I don’t feel sorry for these guys. Excerpt:
When the Rev. Alain Krauth preached to his dwindling flock at Mass last Sunday, the subject was real estate. But it was also Christian charity, tolerance and, indirectly, the gnawing malaise in France over an increasingly visible Muslim minority.
The issue was Saint-Eloi’s, a graceless 1950s-vintage church on the edge of this declining French city 150 miles south of Paris. With six churches to maintain and fewer faithful every year, Roman Catholic authorities decided they could no longer afford Saint-Eloi’s. It must be sold, Krauth lamented, and if one of the prospective buyers is a peaceful Muslim association looking for a new mosque, then so be it.
“If moderate Muslims buy Saint-Eloi’s, we can only be happy that the Muslims of Vierzon are able to celebrate their religion,” he said in an interview explaining his sermon. “If on the other hand they were extremists, that would be another question, knowing that there are extremists in all religions.”
But Krauth’s open-mindedness was not shared by all. After an item in the local newspaper, Le Berry Republicain, the murmurs began. Cafe conversations proliferated. Krauth said he got a dozen calls. Some were polite, others not. His office received about 20 e-mails. Some commended him; others asked how he could betray a place of Christian worship to the Muslims.
Comments popped up on the Internet, meanwhile, some of them raw. One suggested throwing a pig into the church to discourage Muslims from making the purchase. Alerted, reporters and cameramen from Paris showed up to ask questions about the rise of Islam. Before long the proposed sale of Saint-Eloi’s escalated into the latest example of France’s difficulty in dealing with a growing minority of people born into families of Muslim tradition.
For Andre Beriot, who lives in the Vierzon suburb of Marmagne, the prospect of selling off Saint-Eloi’s for conversion into a mosque was just another sign of what he views as a swift decline of French civilization due to the influx of immigrants, many of them Muslim, over the past four decades.
“In spite of 2,000 years of history, in spite of a strong cement made of its Christian roots and its Greco-Latin culture, it will have taken only two generations to undermine the foundations in an almost irreversible way,” he wrote in a letter to the editor in Le Berry Republican. “The French nation now feels condemned to adapt to outside civilizations . . . our leaders have imposed on us an immigration that they were unable or unwilling to control.”
Let me be clear: I perfectly well understand — in the sense of sympathize with — the anxiety French people feel over immigration. But losing a church to a congregation of Muslims who want and need a place to worship? Well, friends, if you don’t use them yourselves for worship, why not give them up to others who will? That “strong cement” of France’s Christian roots has not been undermined by Muslims, but by many decades of hostility and indifference. You want to recover the roots of your civilization and build a strong bulwark against its dissipation and decline? Go back to mass. Be converted. Learn something from French Muslims about the importance of having and practicing faith.
I do get intemperate about this stuff. On Saturday, I visited the huge St-Sulpice church, which is so beautiful and inspiring, and is so important in French cultural and religious history. Such treasures the French have, and they’ve almost wholly abandoned them as living places of worship. St-Sulpice is still there, and still open. But for how long, without a community of believers?