FaithWorld

Paris cardinal and others comment on SSPX ban lifting

Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois,  chairman of the French Bishops Conference, held a press briefing on Saturday evening on the lifting of excommunications of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). France is home to the largest of the provinces of the dissident group, with around 100,000 faithful  of a worldwide total of 600,000. Sitting in a medieval meeting room in Notre Dame cathedral, he defended Pope Benedict’s decision to take the four bishops back into the Roman Catholic Church and indicated the SSPX would have to bend to Church discipline. (Photo: Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, 8 Sept 2008/Benoit Tessier)

He called the decision “a measure of clemency and mercy” that would allow the Church to repair a damaging split. He declined to question the bishops’ motives, saying that “when people express their desire to respect the teachings of the church and the primacy of the pope, my ministry of mercy does not allow me suspect them a priori and to suspect them to be the worst people on earth … what they have in their hearts, only God can judge. Not me.”

The handful of journalists present repeatedly asked about one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, whose denial of the Holocaust this week outraged Jewish leaders. “The Jewish community was not shocked by this decision, it was shocked by the comments of Bishop Williamson,” he said. “He may have some twisted thoughts, but it’s not because the excommunication is lifted that these twisted thoughts have been approved.” (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson/SSPX)

Although the Vatican said that SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay had pledged to respect the pope and Church teachings, Fellay posted a letter on an SSPX site saying the bishops still opposed some reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965. Asked about this apparent discrepancy, Vingt-Trois said he had not read Fellay’s letter. But he indicated that the SSPX could not have it both ways:

“One cannot both say that one recognises the primacy of the pope and wants to respect him and also set oneself up as the judge of the authenticity of the Catholic tradition. In the Christian tradition, in the Christian experience, the interpretation of the tradition is not a private exercise. It is a church exercise and it is done by the magisterium, notably by the pope as the first of the apostolic college, but also by the other bishops. So an individual group is not going to say what the authentic teaching of the church is … well, until now…”

Paris Muslims attacked in new twist to Gaza tension in France

The tension in France because of the Gaza conflict has taken a new twist with a charge by three Muslim youths that Jewish militants had beaten them up because one of them had thrown away a pro-Israel pamphlet. The focus until now has been on rising anti-Semitic attacks, presumably mostly by Muslims angered by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, but this puts another layer of complexity on the story. The attack happened almost a week ago, on Thursday Jan. 8, but the details are still unclear and the versions being put out don’t match up.

According to the victims’ account, about seven youths from the Ligue de Défense Juive (Jewish Defence League) were distributing the pamphlets on Jan. 8 outside Janson de Sailly, a leading lycée, secondary school, in a chic district of Paris, and handed one to a pupil of North African Arab origin.  When he threw it away, the JDL militants beat up him and one or two other youths of Maghrebin origin who came to help him. The lycée pupil and two others then filed a complaint with the police against the Jewish militants and police are now investigating the incident.

An LDJ spokesman flatly denied any link to this attack and said it does not distribute these pamphlets outside of lycées, only at universities. On its website, it was less clear, saying only that it “denounces the aggression against two pupils of the Janson de Sailly lycee. The LDJ rejects every form of violence.” The LDJ spokesman said his group had the same name and logo as the militant Kach movement banned in Israel and the Jewish Defence League banned in the United States — in both cases because they were suspected terrorist organisations — but had nothing to do with these groups.

French faith leaders work to contain any Gaza backlash

Whenever the Palestinian issue heats up, the temperature rises in the gritty neighbourhoods the French call the banlieues (suburbs). These areas, best known for the low-cost housing projects that postwar city planners planted out there, are a vibrant and edgy mix of local working class, recent immigrants and minorities now in France for several generations. (Photo: Police survey housing project in Paris suburb, 1 June 2006/Victor Tonelli)

Among those groups are Muslims and Jews, many of whose families came from the same parts of North Africa. About 7-8 years ago, at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, some of the far more numerous Muslims took out their anger at Israel on their Jewish neighbours. The official reaction against that wave of anti-Semitism was slow in coming back then, but leaders in France today — especially leaders of the main religious groups — seem determined to do their best to head that off this time around.

