30 July 2020, The Tablet

Green shoots in the French Church

France and Laudato Si’

Green shoots in the French Church

Harvesting the medicinal maylis plant at the Abbaye Notre Dame de Maylis
Photo: Abbaye Notre Dame de Maylis/Vimeo


Inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment, new religious, educational, agricultural and media networks are gathering momentum in the Gallic countryside

The French translation of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ appeared a few months before the staging of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop21) in Paris. It was an immediate inspiration for many, especially young, French Catholics who had never before thought hard and long about the questions it raised. Since then, many groups have begun to develop creative ideas and projects that help people to become more ecologically aware. They have also dispelled fears that a simpler and more sustainable way of life would endanger the often illusory stability to which so many Catholics in France cling as an ideal.

Media reports and the constant downturn in church attendance (according to a recent Bayard-Ipsos poll only 4 per cent out of the 53 per cent in France who identify as Catholics attend Sunday Mass) suggest a Church disturbed and even shattered by a series of abuse scandals. Many are hurt or angry and a rising number even ask to be “de-baptised”. Physical attacks on Christians have quadrupled.

There were 30,000 priests at the end of the 1990s; in 2015, the number of active priests had fallen dramatically to a mere 5,800. As the philosopher Camille Riquier of the Catholic Institute of Paris remarked recently, the French Church is stuck in a “period of weak faith and doubt”.

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