Where Have All the French Catholics Gone?

by Maricel

The Roman Catholicism in France has evolved over the years. It journeyed with the rest of its head, The Roman Catholic  Church for centuries.

Since its earliest written records of Christians in France which dates back to the 2nd century when Irenaeus detailed the deaths of ninety-year old bishop Pothinus of Lugdunum(Lyon) and the other martyrs of the 177 persecution in Lyon, France surely had its share of ups and downs in matters of religion.

They say that French Catholicism is inseparable from the state’s history. The course of the church’s history in many ways  has been largely affected and determined by its political relations rather than by the leadership of the popes. Collision aroused among the Ecclesiastical and secular governments throughout Europe not only because of the shrinking authority of the church as a consequence of the Reformation but also by the expanding ambition of the state towards the Enlightenment principles of equality,citizenshipinalienable rights, as well as the growth of nationalism and (briefly) democracy.

And while for centuries France took its pride in the title “the eldest daughter of the Church”, the French Revolution whose aim was not only at the destruction of the country’s old social and political order but of Christianity itself had gradually attributed to the decline of the French Catholics population. And even with the many saints, theologians and missionaries it produced for the Catholic church over the years, the number of French Catholic today seemed to decline and is continuing to decline on an alarming rate.

According to the independent study conducted by the newspaper Le Monde des Religiones in January 2007, France hold the eight spot among the countries with most Atheists, Agnostics and non- believers. Of the 60,424,000 French population,  51%  describes themselves as Catholics, 31% as atheists, between 4% as Muslims, 3% as Protestants, an alarming drop from 80% in the early 1990s and 67% in 2000. However what is more alarming about the fact is that out of the 51%, only 11% of the baptized Catholics attend church services or Sunday masses. And even stranger is that out of that percentage, only half of it do believe in God. (I honestly had a hard time digesting the last part.)

“In its institutions, but also in its mentalities, France is no longer a Catholic country,” wrote Frederic Lenoir, editor in chief of Le Monde des Religions.

Furthermore, the newspaper cited varied reasons for the decline, including the rural exodus, changing values and the rise of individualism in which result is most prevalent among the younger generations of French Catholics. And this alarming decline can be felt not only by the downward fall of Church’s attendants but also of course in the number of French entering religious vocations.

Paix Liturgique, a traditionalist Catholic group reported that only 9000 priests are serving the Catholic faithful in France. In 1990, the total number of ordinations in the country was 90. Paris had 10, with two for a local independent religious order. Seven are predicted for 2010, and four for 2011.

So it appeared that Europe, the early birthplace of Christianity (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism)  in which France is a member, has the highest concentration of atheists/agnostics and non- believers, having 19 European countries included in the 25 countries with the most number of atheist population. Thus, France having been classed as a Catholic country for what seemed an eternity can claim that title no longer.

Regardless of the countless French saints and Blessed people whom every Catholic looked up to and asked intercession from and of the many lives lost in honor of defending the Faith, despite how these people serve as inspirations to the rest of the world yesterday til today, France will be what it is now- a country of secularists and liberal people, or maybe perhaps a Muslim nation if the growth of Muslim population in France who are more likely to practice their religion than the Catholics will continue.

Now, you may ask why am I posting this. Does it hold any relevance to us (Filipinos)  to know the plight of our Catholic brethren in France? The answer is, yes. As a matter of fact, we need to be informed. Yet, we cannot do that by not aiming to learn- about the Faith and our utmost responsibility for holding it.

I have a personal responsibility to attend to, one thing that I’ve vowed to muster as long as I am alive. And this is not only as a result of me being a Catholic but more because I am a Filipino who value my Catholic ancestry.

Philippines have been colonized by the Spaniards in the early sixteenth century, at that time when Ferdinand Magellan‘s voyage reached the archipelago and converted the natives. Hence, if one must compare the length of time that the Filipinos had been made Catholics by virtue of baptism to that of  France, it would be like comparing a child to a fully grown adult.

If the latter who is supposed to be stronger and whose ideals should not easily waver had succumb to such changes affecting their religious preferences, or the lack of it, how much more the child who is likely to be easily swayed? It’s not that I undermine the depth of religiosity of the Filipinos because by far, I knew a lot of Catholics who are willing to die in defense of the Faith. However, as the times passed, many forces have tried and is continuing to instill different and often conflicting views regarding Catholicism. And as much as there are people who will stood up to fight for the Faith, there are also those, who are often more aggressive than the Catholics who will do everything to alter the course of Philippine Catholicism. I even know a handful of them strolling around the net ready to attack anytime.

That’s mainly the reason I am posting this. So that I could raise awareness with the little information I am sharing with my Catholic brethren. I do not intend to troll or ignite an argument for I am just laying out my views on the matter. And although the possibility of attracting a negative reaction is possible, I freely welcome it. After all, as long as mutual respect is observed, I believe even with our varying ideals and beliefs about life, anyone can still deal civilly as fellow human beings.

If you are to ask me what I feel with regards to the current state of France, honestly I am saddened. And I’ll be a hundredfold more devastated if my country, the Philippines, the third largest Catholic nation in the world, would fall to the same circumstance as that of France in the long run.

Keeping my fingers crossed… So help me God.

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