They have their work cut out for them. According to a French Jewish Students’ Union (UEJF) list (here in French), there have been 46 anti-Semitic acts in France since Dec. 27, when Israel began its bombardment of Gaza.  That includes several firebombs and several Jews beaten by thugs. Muslim and Jewish leaders have already issued several calls for calm. In some cities such as Strasbourg and Lyon, they have joined the mayor and their Catholic colleagues. After meeting President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday evening, the national heads of the Muslim, Jewish and Catholic communities said they would produce a joint appeal soon. See my story on this here.

Paris Muslims break Ramadan fast in soup kitchen

Volunteers distribute soup at Paris Ramadan soup kitchen, 12 Sept 2008/Benoit TessierPARIS (Reuters) – It’s sunset in the French capital, and hundreds of hungry people are poised to begin their meals at the sounding of a Muslim call to prayer.

Elsewhere in the world, the call rings forth from the minarets of mosques, but inside a tent in a gritty part of north Paris, it comes from a tinny radio speaker.

For the holy month of Ramadan, a soup kitchen has opened outside Cite Edmond Michelet, a tough public housing project in Paris’ notorious 19th arrondissement. On the menu is a traditional dinner, starting with yoghurt and dates.

Breakaway Catholics hope Lourdes changes pope’s views

Prayer candles at Lourdes, 5 Nov 2006/Regis DuvignauThe arch-traditionalist Fraternity of Saint Pius X, which broke with Rome two decades ago and saw its bishops excommunicated, hopes Pope Benedict’s visit to Lourdes this weekend will inspire him to roll back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The SSPX rejects the Council’s opening to other religions and upholds strict adherence to Catholic traditions such as the old Latin Mass. It was encouraged when Pope Benedict allowed wider use of the Tridentine liturgy last year. But in recent talks on possibly reentering the Roman fold, it once again baulked at accepting the authority of a pope who defends the 1962-1965 Council. Many ailing Catholics turn to Lourdes as their last hope for healing after all else fails. Is this a sign the SSPX might see Lourdes as its last hope too?

Rev. Régis de Cacqueray Valmenier, superior of the SSPX’s district in France, stressed in a communique that the breakaway Catholic group welcomed his visit and maintained an“unswerving attachment to the Apostolic See.”

But the rest of his statement made clear it was still at odds with Benedict:

“Let us pray the rosary to the Very Holy Virgin Mary so that the successor of Peter, in this terribly difficult epoch when he must govern the Church, may find at Lourdes the lucidity and the strength to recognise, denounce and extirpate the Council’s errors which are essentially the origin of the crisis in the Church.

The Pope and Carla – a photographer’s dream

Pope Benedict at a recent general audience at the VaticanDuring a Vatican briefing this week on Pope Benedict’s trip to France, a television producer got up and asked the question that surely was foremost in the minds of many photographers and television crews struggling to hold back yawns as subjects such as France’s secular history were discussed:

Will Carla Bruni be at the airport to welcome the pope?

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi smiled. He said Carla Bruni’s husband — who happens to be Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France – had made it known that he might be at the airport. But he said he did not know if Bruni would be there. Heads of state usually wait for popes at their palaces but sometimes, to show their added respect for the pontiff, they also go to the airport.

In Paris, government officials confirmed Sarkozy would break protocol and greet Benedict at Orly airport, something he is not required to do because this is an official visit rather than a more formal state visit. They said they expected Carla to be there … but didn’t want to be quoted on that.

