrive on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Habemus Papam" (We Have A Pope) in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival May 13, 2011/Eric Gaillard )

(Director Nanni Moretti (C) and cast members Margherita Buy (R) and Michel Piccoli pose as they arrive on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Habemus Papam" (We Have A Pope) in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival May 13, 2011/Eric Gaillard )

The Vatican got a dose of Freudian analysis at Cannes on Friday with “Habemus Papam,” a gentle Italian comedy about a newly elected pope who gets cold feet when the weight of his responsibility dawns on him. The film by Italian director Nanni Moretti drew laughter and healthy applause from critics on day three of the Cannes film festival, where the official selection of movies has so far leaned in the direction of dark realism and social commentary.

Farcical and humane, Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope) casts wide open the door of the notoriously secretive Holy See, as red-robed cardinals converge in a locked chamber to elect a pope under the expectant gaze of millions of Catholics. When the votes are counted and white smoke billows from the Vatican’s dome, the pope-elect played by French actor Michel Piccoli, 85, is led to a balcony to address the faithful — only to freeze up before his momentous task, paralyzed by anxiety.

Vandalism and threats greet “Piss Christ” photograph in France

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(The "Piss Christ" photograph damaged by Catholic activists at the Lambert Gallery in Avignon April 18, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

A controversial photograph of a crucifix submerged in the urine of New York artist Andres Serrano has been vandalized during an exhibit in Avignon and the museum’s employees have received death threats.

“Piss Christ” — a photograph that sparked an uproar when first exhibited in the United States in 1989 — was damaged Sunday “with the help of a hammer and an object like a screwdriver or pickaxe,” said the Collection Lambert, a contemporary art museum in France’s southwestern city known for its theater festival.

Turkish PM raps France for face veil ban, militants online urge punishment for Paris

(Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 13, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler)

(Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, April 13, 2011/Vincent Kessler)

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused France of violating the freedom of religion on Wednesday after Paris began enforcing a law barring Muslim women from wearing full face veils in public. He told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that Turkey was the only Muslim country that had copied the French law on secularism, or separating church and state.

“It’s quite ironic to see that secularism is today under debate in Europe and is undermining certain freedoms,” he said. “Today in France, there is no respect for individual religious freedom,” he said. The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe monitors human rights across the continent. Read the full story here.

France starts ban on full-face veil, factbox on veils in Europe

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(Kenza Drider, a French Muslim of North African descent, wearing a niqab at the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris April 11, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force on Monday, making anyone wearing the Muslim niqab or burqa in public liable to a fine of 150 euros or lessons in French citizenship.

Mainstream Muslim groups, which had a six-month grace period after the law was passed to explain it to their supporters,  opted not to protest at its entry into force. “We’ve already had our debate about the law and now our position is clear: we respect French law 100 percent,” said a spokesman for the French Council of the Muslim Faith.