PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - Debate has emerged in France due to news about the diocese of Tours helping fund a new Muslim worship center.
According to La Nouvelle République, Salah Merabti, president of the Muslim community of Indre-et-Loire —which is about 150 miles southwest of Paris — recently thanked the local Catholic diocese for its contribution to the mosque, which is just a part of a brand new community center.
He told the paper that his co-religionists received 150,000 euros from Coca-Cola Algeria, as well as funding from local elected officials, the Jewish community and the Catholic diocese. "This is comforting," he said. In 2019, as many as 9,000 Muslims showed up at the construction site to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting period. In 2020, COVID restrictions kept them away.
Following the revelation, Abp. Vincent Jordy justified the contribution by saying that it was merely a symbolic gesture in gratitude for a contribution Muslims allegedly made towards the visit of St. John Paul II in 1996. In a signed statement on the archdiocesan website, Abp. Jordy dodged some of the blame. He declared:
An article published on April 13 in La Nouvelle République, titled "The mosque of Tours awaits its roof, its dome and its donations," evokes the financial situation of this site. In this regard, it is emphasized that various contributors are participating in this project, including the diocese of Tours. Questions that have reached us about this article lead us to provide the following clarifications.
In 1996, during the visit to Tours of the holy Pope John Paul II, the subsidies being almost non-existent, the diocese launched a call for donations to ensure the financing of this reception. On this occasion, the Muslim community of Tours wished to make a symbolic donation. In return, the diocese of Tours has wished to make a similar and symbolic donation on the occasion of the launch of the Tours Mosque project, more than 15 years ago now.
As Christian communities live in the light of the Easter holidays and Muslim communities have entered the period of Ramadan, this reminder allows us to live up to our life as believers.
Other Catholics opined with surprise and discontent, according to Boulevard Voltaire. The website quotes Dominique, a local layperson, who said, "If I had wanted to finance the construction of a mosque, I would have done it directly!"
The bishop's justification did not cut it for local faithful, who told the outlet that an occasional visit of a pope as head of state does not justify aid towards building a huge, permanent place of worship. "John Paul II left, the mosque will remain," said one parishioner.
News of the Catholic donation to the Tours Mosque comes as the Catholic Church in France struggles with finances. According to L'Express, COVID restrictions have meant believers stay away from liturgy while visits from tourists to historic churches and monuments have fallen off, thus making a huge dent in contributions. In 2020, for example, organized pilgrimages to Lourdes, where normally millions come annually in the hope of spiritual and physical healing, were cut by 95% in 2020 and thus cut into donations.
The paper quoted Fr. Jean Chausse, bursar for the Paris archdiocese, as saying that annual donations and sales at the historic Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, which was built in the late 18th century as French secularism eased, dropped from 7.5 million euros to 3.5 million last year. The French State owns all churches built before 1905, which means that taxpayers contribute to their upkeep. However, churches built after that date are maintained at the expense of the Church and its contributors. L'Express aired fears that churches may be shuttered, and some of the 8,000 Church employees made redundant if the current trend continues.
Chausse told the paper that even while COVID restrictions on churches have lessened, believers are still reluctant to attend liturgy. He affirmed that attendance is down by 25%, especially among the elderly, who make up a sizable proportion of practicing Catholics.
The fire that nearly destroyed Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019 exposed the complicated relationship between the Church and the French State.
Church attendance has dropped precipitously throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. While some 60% of the French identify as Catholic, only 15% are "practicing" their faith, according to Europe Now, but only 4.5% attend Mass weekly.
Around 30% of France is atheist. But even for atheists, its religious history carries meaning. Notre-Dame cathedral represents something uniquely French, thus prompting the government to ensure rebuilding it. Following the fire, for example, French prime minister Emmanuel Macron said, "Notre-Dame is our history, our literature, our imagination. Notre-Dame is the epicenter of our life. ... This history is ours, and she is burning tonight."
Once known as the "eldest daughter of the Church," a locus for the occurrence of miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary, France suffered the revolution of the late 1700s and witnessed a subsequent persecution of Catholics corresponding to the establishment of an anti-clerical State. Reconciliation was late in coming in the 1800s as "two Frances" emerged — Catholic France and secular Republican France. As French sociologist Jean-Paul Willaime has noted, "France can be defined either as a Catholic country with a secular culture or a secular country with a Catholic culture."
The French State is ostensibly non-judgmental regarding religion, but its perceived preferential upkeep of Catholic worship spaces has some Muslims and secularists incensed. The Muslim community, for example, has complained that its growing numbers have outstripped the capacity of available mosques. As a result, Muslims have taken to gathering in crowds on public streets for public prayers, thus shutting down traffic and frustrating both religious and secular Frenchmen. The French government has responded by banning such public prayer, as well as barring Muslim full face-coverings in public for under-18 girls, in an effort to confront Muslim supremacy.
Muslim terrorism in France and elsewhere has the French State on alert. There have been numerous recent violent incidents perpetrated by Muslims in the name of their religion (such as the murder of Jews and off-duty soldiers in 2012, the Thalys train attack in 2014, the fatal attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris in 2015, the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel in 2016 and the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty by a high school student in 2020).
While much of the Left has aligned with Islamic aspirations in France, some are taking a different view. For example, leftist-atheist Didier Lemaire is facing death threats after penning an article in Le Nouvel Observateur in the wake of the Paty murder questioning whether Islam can be assimilated. He told Valeurs Actuelles that he has been under constant police guard and has left his university professorship. Leftists, including the mayor of Trappes and the prefect of Yvelines, have blasted him for deviating from Leftist cant. "In reality, they reproach me for having opened their eyes to what they refuse to see," he told the paper, adding, "I want our country to take notice of the danger that is upon it rather than taking refuse in negation."
Lemaire said that most people in Trappes, a suburb of Paris, live under a "communitarian and identitarian pressure that stems from religion." He noted that even progressive Muslims are leaving the city to avoid Muslim extremists. He told Valeurs Actuelles, "Islamism is a political project that is opposed to recognizing individuality, rejects alternative culture and behavior. It is a genocidal project that seeks to eliminate non-Muslims from the Earth. Following the example of communism and Nazism, Islamism has a messianic view of history. Therefore, this project has the blessing of a religion, which in this case is Islam."
Historians recall that in A.D. 732, Frankish duke Charles Martel and his Aquitanian allies defeated the Umayyad Muslim invaders at the Battle of Tours. Martel's victory prevented any further penetration into Europe, coming just a decade after Muslims invaded and controlled the Iberian Peninsula. European Christians would have other such signal military victories over Muslim invasion at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and the Battle of Vienna in 1683.