What’s said and unsaid in French pre-visit pope cover

Le Canard enchaîné front page, 10 Sept 2008France wouldn’t be France if it didn’t satirise the high and mighty — especially when the target is none other than head of the Roman Catholic Church which once held so much power here.canard-headline-2.gif

With Pope Benedict due to arrive on Friday for his first official visit, the French satirical press is having a field day poking fun at him, Catholics, Church doctrine and anything else to do with religion. Being militantly anti-Catholic is a badge of honour for a certain type of secularist French intellectual, so this week’s editions of their favourite journals were bound to zero in on Benedict. But there’s an interesting twist…

Le Canard enchaîné (picture above), a weekly that mixes satire and investigative journalism, something like Private Eye in Britain, leads its front page with a spoof story claiming Benedict (Benoît XVI in French) has been listed in a controversial classified police registry dubbed Edvige. Pretty tame stuff. Its main scoop — the Canard is a must-read for Parisian political gossip — is the claim that President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to attend just about every important event during Benedict’s stay in France. Like many other anonymously sourced Canard scoops, this may or may not be true. Sounds likely, though…

1.5 million euro bill for 24 papal hours in Paris

Altar for papal Mass being built outside Les Invalides, 9 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanOne and a half million euros ($2.1 million) for 24 hours in Paris? No, we’re not talking about some luxury visit, but the stopover that Pope Benedict will make on Friday and Saturday on his way to the shrine at Lourdes. The pontiff apparently did not even plan to visit the capital on his first trip to France, meant to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary there. But the city’s archbishop, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, argued for a stop in the City of Light and Benedict agreed.

The Archdiocese of Paris has offered an interesting peek into the costs of a papal visit as part of a public appeal it made to Catholics to help foot the bill. The archdiocese expects to cover all costs without having to dip into its own funds. At a media briefing on Monday, it presented pie-charts (which the French call “camemberts”) breaking down projected expenditure and income. The costs for security, which must be considerable, are assumed by the state and not included in these totals.

On the cost side, the largest chunk of the 1.5 million euro budget — 52% — will go for 15 giant screens that will be set up along the left bank of the River Seine on Friday to show live broadcasts of the pope’s activities during the day. They will then be switched to the Espalanade des Invalides, a spacious green in western Paris, to transmit his Mass to the crowd of 200,000 expected there on Saturday morning.

Low-key “first” as cardinal attends Paris iftar dinner

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois and Rector Dalal Boubakeur, 3 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanSome “firsts” take place amid crowds and television cameras, others happen more quietly. The Grand Mosque of Paris chose the low-key approach when it received Cardinal André Vingt-Trois on Wednesday evening for an iftar dinner. It was the first that a Roman Catholic archbishop of the French capital had visited its leading mosque for the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast. After a short prayer by an imam and introductory remarks, they sat down to an North African-style dinner of spicy chorba (soup), chicken and olives and dessert of honey pastries and mint tea.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, about five million, and interfaith contacts often depend on the personalities involved, especially at the local level. Pope Benedict will meet a delegation of French Muslims — some national leaders such as the cardinal’s host, Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur, and some local leaders active in Christian-Muslim dialogue — when he visits Paris next week.

Grand Mosque of Paris courtyard, 3 May 2008/Tom HeneghanBoubakeur thanked Vingt-Trois for the support the Church had given its “immigrant brothers” over the years, especially help to integrate young Muslims. In one such project, the Catholic Institute of Paris offers courses on French politics, law and secularism for future imams studying Islamic theology at the Grand Mosque.

Paris archdiocese restores medieval college as faith forum

Main hall of the College des Bernardins in Paris, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauOne of the largest medieval buildings in Paris reopens this week as a forum for discussion about faith in the modern world after more than two centuries being used mostly as a fire station and police training centre. The Collège des Bernardins was founded in 1247 by the English Cistercian monk Stephen of Lexington as a residential college for the order’s monks. After the French Revolution, it was taken over by the city.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Paris bought the building and spent five years renovating it to house its theology school and host debates, conferences, art exhibitions and evenings of film and music. Its first major event will be a speech on faith and culture by Pope Benedict, who will address an audience of 700 personalities from the world of French culture on the first day of his Sept. 12-15 visit to France.

The college, whose name comes from its original designation as St. Bernard’s College, stands on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard Saint Germain. The five-year restoration highlighted the building’s simple Gothic architecture while adding modern comforts such as heating, air conditioning and WiFi (see video). The college aims “to serve mankind in all its dimensions — its emotions, its intelligence, its liberty, its relations and its faith”.